I will forever remember this day, even more so than Wednesday 30th July 2014, when I was told by the registrar, ‘It’s Cancer’….
Yes family and friends, this is really happening….to me.
I was in the shower that morning, later than usual, it was an inset (teacher training) day for Jamie, so he was home. For some reason, my wash cloth was not in my bathroom – in my head I had wondered what did Jamie do with it NOW? I have previously seen him WASHING the shower screen with it….
I continued with my shower, so I applied the shower gel straight into my hand and started washing myself….that’s when I felt it, the close, direct contact of my hand to body, made me feel a real LUMP! How the hell did this get here and I have not noticed it? It’s a sizeable lump too! I burst into tears and just stood there, shower running continuously. I got out and dialled the surgery. I was on the bed, shaking.
I got through and the usual receptionist questions, ‘what exactly is the problem?’. ‘I found a lump in my breast and need to see a doctor’ – I was given an appointment the next day.
There was a locum doctor working and she was lovely. She confirmed the lump and did a referral. The NHS acted very quickly and 5pm the next day, I got a call about my appointment for the following week. This was a crazy week and the start of ridiculous alcohol consumption….
My appointment – Monday, July 21st – my wedding anniversary! Drove to the hospital and met the lovely consultant. After being checked, immediate referral for ultrasound . From this moment on, I could tell we were about to begin a journey of sorts, I wasn’t sure of the type of journey but I knew there was to be a journey. My husband Rob, waited with me and after being married for 14 years, doing anniversary things wasn’t that important to us, so we had not made major plans but one thing for sure, sitting in the radiography waiting room, was not something that even crossed our minds!
Met what was to become my first team. Got called in but Rob was not allowed. It was ok though as we were on a tight schedule being the summer holidays and have a 7 year old son who was at a summer club until 12:30pm. The radiologist was gentle, even in the way she spoke. This ultrasound was longer than any I had with both my 2 children. She confirmed that the lump was 2 cms and I would need a mammogram. The problem was, as I am ‘in between’ being young and old (!), a digital mammogram would work better for my age – this beautiful, big clean, friendly, Surrey hospital was in the process of getting one. Here is where the NHS shows HOW great they are and how lucky we are to have the NHS!
They arranged a same day digital mammogram at another hospital 20 minutes away. I got to this hospital and was seen straight away. A LARGE chilly room and this was my first ever mammogram. In fact, I had never even watched a programme or googled this – I later learnt that my husband had watched a show about it. For those who are like me and have (had) no clue, it’s like an eye test for boobs! It is meant to be more uncomfortable than painful but given the size and position of the lump, when my right boob (the affected one), was lifted, squeezed and practically flattened, I grinded my teeth SO MUCH, my gawd, what a relief when both shots of the right was done! The left was uncomfortable but thankfully, not painful.
I was back at the original hospital the next morning where the biopsy was done. Not sure why I thought this was a 5 minute needle prick thing – again, did not bother to read, not even the what to expect leaflet….45 minutes later….2 biopsies were completed. I had a senior radiologist carry it out and a new team of supportive nurses. The radiologist was extremely friendly and chatted to me about all sorts once she heard the SA accent, her son loved SA apparently but was now travelling in Asia. She explained what the biopsy would sound and feel like. The nurse held down and pushed my breast after anaesthetic was applied. The sound was like being wacked by a giant elastic and the feel was that of a staple gun would feel!
She had the screen facing me and explained every step of the process as she was carrying this all out. She showed me some suspicious looking stuff under the lump so had done a core biopsy. This stuff was to be the calcificiation, which could have been there up to 6 years…The lump was 2cm plus 1cm for the calcification. She had checked the nodes and seemed clear but could only tell more from an MRI. Left breast was checked as well and appeared ok.
Copious amounts of alcohol resumed.
July 28 2014 – MRI day. I drove myself to the hospital as had previously had MRI’s a while ago for my back. Thought I would be fine. I entered the hospital from a different entrance this side….massive sign saying CHEMOTHERAPY. Passed a guy at the entrance who was obviously done with his chemo for the day as he was bald and carrying blankets, still smiling though!
Once I was in my 2 hospital gowns as first one you had to leave the opening at the front and then for the good of the public, you had to cover up with one on the other way. Lovely guy Brian helped me and explained what was going to happen. Injection in arm first. OK. I enter the MRI room, two lovelies there and explained things. Again, did not read up and didn’t realise that this time, my MRI was to be facing DOWNWARDS! My GAWD…I am not even claustrophobic! Clever though, things have moved on since my last MRI 10 years ago, face down and your boobies fit into a coldish moUld (think of the song..FREE FALLING).
Once in, I had headphones on, shut my eyes, and just let my body relax. It was very light once inside, even though my eyes were shut..but light in the sense of light you can see at the end of the tunnel quite literally. They checked in on me through the speaker thing they use and I asked them when the music would start. I had heard the guy before me saying he enjoyed the Johnny Cash. Music comes on and why oh why do they have this on their playlist, given the actual purpose of MRI’s….guess what starts playing? TRAVIS – WHY DOES IT ALWAYS RAIN ON ME…………
There was no way out. I decided to go with the flow as no other option. It then dawned on me. THIS, is what it feels when you die and your body leaves the earth. I then started feeling all smiley and relaxed and hand on heart, had the Wonder Years song playing in my head! I was so happy at the realisation to know that if you have ever lost a loved one, no matter how tragic the circumstances were or were not, THIS, was how we actually lost them! No, I am not losing my marbles and the wine has not yet eaten away at my grey cells, this is how I know 100% people feel when they die and it felt WONDERFUL! I believe I was in a state of Euphoria, until they injected the dye in my arm to go across my chest to determine where else were lumps and if it had spread in the lymph nodes….felt a cold trickle, assumed this was normal. Once it was time to get out, I heard the nurse say OH, I lifted my head to see that half the pillow was covered in blood/dye. It had leaked and apparently it happens *sometimes* that it comes undone. For a millisecond, I wanted a re-test but luckily, I don’t consider myself a worrier, there was wine at home, that I was sure of!
2 days later, Wednesday 30th July, back to the hospital to hear those words….unfortunately, ‘it’s CANCER’….. Nothing prepares you for this but 2 things had, I just knew it! We were taken into ‘the room’ by a lovely McMillan nurse who had already prepared my folder and heaps of reading material – still left untouched to this very day that I write. Emotions were high, needless to say but she was so, very kind, lovely and informative, spent almost an hour with her!
**** Let me back track a little. Once I found the lump and had a referral, I informed only one person, my mother’s brother in Australia who is a senior Oncologist (how very lucky am I!?). He has been keeping a close eye on everything, gets copies of my reports straight away (everyone is entitled to this if you just ask). He called me the day before the MRI and started talking to me about NEXT STEPS…Chemo etc…HUH!? Towards the end of the conversation, I asked, ‘So, what are the chances that this is just a cyst or a lump that needs to be taken out?’..He said, ‘Uhm, 10, maybe 20%?’…*gulp*. Copious amounts of alcohol resumed.
The night of the diagnosis, I just bawled my eyes out in bed, away from my children. I have a 14 year old daughter who we kept in the loop and shared updates. At first, she was devastated, very, very devastated! I then explained (with my fingers crossed behind my back) that it’s not like they have said mummy has 3 months to live. It’s not like lung cancer where a lung is a vital organ. It’s a boob. People have boob jobs for non medical purposes, day in and day out. Yes, this is different. *Also, my uncle is pleased that the report it ER positive and H2 negative – he explained it as, ‘if there is a cancer you had to choose, this is the one you want’. Like the consultant says as well, she believes if chemo works well, she doesn’t see why I can’t live a long, normal life.
My days and nights have been filled with a mixture of working loads and using loads of tools for DISTRACTION, to nights when I lie there, asking myself, ‘IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING!?’
I was pencilled in for an op this week, Tuesday 12th August but that was if it was going to be a lumpectomy, straight forward removal of the lump. Unfortunately, I need a mastectomy. The MRI showed the total area to be infected is 4cms plus they remove 1cm around the cancerous cells, making it 5 cms in total – too much to dig out and leave a lopsided boob!
We have a family holiday planned (pending arrival of children’s renewed passports). The consultant agreed that the family holiday is important and won’t affect the outcome. It makes the operation slightly outside of the NHS ideal operating time which is within 31 days of diagnosis.
I see her tomorrow, Friday 15th August. We will discuss ins and outs out the operation itself, which is scheduled for 9th September. Chemotherapy usually starts within 3-4 weeks after the operation. It is done 1 day every 3 weeks and by my calculation, that takes us into January.
I did not intend for this blog to be this long but there has been 3 weeks and a bit of going ons that I wanted to understand myself first, before sharing with everyone as I did not have all the answers straight away. I really did not know how to tell people, no script for this at all! The reason I have started a blog, was to primarily share my journey with you all and it dawned on me, that in a few months time, there might be someone, my age, with young children as well, who gets this same news.
I read only 2 articles just this week, relating to other people’s stories. One was shared with me by a friend : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2532095/Sky-News-presenter-Jacquie-Beltrao-announces-Twitter-breast-cancer-apologises-stopped-tweeting.html
and the other I found myself. The one I had found, summed this up nicely : Once you’re told you have cancer, you enter a new world that’s suddenly separate from everybody else – no one can possibly understand what you’re going through
Much love to you all and I promise to keep you updated.