Secondary breast cancer: Scary times

Ismena Clout
ismena 300x225 Secondary breast cancer: Scary times

(c) Breast Cancer Care

What’s that new pain? Where is it? How bad is it? What type of pain is it? How long has it been hurting? It’s the last question that becomes the most pertinent when living with secondary breast cancer. If it’s been more than 48 hours then it’s time to call the hospital and get their guidance.

This happened a year ago when I had a headache for more than two days. I’m one of those people who never gets headaches.  Even after a night out I’m more likely to avoid food than reach for the aspirin! On the third day of said headache I decided to call the hospital to get their advice and I wasn’t worried making the call, this was my first new ache and pain since being in remission so was quite innocent to the world of secondary scares. Well, I say I wasn’t worried, that was until they asked me to come into the hospital and could I come straight away.

With the colour fully drained from my face and eyes wide I put the phone down; stumbled out the office and straight into the back of a cab to cross Hyde Park to get to the Marsden. The events of this Friday afternoon demonstrated to me what an amazing place the Royal Marsden is and how lucky I am to be treated there.

I get to the department and the doctor says not to worry but he has arranged for me to have an MRI in an hour’s time. This is the first time they have looked at my head, it’s not an area you want to scan a lot so they wait until they have a reason to do it.  I like head MRIs though, they are quick and fuss free. I’ve had some scans lasting over an-hour-and-half so 20 minutes is a walk in the park.

The results were good, sort of. While there were no tumours in my brain, there were metastasis on my skull, so tumours in my skull bone… oh. This is the day I learnt two valuable lessons: one – there will never be straight, good news again, there is always a but. And two – take scares seriously; don’t pass go, head straight to the doctor.

So this leads me to a few Saturdays ago, the day of the eye test and that failed date (yes, my online dating profile is deleted forever). See here for more details on THAT date. My new optician is looking at the back of my right eye and is taking a long time. There is a moment I have come to recognise, a moment when the air in the room changes and an innocent question is posed: ‘Has anyone ever mentioned finding anything in your eyes?’ No, they haven’t except for a weak prescription that means I wear glasses to have super duper eye sight rather than because I have to.

An agonising time later she finishes looking and explains she has seen an area of pigmentation at the back of my right eye, it’s not raised but it should be looked at. Here we go again, another secondary scare, colour drains from face, blood pressure through the roof and eyes wide (ironic really in an opticians). The first thing I do when I get home is of course google it but I need to know a few basic facts: one – can it metastasise to the eye? Two, how common is it? And three – how easy is it to treat? The answers are yes, not very and quite easy with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This puts my mind to rest. Even if it has spread we can tackle it, so it’s just a big fat sleeping policeman in the road rather than a full road block.

However, this doesn’t stop me spending most of the weekend in tears and hiding in my house with the cats for much-needed cuddles. I’m booked into hospital for my monthly bone treatment on the Monday, so take my referral letter to them and after a bit of assertiveness, I get an appointment with a specialist for that Thursday. This eases the stress a bit as I know I’m going to get it sorted quickly and can ease up the panic till Thursday.

Okay I’ll admit, I did cry a bit more and mostly on a poor unsuspecting taxi driver on Thursday morning! I was in a rush to get to a board meeting and the driver was a bit shirty with me when I sighed heavily before getting out. I was sighing because the tough day that was ahead of me but he took it personally. That was until I was sobbing in tears on him. Good start to the day, on edge and anything could set me off.

The board meeting went well and I hot-footed it over to the hospital. The long and short of it is my eye is fine! Panic over, the pigmentation has always been there and don’t worry. How does this make me feel? I think most people think you come out of appointments like this with your hands in the air shouting ‘Yes!’ but you don’t. I’ve spent so long getting my head around my stable remission status, so when scares like this occur, I have to do an about turn to prepare for being out of remission and that isn’t easy. I spend time working out what I will do with work. Thinking: ‘Will I be able to go to my Dad’s for Christmas?’  or ‘How long will I be out of action for this time?’ I have to prepare my emotions and they can’t be turned back around in a moment.

I am relieved of course but feel utterly drained and flat. I haven’t slept really for five nights and just need to go home, get into bed and process what has happened. In fact it takes two days for the news to fully sink in, the blood pressure to drop and a genuine smile to find my face again. The smile is still there and I’m jumping on with life again.

For more information on secondary breast cancer visit

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  • Facing Cancer

    I’m so glad to hear the smiles can find their way back to your face. And that you are sharing this message to take symptoms seriously. Thank you for the post, Ismena. ~Catherine

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