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About Me

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I am 45 years old, Married to Sean for nearly 20 years and have 3 lovely children Hope is 16, Jack is 12 and Joe is 6.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 13

Well I managed to get all of 36 hours away from my 'second home' as I call it

It's been a TOUGH third round with very little respite from symptoms and complications. Unbelievably though I have somehow managed to get to 3 weeks post chemo and the day of Round 4 and not to have to delay it despite being on 2 lots of antibiotics sadly caused by infection in and around my Hickman Line which is seen in immuno compromised patients  They are surprised I am not more 'unwell' (so I am reading that) but I feel it's a positive sign that my neutrophils ate up enough to go ahead with chemo and my infection markers are down enough. I am not neutropenic. Although I did I became very unwell one night last week in hospital, unable to get my breath. It really was the first time I was frightened. I was lying there thinking 'I am beating this cancer and now I'm going to die from this' truly petrifying, looking at the panic and concern on my nurse's face didn't help. They haven't ruled out a pulmonary embolism despite the chest CT scan but hopefully are being overcautious injecting me with So in theory I am good to go.

I spent time watching a movie with my family on Saturday night when I'd escaped from hospital. A lovely Sunday watching the little boys play rugby and nearly 2 hours in the sandpit in the sunshine, ran errands and the day was topped off by a Mother's Day meal out in a lovely local pub.

I actually enjoyed doing the school run yesterday and especially seeing my 'Mum Friends'. Then it was back to reality and the hospital, clinic, blood tests etc But I got to do almost a full working day afterwards; tutorials with students, emailing, marking and just being away from the hospital was hugely welcomed.

Now waking, after about 3 hours sleep or should I say tossing and turning and sweating, thanks to the diet of steroids yesterday. Brings the feeling that has been deeply buried for nearly 25 years, of having to drag myself back to the hospital to be made very unwell again and be barely able to function. The pre-chemo nausea has set in. Boy, this is hard and unwelcome.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 12

I have spent the last week in St James' Hospital. At The Yorkshire Cancer Centre which is actually a world renowned treatment centre where people from all over the country and the world are treated for many different types of cancer. I am just lucky I'm local and have access to treatment! 

Finally I am home, after 20+ doses of IV antibiotics, many more IV flushes, umpteen doses of oral antibiotics, 1 trip to the operating theatre, 1 Hickman line removal, 1 ECG, 1 chest X-ray, 1 CT scan, 4 different cannulas, many blood tests,  blood pressure, temperature and sats checks, swabs, blood cultures, codeine, paracetam'ol, oramorph,  several Gluten Free meals (thankfully!), dozens of cups of green tea, lots of gf supplies along with their visitors and not surprisingly very little sleep.

The staff looking after me were lovely and kind and of course overworked. Sometimes I had to wait a long time for drugs or someone to stop the IV pump from bleeping or didn't get a cup of tea. Although unlike some people who have secondary cancers and are having to raise huge amounts of money to go for available treatments abroad, as the NHS can't offer them anything else, I am getting my treatment and tests and am thankful for this.

I am desperately hoping this week's chemo isn't delayed but we will have to see. I go to clinic on Monday and I'm sur I can convince them! I will have to have it through a cannula in my hand now the line has been removed. My infection markers are going down thankfully and counts are good so here's hoping!!!

Thanks once again for all the ongoing support, cards, gifts, messages, visits, food and childcare it is VERY much appreciated as always :-)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 11 - Lost Track of the Days

Well I know how many days I have been stuck in hospital.....4 so far :-/  I have lost track of the number of days I am post chemo as I'm now on the countdown to the next round....6 days. It comes around too quickly. This is the reality of cancer.

I am getting well and truly fed up now. This is my 'good' week, when I feel much better and well enough to do 'normal' things. Spend time with my family and friends, Mum taxiing, shopping, cooking, working but I'm feel it's been wasted battling infections. This is the reality of cancer.

So yes this IS the reality of having cancer......exactly what I'm writing about, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. Usually this week I can almost pretend life is moving forward as if this nightmare wasn't happening. If you'd told me that I'd be spending this afternoon discussing genetic testing, how much hair I'm losing, mouth ulcers and which type of breast reconstruction was preferable, with my dear friend Sally I would have told you that you were nuts. This is the reality of cancer.

No matter how positive you remain you are still staring your own mortality straight in the face. Relying on the statistics that 78% of women get through this barbaric treatment and live their lives as they choose to again. You can't help but have that niggling doubt and embrace every give your child that party they REALLY want even though it's expensive, buy them that game they desperately covet or take that trip you've always dreamed of, read your child just one more chapter of the book, watch that show you've always planned to see; you want to make sure you create those lifelong memories...just in case. This is the reality of cancer.

Yes I am lucky to have several friends and family who have beaten this dreadful disease and it's never come back. Plus everyone I meet has a positive story about a friend, family member or neighbour who has too and it does help to hear these BUT it's hard to push those out of your mind who haven't. Such as the wife of a friend of over twenty years who died of breast cancer 2 years ago and having been in this environment before, all those you meet along the way who don't make it. This is the reality of cancer.

I am protecting myself more this time around. I don't catch the eye of the person next to me in clinic or pre-assessment, I am thankful for my own room, I'm avoiding The Robert Ogden Centre and The Haven. I don't want to hear everyone's awful heartache that I meet whilst I'm on this journey. Yes bone tumours are much rarer and have nowhere near as good survival rates as breast cancer but I lost 8 out of 10 of the friends I made and kept in touch with. I can't deal with that again. This is the reality of cancer.

I am fighting a losing battle with my Hickman line. It's sore and stops me sleeping, I have a bug around it and in it and now another one in my blood. I will let it win on this occasion. It has served me well for half my chemotherapy treatment and taken away the stress and pain of having needles.

I do not want to waste more time stuck in here; battling to get fed properly, I'll have the next chemo in my hand and then when all these infections have cleared I can have a PICC line. I hope chemo won't be delayed, tomorrow I will see the Professor of Oncology and the Registrar and I will convince her it's the best course of action. How soon I will get a theatre slot and whether they will release me yet after the removal with oral antibiotics are all questions for tomorrow. I will just have to be patient.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 10 - Day 12 Post Chemo

Well after battling a problem with my Hickman line site for as few days now, after one emergency visit to St James' last weekend and a week on oral antibiotics it was worse than ever. I rang the hospital and asked for the oncology bleep holder and they advised me to come in to Ward 95. Which is where I'm typing this from now on Day 13 post chemo! Yes they captured me and I had to stay in!

I'm not too fed up as I know it's what's required and I am in the best place to get this nailed once and for all. I am lucky to have my own room therefore some privacy for me staggering to the loo on the crutches, drip stand in tow! I am hoping to escape later this evening after 24 hours of IV antibiotics as they seem to be working and my chest is far sore woo hoo!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 9 - Days 9-11 Post Chemo

As seems to be the pattern I have felt better and better as the week has gone on. Ha, even the students I saw on Friday noticed the improvement since Wednesday (subtly conveyed of course ;-) I've enjoyed being back at work and have been very busy, so thankfully no time to dwell on things.

The main problem I've been battling against is where my line exits is sore and not only that, for about 3 days post flush it's been sore under the skin too, as if bruised. I have been on antibiotics all week but this doesn't seem to have shifted the problem - maybe not the right drugs....

It is a worry as problems with it can delay chemo but we'll cross those bridges if they arise. I keep thinking each day I need to go back and get it checked, as it's oozing again tonight, tomorrow may be that day.

Another frustrating aspect is that I feel 'well', then as soon as I start to do anything, whether teaching or walking around the shops I have the most awful head and neck sweats, where I'm literally dripping onto my collar :-/ and get really breathless. I was told by the oncologist that these are chemo side effects. The state of me when I was teaching this afternoon, goodness knows what people would have thought!!

As you start to feel better and more like yourself it's hard as you know you're shortly going to have to go back and be made so poorly again. My rational mind knows 'needs must' and that it all means it's one step closer to this brutal treatment being over and preparing for the Mastectomy. More appointments scheduled too over the weeks to come with my Oncologist, Breast Care Nurse, Breast Surgeon. Scans and weekly line flushes, blood tests and counselling for Jack.

So the world keeps turning and as has also been the pattern, our friends and family continue to be so hugely supportive, with everything from meals to childcare, gifts, cards and flowers. Yet again I really cannot express how this is all helping us to continue with 'life as we know it'. The children are finding it hard, so any semblance of their normality is a bonus. Jack started counselling this week as we really don't know how to help him sometimes to deal with his feelings and worries. I'm hoping and praying it helps for him to talk to someone who is not emotionally connected. Hope took the brave decision to stay at school whilst I was in for chemo and for the following few days. A mature attitude from a 15 year old, who could recognise what she could and could not deal with. Thankfully school have been helpful and accommodating beyond measure and I know she will be well looked after and thankfully has a great connection with staff. It is heartbreaking for me though..... Cancer is never easy for anyone and sometimes (both during this experience and the last) I think it's almost harder to watch someone you love go through this and be unable to do anything to take it away.

I will keep on keeping on.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 8 - Day 7 post Chemo

I was too tired to post yesterday, after another busy one!

I need my line flushing weekly, ordinarily you wait in on that day for the District Nurses to come but that would of course mean I'm unable to plan anything else for that day. This way I get to go into work before and after. And to be honest my first (and last) experience of waiting for the District Nurse wasn't very positive. She rang me and told me they were too busy and wouldn't be able to come.

Although as you will see in the clip trying to actually park at the hospital is easier said than done (N.B. I wasn't holding the phone while filming it was in the cradle!).

Since the line was flushed (saline gets syringed through to check it's still 'open' and they check they can still draw blood from it) it's been really sore (tender and uncomfortable even to the touch) I'm just helping it settles tomorrow but we shall see.

So Day 7 I was shattered and Day 8 I'm hoping is the turning point, as it has been the previous 2 cycles  and from Day 9 I start to feel myself again. Both boys hav been off school ill which has been tricky. Obviously looking after them, whilst trying not to catch anything but also not wanting to have any more time off work.

I also took Jack for his first counselling session. After not wanting to go in it seemed to go well, as he was quite cheerful when he came out and I took him for a special tea together.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 7 - Post Chemo Day 6

So off the hard drugs now and on the homeward straight! Back to work today which was a welcome distraction. I saw numerous lovely colleagues who enquired as to how I was doing and also taught for a few hours before getting on with other administrative work.

My mouth feels like it's been burnt again, especially the roof and everything you eat tastes like furry cardboard!

Sadly by the time I'd done some Mum Taxiing after work and spent my gymnastics 'waiting time' hanging about in Seacroft Tesco, the bone pains were so overwhelming. So on reaching home this evening all I could do was lie down, resort to codeine and put heat packs the affected areas. But these will reduce now that the final G-CSF injection has been given and the chemo will gradually get further away and hopefully when it's done it's work, out of my system.

Need some zzzzzzzzzzz so I'll check in again tomorrow :-)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 6 - Post Chemo Hell

So the last couple of days have been pretty hellish, hence the title of my latest Vlog Post 'Post Chemo Hell' anyone who's been through or watched their loved one go through this will be able to relate. It's so hard because you're taking all the drugs to counteract the side effects of the other drugs and it's a vicious circle to be honest.


I ended up having to pay a visit to Ward 95 at St James' yesterday. You ring the switchboard and ask for The Oncology Bleepholder and a CNS advises you over the phone. You have to take an overnight bag in case they admit you ( I had no intention of letting that happen!) Although to be honest by  the time we got there I was the colour of their magnolia walls and couldn't have cared less.

They were terribly understaffed, as most places are these days so I had to wait an age to be seen by a Dr, after two seperate ones who were reviewing my notes got called away. We finally got seen and felt listened too.

We're coping with this, and it's knock on effects to us, in our own way and thankfully have tonnes of medical and non-medical friends and family to help and advise 👍🏻

My Dad and Carole thankfully came to be with me yesterday, so Sean was able
to take the big kids and do his fundraising, whilst Dawn took Small off my hands for the day and night. So they took me into hospital and stayed several hours until I was able to escape with more painkillers and some oral antibiotics for the possible line infection. My Auntie Jan came for the 2nd time this week and was on ironing duty thanks so much 😘

They also gave me morphine due to the bone pain caused by the G-CSF injections and some to bring home. At least it worked  😬 And enabled me to crash out and sleep!

Today has been better and I had the last of the 5 injections 💪🏻

More #TeamVicki arrivals and lifts, sleepovers etc since Friday for the kids, thanks once again lovely friends and family 😘😝

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 5 - Post Chemo Day 3

Well it's 3 days since I had my last round of chemo and things are going pretty much as expected, which is a 'good' thing I think. 

Huge raft of drugs - steroids, pain killers, anti sickness etc to try and keep on top of everything and me out of hospital this time around. 

3 lots of GCSF injections done to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more blood cells to counteract infection, anaemia etc This creates quite bad bone pain especially where there are bigger surface areas e.g. Pelvis and thigh bone. Coupled with the bone pain caused by one of the chemo drugs it hits hard. They get injected into your stomach. Thankfully I have a friend come and do it, so we arrange a mutually convenient time rather than waiting in all day for The District Nurses to come.

Long days and nights it felt like I woke every five minutes in the night! Keep your fingers crossed for  me for a better one tonight.

Yet again today wonderful friends bringing soup, meals, flowers and plenty of goodies!! Thanks for the virtual hugs, messages and gifts from all over the world #TeamVicki is awesome!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 4 - Post Chemo Day 1

Bit of a rough day, got worse as it's gone on. Felt quite upbeat this morning when Fran and the Gang popped over for a visit.

#TeamVicki have been awesome once again with their visits and deliveries of lasagne, soup, casserole, cake, flowers, doing ironing and washing up, not to mention school pick ups and drop offs and loads more that my chemo brain is failing to recall. But a huge heartfelt thank you again, we couldn't make it without you....well it would be a far more chaotic, messy set-up with activities missed, take away or fishfingers on offer to eat!!

A raft of symptoms today ranging from sweats to shakes. Completely zombified by early evening again. Bad stomach (I was told that the Docetaxel is very harsh on your stomach), reflux, irritability, some nausea. Tonnes of hair shedding, ugh it's everywhere - even in food or drinks when you go to have some. All over the keyboard...everywhere. It was the best decision ever having it cut into a short style to avoid the terrible upset that I went through last time I went through chemotherapy. But the cold cap has worked well so far for me and massively slowed down the hair loss. Nair and razors are already an (unmissable) thing of the past!!!

2am Thursday 9th March - Dosing on the couch and desperately wanting to sleep yet the steroids practically make it impossible. So it feels like I'm in some sort of surreal dream world. My friend Deborah called over this evening and if I remember rightly I could barely even speak to her I was so confused and 'out of it' (sorry chick!) And when Russell and Catherine came bearing more food and flowers I think I was the grumpiest person on the planet (sorry to you two as well!) #therealityofcancertreatment

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The reality of being treated for Breast Cancer -Part 3 - Chemo Day

Chemo day dawns. I had a Hickman Line fitted in January which enables the nurses to take blood, give me drugs (chemotherapy, anti sickness and fluids when dehydrated)

I have found it tricky to get a suitable dressing that doesn't irritate my skin, quite badly at times. The lovely nurses, especially Carol (you'll see her in the YouTube clip) in pre-assessment have been on the case and the one below is mainly tolerable!!! But as you can see from the picture even the micropore tape is irritating the skin....a constant battle!!

Last time I had chemo I didn't have a central line and had terrible problems with veins, ending up
with my final chemo in my foot. Far from ideal!
So this was certainly the best option psycholog   - ically this time around and has already proved to be my best friend! When I was admitted after Round 1 with severe side effects from the chemo - dehydration, sickness and bone pain they were able to give me fluids, pain relief and anti sickness drugs quickly without the difficulty of finding a vein and inserting a cannula. This time around they can also hook up the chemo drugs.I have a stitch in my neck that hadn't dissolved where they inserted the line and have needed
antibiotics as it started to get infected. So they managed to get some out yesterday and the rest hopefully today as you will see!

and Carboplatin 
There are a raft of side effects from both drugs, with hair loss being one of them from the Docetaxel. So I'm trying the cold cap to retain my hair for as long as possible. It helps about 50% of people retain about 50% of hair. It's definitely working as I have lost the rest of my body hair. Looking on the bright side no shaving legs and underarms and no Nair in sight!

My head hair is shedding after each treatment so I've now got a wig and would shave it if it becomes patchy. It isn't losing the hair itself that's hard it's that currently I still have my anonymity and privacy. You can hide your pain, sickness and upset when nipping in the garage to pay or when teaching a class but once the hair's gone everyone knows your business. And aren't afraid to question you about it....even complete strangers. Believe me I've been there before unfortunately. This technology wasn't available for me to try 25 years ago.

My friends have been coming with me and Sean sometimes too. Including one of my oldest friends - Ainsley (we have been friends since we were 7 and 8 years old in Primary School) She was there by my side the first time and is again this time. It means a lot.

I am in hospital for several hours every 3 weeks for this treatment and the following video (click on the YouTube link below)will give a good idea of what happens. As it stands I will be having 6 cycles and this was my third.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 2 - Steroids

As part of the cancer drug regime I have to take dexamethasone (steroids) these have a number of benefits - they can help if there is an allergic reaction to any of the other drug, some ant-sickness properties and also have anti inflammatory benefits. I spoke too soon and said to Rachel today that they don't seem to affect me, such as keeping me awake, hmmmmm. It's nearly 4am and no sign of going to the Land of Nod yet :-( and I have to be up again in 2 hours. Sigh. I guess no surprise after 32 tablets today!

But I did have REALLY good news at my clinic appointment today (after waiting an hour and a half past my appointment time - prolonging the agony!) That the MRI shows the cancer is responding to the chemotherapy and the main tumour and satellite ones are showing evidence of shrinkage. A result that is far more than I could have hoped or dreamed of! So I continue with the chemotherapy, probably for another 4 cycles, 6 in total but one step at a time.

Thanks so much for the support that still continues to flood in: messages, posts, cards, meals, lifts for me and the kids etc etc We couldn't do it without #TeamVicki

The Reality of being treated for Breast Cancer - Part 1 - Results Day

I have seen a few blogs and posts recently that make having treatment for cancer look like a walk in the park. As it's the second time I have been treated for cancer I can assure you it's far from it, so thought I'd share my experience on my Blog as I go into Round 3 of my chemotherapy treatment. It may help #TeamVicki understand what we're going through (I say we as it's not just me that's suffering but the whole family) and also help people understand what cancer treatment entails.

I have chosen to keep working during my treatment, sometimes that isn't easy, whilst dealing with side effects but it's a welcome distraction and I love my job. I only started my lectureship too when I was diagnosed and started treatment!

I had a specialist Breast MRI last week and have waited 7 days for it to be reported on and had an appointment in clinic with my Oncologist on Monday afternoon. This would determine whether chemotherapy I am having any effect on the cancer and whether we continue on that course of treatment. Nerve wracking times!

A frequently asked question - How did I know something was wrong?

I thought it was about time I posted about how I knew to go to the doctor and ultimately was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 3 invasive Ductal Carcinoma with metastases in the lymph nodes. 

People understandably ask me if I found a lump. It's best to start at the beginning. I found a lump or my left breast felt 'lumpy' way back in the early summer 2015. I was going on holiday to Spain and I made an appointment for when I was coming back (as I had that doubt 'oh maybe it's because of my period.') and whilst I was in Spain I shared my worries with my friend Rachel. I went to the doctors on my return, she could feel it too and referred me. When you are referred in Leeds you have to be seen at The Breast Unit at St James' Hospital within a fortnight and sure enough I quickly received an appointment. 

I was very worried and my friend Dawn insisted she went with me and it was fab to have some company as we were there all day. They explained that because I was over 40 they do a mammogram both sides and then an Ultrasound on the affected side. They were very reassuring and explained everything to me, particularly what ‘normal’ breast tissue looks like. I had the tests then was called in for more pictures of the right side. When I went in I questioned this but the radiographer was insistent it was the right side. It transpired the left was clear, that it was glandular tissue. They then did an ultrasound on both sides and found an area in the right side (what they had seen on the mammogram). They said they were confident it was a fibroadenoma.

It was obviously a shock to go with a possible problem in the left side yet they found something in the right. I met a lovely consultant – Shireen Mackenzie – who was very knowledgeable and reassuring. She said despite them thinking it was benign, given my history and the misdiagnosis, they would go ahead and do a vacuum assisted biopsy to get a definitive answer. They did this they following week (MOST unpleasant :-/ ) Another few days and sure enough we returned and it was confirmed thankfully as benign. It was a really worrying few weeks and I was really scared.

The lumpiness never really went away in the left side and I returned to the GP that November and was again referred to The Breast Unit. As I’d had a mammogram only 4 months earlier I only had an Ultrasound. Again, I was told it was glandular tissue and the only thing on the Ultrasound was ‘thickening’ above the left nipple. So again, I went away reassured.

I am telling you this as it’s key to what happened in 2016. I don’t remember when I felt a lump in the left side again. I don’t think I could feel it when we were in Portugal in the Summer, but I can’t be sure. I think I first felt it in September, but obviously assumed it was ‘glandular tissue’ again, so I thought no more of it. As the months went on I did continue to feel it and I suppose it got bigger, so much so Sean could feel it when I pointed it out. It began to play on my mind a little and when I noticed a tiny stretch mark above the left nipple, there were none anywhere else, on either. It reminded me of breast awareness information that tells us to look out for skin changes. I thought I should get checked out again and tried for a GPs appointment and couldn’t get one that ‘fitted in’ with our hectic schedule but I still wasn’t really worried at this stage and to be honest I wasn’t at ANY stage. I made an assumption…wrongly…that it was nothing to worry about. When Sean agreed in December it felt quite ‘prominent’; he can never feel anything like that…lumps and bumps, babies kicking etc. so again it niggled at me. 

Also another myth to 'bust' is that my breast has been quite painful and I always assumed the comment that 'if it hurts it won't be anything bad or sinister' held true. Wrong. Malignant AND benign conditions can cause pain, mine did and still does, quite a lot. I'm sure I'm not the first and won't be the last to assume this based on misinformation. It helped me, along with a combination of events to make a wrong assumption and therefore reassure myself but ultimately put off getting checked. My cancer got bigger in the meantime and spread within the breast - a main tumour and 9 satellite smaller tumours or nodules, into my lymph nodes too. It has major implications for treatment - needing chemo, surgery and radiotherapy. No reconstruction possible at the time of mastectomy due to needing radiotherapy. Definitely a mastectomy not a lumpectomy due to the area involved. Hindsight is a great thing but I can't help kicking myself. Yes I know now and am getting something done but this will involve more treatment, a hugely prolonged timescale and inevitably more pain, suffering, psychological effects so DON'T PUT OFF GETTING CHECKED! 

On my Birthday, December 15th, I met my lovely friend Rachel, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, for a coffee. I ended up telling her about the lump and she was insistent I get it checked. I made an appointment when I left, for the following day with the GP. Rachel had told me she had gone to The Yorkshire Clinic to a One-Stop Clinic where you see a consultant, have a mammogram and ultrasound, any biopsies if required then get the results of the scans all on the same day.

As I am covered by Private Medical Insurance and it was so close to Christmas I thought I may get seen quicker via this route as it would be New Year for the Leeds Referral. I checked both the Clinic and the Insurance who said they would cover me and I could be seen on the 20th. The GP again could also feel the lump but thought it may be a cyst and did the referral. I still wasn’t worried, not really. Unless I felt it when showering or dressing, I didn’t even think about it. I went to work on that Tuesday and was in a meeting until 1.15pm and dashed off to the hospital for 2pm, still not worried. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I had Breast Cancer. I was just expecting them to say once again it was glandular tissue. How wrong was I?

Please get checked, always, no matter how many times and don't assume it's benign even if it was last time or the time before that or the ten times before that. This is the mistake I made.