Monday, 19 November 2012

In the beginning...

It had always been my intention to write this blog in 'real time'. As things happened during this gap year of a journey it was my intention to chronicle every experience and nuance of the situation in order for it to be preserved in time and at the time. For it to provide the author and the reader or readers (well a girl can hope...) with a true account of what happened as it happened as I suppose blogs are meant to. However it became very apparent that in normal times I would have struggled to keep this up so there wasn't really a hope in hell that it was going to happened when I was drugged up to the eyeballs and undoubtedly not going to be well. 

I googled many cancer blogs and marvelled at people's ability to keep it going even when they really were not very well at all. Not only could I not have done that I was really aware that I wouldn't have been able to capture what I was truly feeling because the drugs changed my perception of everything happening to me and around me. I can only now, months after treatment has ended and with some semblance of normality returning, feel I can express what has happened to me over the last 9 months. It is nearly a year to the day that I found my lump and at the end of November it will be one year since I went for my tests. December 14th is the day I was given the news about my diagnosis. 

Only a year on do I feel able to do this. That I am at last in the right place to tell my story in the right words at the right time. 

Who am I doing this for? I am not sure. I think first and foremost for myself, then my family, then my friends and for those who have been through this, but in no particular order. I also hope that this might be useful to those starting to going through this. Those who are where I was a year ago. Scared, alone and frightened of what might be ahead and googling for some answers, some support, some helpful words and so importantly honesty.

What a difference a year makes. I am no longer as scared or frightened anymore though I am still alone with my innermost feelings about this but I think that's okay and natural. Its hard to explain even to those closest to you how you are feeling if they haven't experienced a diagnosis as life threatening as cancer. But having experienced my worse fear I am prepared and ready for whatever the future now holds and I really am  no longer scared of it. I have to live for today and all the days ahead that I hope I have. I owe it to my family to get on with my life and move forward.

That is why writing this blog now is the right time. It is now cathartic and allows me to get beyond my cancer and begin to live again.

In the beginning things were so different and I truly believed that I would leave my cancer behind after treatment, but I now know it is what makes me who I now am and who I am going to be from now on. So although in the beginning I thought I would be nearing the end of this blog by now, I am only just truly beginning.

'X' marks the spot

One of my appointments is a procedure to have a titanium marker inserted into the site of the tumour. This is to ensure that after 16 weeks of chemotherapy when it comes to surgery they are able to locate where the tumour was - as the hope is that chemotherapy will do its job and eradicate the tumour or at least begin to shrink it.  They need to be clear as to exactly where it is so that if after chemotherapy the tumour has gone that the operation ensures that the tumour site and clear margins are removed so that I am cancer-free.

So the day before my son’s 4th birthday and his annual birthday pre- hogmaney bash we do every year for all of the kids at nursery and our friends and their children, I go to the clinic. I don’t know what to expect. I have been told that it is a routine procedure and that it will be painless and I can drive. I arrive at the clinic and am quickly ushered into my appointment. It’s the day before New Year’s Eve and I am sure they want to be here as little as I do though that doesn’t stop me feeling sorry for myself.

The next day I have to cater for about 30 four year olds and their parents. Our son’s birthday has become a popular fixture on the social calendar as it falls on New Year’s Eve and for many of us parents’ it’s the only hogmaney celebrations we will get to over the next few years whilst our little ones are so young. My partner and I have always tried to make it as fun for the adults as much as for the children with mulled wine, nibbles and cava to round off the three hours (which by then is definitely needed!) The kids run wild having lots of fun playing with toys or the games we lay on. I really do believe the parents love it as much as the kids which makes me more determined than ever to make it as great as ever and not for it or me to be clouded by the C word. By this stage I have only told a few people so I can get away with hiding things and carrying on with as much normality as possible.

I lay on the bed and my breast is numbed with some local anaesthetic. The lovely nurse offers me her hand to squeeze in case of pain when the needle goes in. She tries to distract me by engaging me in some general chit chat which I am grateful for as a gesture of kindness, but also feel obliged to partake in when really I just want to be anywhere but here. If she would just stop talking I could imagine this wasn’t happening and that I was where I should be – getting things ready for my little boy’s big day.

The doctor is kind and very efficient and the procedure itself as they said takes no time at all. I am bandaged up and sent on my way. I return home feeling not only the numbness in my tit but also in my mind. I need to retain this numbness in order to get through tomorrow and the days to come. My mind wants to scream, “Why is this happening to me?”, but I have to keep it in because I can’t lose it for the sake of my family and my own sanity. Certainly not now the day before my son’s birthday when I have to make a parcel the parcel or parcels big enough provide a present for each child and and bake a chocolate brownie birthday cake big enough to feed 30 children and their accompanying parents!!!

Now with an ‘X’ truly marking the spot my own swashbuckling adventure with cancer is about to start. But not today. Cancer will have to wait until next year I tell myself (or at least the day after tomorrow) then it will unfortunately, I’m sure, have my full attention. Today however returns to being about the most important thing happening this year – preparations for my little boy’s 4th birthday and this cake won’t bake itself…

My very own Entourage

There have been points on this 'gap year' that have been particularly unbearable. The first was the one when I found the lump and was waiting in the doctor's surgery. The second was the time between the first breast clinic appointment and the second one for the procedures to take place and the third was waiting for the results - the last one being the hardest, although deep down I already knew what the answer was.

As you may have noticed I have approached most of this of my own. It may seem strange but until I knew the full effect of the situation I didn't want to be an alarmist and involve lots of people - not even my nearest and dearest. My partner knew of course and my lovely friend who took me to the first appointment, but I just couldn't reveal it any further until I knew what I was actually revealing. I couldn't even tell one of my dearest friends as she was grieving the sudden loss of her father and I just felt I couldn't add to her worries. She needed all her strength to get through her grief and that of her family and didn't need me adding to it.

My partner was the one bearing the brunt of this and I was not dealing with it as well as I had hoped. The nature of his work meant that he wasn't able to come to appointments with me but frankly even if he could there was something, at this stage, that stopped me wanting him from being there. There is no rational explanation but I just felt that before I could share this further with anyone I had to have the full details of what I was up against.  I think deep down I wanted to protect everyone from this especially my family.

However with the next hurdle looming I was starting to feel very alone and out of control. Because of work commitments away from home my partner could not come with me on the day of the test results. He wanted to rearrange things but I just couldn't bear getting bad news with him there and then feeling the need as I always do to have to look after someone. I just needed to hear whatever it was they had to say, process it and then let everyone know. I am not scared of sharing and talking as all of you who know me know but for once I needed to control this as it was probably going to be the only thing I could control in this new world that was undoubtedly ahead of me.

The friend I was trying to spare the news from sensed something wasn't right. I hadn't been in touch as I would normally be especially in the circumstances because I was scared I would let something slip and let her know what was up and just couldn't to do that to her. However I couldn't keep avoiding talking to her and eventually my partner convinced me I needed to talk to someone else and have someone with me at the appointment. I knew I had to tell her.

When she spoke she immediately asked me what was wrong. I tried to hide it from her. I was fine - just been busy with work and life. She wasn't buying it. She had known me way to long and had been through far too much together to pull the wool over her eyes. Eventually I broke and the words came out in a torrent mixed with tears and I am sure by the time I had finished blubbing globs of snot too! As I knew she would be she was amazing and in her grounded way assured me that she would be there with me at that appointment and throughout whenever I needed her. I suddenly felt like a great weight had lifted. I didn't have to face this on my own anymore. I had someone who could share it with me and keep me focused. Someone more pragmatic and way more sensible than me that could keep me going off the dramatic deep end which I am inclined to do. 

So here we are at the clinic waiting for me to be called up for my appointment. Half an hour passes after the appointment time. My friend is chatting away to me trying to keep me distracted. At first I am up for this approach but as time passes I become more anxious and agitated. Although I continue to chatting away I am starting to become less engaged in the conversation and am fixated on the time. Everytime someone comes out to call for the next person I am like a meercat on my hind legs - alert and watching. Eventually a woman calls my name. She comes over to introduce herself and tells me she is a breast care nurse. I numbly smile and follow her as she leads me and my friend to a room. I am now starting to feel really nervous and this whole procedure feels very surreal. I am not taking in anything that is being said. A man walks in and I assume the breast care nurse told me this was going to happen but I can't remember. He is followed into the room by a young woman. I need to snap back into the present. I need to concentrate on what is happening but I am also desperately trying to hang onto the last vestige of hope that this will all be okay and that this is what he is about to say...

"Do you mind if our student doctor sits in on this?" My heart sinks. I know what is to follow. I wouldn't have a breast care nurse or a student sit in on this meeting if it was to tell me that the lump was benign and I can go home. A student would not know be looking at this man poking at my chest to show her a benign lump. Of course not you silly arse. You know what is going to happen and you know why you are now here in this room.

What I don't really remember are the words that followed. All I know is that the conversation was put onto a CD for me to listen to at my leisure. Maybe as background music for a dinner party. Forget Norah Jones, Zero 7 or a bit of Jamie Cullum. Its the breast cancer diagnosis CD which you need to have subtly playing in the background whilst you serve your Nigella/Hugh Fernley W/Jamie/Masterchef or Come Dine With Me homage. It is so on trend. However I don't want to be 'on trend'. I want to be as passe as you can get. So passe that I am not really here but in another time of my life, another decade would do. A moment in time which I would have angsted over at the time but in hindsight was fuck all compared to this moment I am in right here, right now. 

I try to follow what is being said. I have people looking concerned at me. People I don't know speaking in soft slow tones so that I understand and take in everything that they are saying and probably to ensure that its all being caught clearly onto the CD. But I don't hear a word after being told by the kind looking man that I have breast cancer. I don't know what type it is, how big it is or how bad it is. I hear nothing. He is speaking to me and I can see his lips moving but he might as well be speaking in Swahili or Cantonese. I feel myself nodding and I look down at my hands and I am digging my nails into the palm of my hands. I need to feel something as right now I just feel completely numb and the only word I keep hearing ringing in my ears and swirling around in the cavities of my mind is 'cancer'. 

I will not at this stage bore you with the detail. Oh god I can hear you thinking this means that she will bore us at some stage. Well yes I think I have to but only because as its a blog about the Big C I ought to provide some factual detail about it. But right now at that point in time although being provided with as much detail as probably was humanely possible I do not recall any of it. My friend is listening intently and taking it all in I am sure or should I say I hope...

I am starting to rationalise this in my head and trying to allow the logical side (oh there is one honestly) of my brain to take hold in order to get a grip and pull me back into the here and now so I can process what I need to do once I leave this room. I am thinking about the woman I meet when I came for my mammogram who had had breast cancer and looked amazing and told me that after surgery and then radiotherapy she was fine. It had all started in May and it was now November and she looked great and said she was feeling more energised than she ever had before the cancer. I started to think that this was going to be okay. My breast cancer would be the same and I would have it cut out and be back to work and returning to life as I knew it but with even more vigour. I was starting to listen to what was being said to me. I remember hearing the statement that it would be a 'lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy" and think I may have even asked a question or two in a vain attempt to show that I was in control and my silence up until this point was because I was taking it all in and processing all this information in order to make informed salient points and ask pertinent questions to fill gaps or clarify. Oh how so very far from the truth could this be. 

As I felt the turmoil lessen and a sense of calm prevail another C word was thrown in the mix to send me heading off on another rollercoaster of emotions. No it wasn't THAT word but I think I would have preferred it if it had been. "We would like to give you a course of chemotherapy prior to surgery and then follow that up with radiotherapy and then Tamoxifen."  My friend sensed the effect the words were having on me and grabbed hold of my hand. I remember that simple gesture meaning so much at that point. That dark frightening time when I realised that I wasn't going to have cancer like the woman I meet in the waiting room two weeks ago. Little was I to know how different every single cancer is and how each cancer even if it bears the same name is so very very different to each person experiencing it. But in this place, in this room with my lovely friend holding my hand the true enormity of it all hit me like a 10 tonne truck coming at full speed and meeting a speedy express train coming the other way and finding little ol' me right in the middle.

I am now holding her hand far too tightly but I can't stop and she is so lovely that she just lets me do it sensing my need to have someone to connect with as I am suddenly don't want to be alone with this but know deep down that from now on I very much am and am completely and utterly overwhelmed by what that means. No one can do this for me or help me do the treatment. Just me. Nobody will ever know how this diagnosis will make me feel from now on and for the rest of my life. No-one but me.

The doctor leaves the room with the student and I am left with my friend and the breast care nurse. I want to scream, I want to shout out, I want this  not to be happening but nothing comes out. I am numb and the time that passes feels like an eternity. Suddenly I need to get out of this room, escape from this building which is the architect of my now miserable and depressed state of mind - away from these people who have been the messengers of this bad news. 

But as I leave I know that this place will be a fixture of my life from now on and even though I came in alone and I feel alone right now that I now have an entourage - my very own entourage - my surgeon, my oncologist, radiotherapists, chemo nurses and breast care nurse. I am now part of "Team Soraya" and for once in my life I better be on the winning team. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Madam - can I interest you in a spot of...medical probing???

I am now officially the property of the NHS. Appointments come thick and fast. Each day letters with the NHS logo come through the letterbox. I am invited to different clinics and hospitals to undergo a myriad of procedures all of which will help form the full picture of my illness. As of this moment there’s a lump in my breast and some blockages in my lymph nodes but they need more information – more stuff and I need to have different things done to me in order for them to get the stuff they need so that I can get better.

At this stage however it is all so overwhelming. For somebody who has never engaged with the NHS in any way, bar having a baby, this is all new unchartered territory which I have explored only with my mother at close quarters but even then for a woman of 83 she’s done pretty well at steering well away from the inner workings of the NHS – just dabbling on the outer edges with regular appointments to see the doctor to confirm she’s still demented and to get her toe nails cuts all of which I take her to. God what a glamorous life I lead. Who’d have thought it all those partying, intoxicated, crazy days and nights would end like this… the selfish, feckless girl who just (allegedly) cared about herself and her own pleasures would be the one making sure that her mother’s little bit of memory and her dignity (as well as her toenails) were being kept intact. Would wonders never cease! Still those are musings for another post…

So suddenly I am on the mailing list for the NHS and each day the postie pops the letters through the door and I go, with dread and a heavy heart, to see what is in store for my frightened body and fairly feeble mind. I start to yearn for the days of junk mail. Surely someone, somewhere wants to sell me an awning, double glazing or solar panels. I silently plead for someone to need my spare clothing for charity, my money for a hungry child somewhere in Africa or indeed to buy up all my unwanted gold.  I tentatively turn the envelopes over hoping that I will need to immediately dispatch a postal order (do those still exist?) or cheque (can we still use these?) or make three easy payments towards a commerative coin or plate or a limited edition print of animals in hilarious or cute poses. But no it’s an appointment letter telling me what procedure is required to be undertaken, what will happen, what I need to do to make it happen and where and when it will happen. Oh cruel god of post and its junk mail disciple. WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN  ME IN MY HOUR OF NEED?

How many appointments can or should one person have to undergo for something they didn’t even know they had a week ago and suddenly is being dealt with in such speed that my head is spinning and I am starting to fear that things are worse than I’ve been lead to believe.

I still can’t get over the fact that I feel absolutely fine. Really well and although tired from my attempts at trying to have it all and do it all - relatively healthy. So why are they just not cutting this thing out of my tit and letting me go on my way? Why all the drama and build up? Why has everything become about medical procedures and probing? What are they looking for? I suddenly feel so ignorant to the world of cancer. For someone who thinks they are pretty well informed I feel overwhelming ignorant. Even though two of my good friends have been through this, that I lost a good friend to cancer and my grandmother died of cancer I find myself at 43 years of age knowing absolutely nothing about this and feeling very much like a lamb to slaughter. I want to speak to my friends who have been through this but it feels ghoulish and tasteless - making them pick at the scabs which I am sure have well and truly covered their wounds just to make it better for me.

I am scared to inform myself via the wonderful world wide web as I think it may tell me things I really don’t want to know and that things are indeed worse than I think. I need to get to a place of understanding that I am comfortable about and so that I can start to see these medical processes as just steps that need to be taken to getting me better. If I can see them as building blocks to recovery then maybe I won’t fear the arrival of the postman. Maybe I will be less fearful of the procedures ahead of me such as “MRI” or “CT Scan”. Maybe it will stop this inane need to have an onslaught of junk mail just to make me feel normal again…  

Saturday, 7 April 2012

"Mummy what did you do on the day of the Big Strike?"

I returned to the clinic alone. My lovely friend who had come with me on Monday offered but it was the day of the strike and she was marching but because her son's school would be closed by teachers were marching too it meant he would be with her. I couldn't think of anything worse than a small child being forced to hang out in a breast clinic full of middle aged women. When in years to come people were asked where we you on the day of the strike I didn't want that to be his answer! Still a compromise was made with my friend dropping me off and us arranging to meet (hopefully) post appointment.

This time the clinic was packed full of people with a very different buzz about it. It felt less intimidating and certainly not depressing or indeed full of middle aged women as I had expected. The clientele was certainly diverse with even a few men waiting amongst the groups. There was also quite a few young women which again shocked me.

I was sent down to have my mammogram and waited in a hallway to be called in. I sat in a row of chairs with some other women all waiting to be called up for particular procedures. I was called in for my mammogram. Having never had one before but remembering my mother having one many years ago I was pretty nervous about what would happen. I was quite young when my mother had one and the machines looked like a tool of torture. I remember seeing my mother's face in pain but that it was over pretty quickly. However thankfully it looked like the machine had moved on though the procedure hadn't! Still thank goodness that my breasts are not on the small side as I think the more the machine has to play with the less likely it is to hurt. The woman undertaking the procedure was also great. She talked me through what was happening the whole time and making sure I knew exactly what was going on. Her lovely Irish accent sounded so reassuring that again I was pinning all hopes on to the fact that she would have sounded much more distressed if there was really something wrong. I know - but a girl could hope...

I was quickly dispatched back to the waiting area. The same women were still there. There were four of us sitting in a row waiting to be called. Every time someone walked out of  room or open a door were four would sit up like meerkats waiting expectedly to be called. I joked with the woman sitting next to me that it felt like being a school waiting for the teacher to call you in because you'd be naughty. We laughed and struck up a conversation. Her name was Jane and she mentioned about her first time here back in May. She told me that she had been diagnosed in May, had surgery followed by radiotherapy and was now on tamoxifen but thankfully there had been no need for chemotherapy. The reason she was back was because she had found a lump but that the surgeon thought it was probably scar tissue but she was just getting it checked. She looked amazing and was just glowing. I felt that even if there was something there it might not be so bad after all if at the end you could come out looking like Jane. She joked that her breast team said she should be the poster girl for Tamoxifen as she had done so well. Maybe, just maybe if there was something there it would be like Jane's lump. She had only been off work for a month and was doing really well and in her words feeling more energised than she had in years and she really did look amazing.

As we continued to wait I said that it would be good if they had a TV so we could watch some inane TV like Jeremy Kyle to take our minds off where we were. Another woman joined in the conversation and started saying that she couldn't believe the people who went on those programmes and what sort of lives they had. We nodded which then gave her the red light to start to tell us about her life which would have given many of Jeremy Kyle contenders a run for their money. She had 7 children all with different fathers of which she was on birth control when she conceived six of them. She lived with 3 of her grandchildren who all had ADHD with two of the fathers saying the kids weren't theirs. She had just had tests for bowel and cervical cancer both of which had been negative but felt the need to tell us what the procedures involved. She had then found a lump in her breast so was here to sort it out. Both Jane and I tried our hardest not to look like shocked Daily Mail readers of Tunbridge Wells and in fairness to us I think we did pretty well. I think what threw it for me was when she said she was 42 - the same age as me! She looked ten years older and had quite clearly had a hard time of it. I just kept thinking we don't need the TV - we have the show right here! She was then called in for her test. Jane and I didn't say anything for about 10 seconds then both just looked at each other and started laughing. Our very own Jeremy Kyle show had just taken place and I am sure we had have been given a whole load more revelations in technicolour detail had she not been called in. Still I was quickly pulled back to reality by being called into another room for  a further procedure (hopefully) towards elimination. I said goodbye to Jane and wished her luck as she did me. I hoped I might see her again as she had made that wait so much more bearable but I didn't. I hope it was just scar tissue...

Obviously the mammogram had not eliminated me from this process. I was now going to have an ultrasound. There was a doctor and a nurse in the room who were both lovely and reassuring explaining what was to happen next. The mammogram had shown the existence of the lump and the ultrasound would get a better idea of what the lump was. It would also look at the lymph nodes to see if that might reveal something too.

I took my top off and lay on the coach. I had to lie on my side with my arm outstretched above my head and the doctor tried to make light of the moment by saying that it looked like a very artistic pose whereas my flippancy mode switched on and I said that as much as I like to think that I was lying there looking very rubensque or rennaisance women I was sure it was more Lucien Freud "Women from the Dole Office" which they both found highly amusing - maybe a bit too amusing!!! However the amusement was short lived when he said the lump did not present as a cyst. I was quickly pulled back to reality and switched from flippant to practical mode. "How does a cyst present?" I asked. He explained about the colour - that a cyst was darker and this lump was grey. It also was harder whereas as cyst is more malleable. He was also concerned about enlargement in the lymph nodes which could be linked so he wanted to do a biopsy and a test of the nodes.

As soon as he had given his explanation and next steps I knew deep down something wasn't right and that it would have to take a miracle for this not to be what I thought it was. I couldn't even say the word I just knew that whatever I had hoped for it was not to be and now had a name. This doctor had been doing these procedures long enough - day in and day out not not to know what a cancerous lump looked like along with the lymph node action he mentioned. I knew from my friends' experience what this meant. However I wanted to hold onto the last vestiges that it could be still a benign lump and the lymph nodes were enlarged because I had had a really bad cold and was still getting over it.

The lovely nurse held my hand whilst the doctor undertook the biopsy. I think I am pretty thick skinned as I heard him ask for a blade to cut my skin. I was well and truly numbed up around the area so didn't feel a thing. After he did his bit the doctor slipped away and left the nurse to cover the wound which made me look rather Amazonian with one breast considerably larger than the other!

I walked out of the room to see our lovely Jeremy Kyle contender being given the all clear and sent on her way. I wanted that to be me. Why couldn't I have been sent off like that never to see this place again? However I had a distinct feeling that this was just the start of my relationship with this place and I was going to get to know it a whole lot more.

I walked out of the clinic into bright sunshine and weighed up my odds. I could skulk off home and feel sorry for myself licking my wounds (no not literally) or I could go forget all about this and go marching. I choose the later. I wanted to be able to have a good story to tell my son in years to come about what Mummy did on the day of the Big Strike...and march I did.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

"And the magazines are in date..."

I received a call from the breast clinic to make an appointment for me to come in and have some tests. I was told by my line manager that in her case she was booked in for a whole day and as they proceeded with the tests you were eliminated along the way dependent on your results and when I say eliminated its not in a "shot 'em up' computer game sort of way but in a more gentle, "Get your top on your rack is fine" or "Plop your stack on here and see what's lurking in them there titties". Not that either phrases were used to me but I think you get the drift of what can happen.

So you can imagine my confusion when I was given an appointment for 3:00pm on a Monday afternoon. What happen to the whole day of tests? Why was I only being given a couple of hours? Had my doctor given his 'benign' opinion (I mean my lump being benign not his opinion!) and that it was all fine and didn't need a whole day to investigate or was it so bad that they could cut to the chase and do the 'big' test last. Again having no idea how any of this works all I could do was let my over active mind work overtime yet again. I had now moved on from the main roles in the made for TV tearjerker and had begun to cast supporting roles. I won't share this now as my friends may read this blog and I want them to stay my friends. I also don't want anyone to feel that have been miscast though I did have in mind Graham Norton, Joan Collins and Minty from EastEnders (don't know the actor's name but one of my friends bears an uncanny resemblance!) - to be starting with - though I will let my friends work out who in which role.

A lovely friend of mine took me to the appointment. I warned her about the series of tests and the elimination process before we got there so she could be prepared for a wait. I arrived at the clinic which was pretty quiet - I think me and maybe another couple of people (and I think a couple of them were from the WRVS cafe - the tabards should have given them away). Soon after arrival I was called in by a  nurse who I have to say seemed pretty cold and not very reassuring. I had it in mind that anyone who worked here would be incredibly warm and effusive because of the nature of the place (and as well because of my limited experience of these things I expected them to be a bit fluffy and pink and full of reassuring words and upbeat mantras like the people I had encountered on the Race for Lifes I had done - I know, I know - one is fundraising event and the other is a hospital - I have worked that out for myself since) because of the nature of the place but I suppose like any place you become immune to it all and frankly how warm and effusive can you be when you've been doing it for years and its the end of the day and you're sick to death of looking at another pair of tits!!! (unless of course you work in the world of adult entertainment then I suppose you'd be brimming with effusiveness and if indeed not warmness you'd expect warm hands!)

I tried to lighten the conversation by asking a series of rather inane questions but she wasn't having any of it and did her best to answer in as few words as possible if any at all. She told me to take my top off, lie on the coach and gave me some flimsy scratchy oversized kitchen roll in that lovely hospital blue colour to put over my breasts. She then went off I assumed to get the consultant but it could have been the hospital porter, tea lady, receptionist, car park attendant, passing stranger or all of them for the amount of information she imparted. Thankfully as this 'journey' sorry 'gap year' has progressed I find that a) I have only ever encountered her once since [thank god] and b) she is certainly the exception rather than the rule.

I lay on the coach in a state of flux. Part of me wanted the consultant to hurry rush in and give me the lowdown but the other part wanted this moment to last longer to suspend the inevitable so that I could just continue to be the pre-lump me - without a health worry in the world - and that all of this would just be silly little blip or should I say cyst that would go away and all would return to normal. The consultant came in to break my mind's meandering and introduced himself and started the examination. He quickly found the lump and confirmed this. He then asked me to get dressed and said he would return. Once dressed he came back and confirmed (again) that there was a lump (no surprises there then!) and that I would need to have a mammogram and followed by an ultrasound to confirm any findings. I had assumed this is what happened so no surprises there and expected to move to the next stage before hopeful elimination. But no the surprise was that I had to come back on Wednesday (2 days time). I was shocked as had psyched myself up for it all happening today and to have come back again just threw me. Also Wednesday was the day of the General Strike for all public sector employees over pensions of which I was intending to strike and go on a march in Brighton. I was also concerned about whether staff would be available but the receptionist reassured me that they had to be here to as it this is an essential services.

The appointment lasted no more than half an hour. I went back into the waiting room to find my lovely friend having a veritably wonderful time with a late lunch laid out in front of her and a stack of magazines. She was in mid mouthful looking like she could be happily enscounsed for the next few hours. She saw me and expectedly asked whether we were done. I said we were but that all he done was confirm there was a lump so really no further news but that I had to come back for more tests on Wednesday the day of the big strike - what rubbish timing. However hopefully I'd be done quickly in time for marching in the late morning.

She finished her lunch and gathered our things and as we left she said, "What I shame it couldn't be all sorted out today for you. I had hoped you'd be able to get an answer.". "So had I. I'd pinned so much on today and knowing more and all I know it was I already know. Still I'll know soon enough." We walked to the car. "I'm sorry it was so quick as you looked nicely sorted for the rest afternoon with your lunch and all those magazines." I said to my friend. "I know I thought you'd be awhile and can you believe it this never happens but all those fantastic magazines and they were all in date. When does that ever happen" One satisfied customer at least. Hopefully another to follow on Wednesday...

Friday, 2 March 2012

I touch myself.

Well this journey (no sorry) potential gap year started with an innocent shower one Saturday morning in November. As this post title might suggest a shower isn't being used as an euphomism for a bit of onanism (oh how many 'isms' can I get in one sentence). I was indeed having a shower and getting myself into a bit of a lather (no again not in a self loving kind of way but in a way that involved shower gel). Whilst lathering up I proceeded to touch myself around the breast area (God this sounds so clinical as trying hard to veer away from the erotic - though no concerns that happening so far unless of course clinical talk gets you going!) Having had a number of friends that have had breast cancer I suppose I've become more aware of examining myself (albeit not that intently) when in the shower and suddenly I felt this lump under my left breast. So from having a general feel I suddenly went into panic mode and the anxiety levels began to rise. I touched myself again in the hope it was just a lumpy muscly ridgey thing (making my breasts sound really attractive now aren't I???). But no it was definitely a lump which I couldn't remember ever feeling before when I've been in this touching myself up scenario.

I then started to feel more panicky and a bit weirdly tearful but really tried to calm myself down as I was feeling this was a complete overaction. For godsake woman it could be anything, I thought, so why are you thinking the worse within a minute of finding it? I got out of the shower and started to check my breast in the mirror.

I just have to say it still wasn't a pretty or erotic sight me trying to haul my big boob up to see if I could see anything under my breast in a steamy bathroom with my glasses on so I could actually see which in turn where steaming up too (again I am sure there are some choice internet sites that may pay good money for this though I cannot understand or even begin to fathom why). So I touched it again and the lump was still there though from what I could see not visible through the skin.

I needed a second opinion so went to my partner to see if he could feel anything. "Touch my breast" I said presenting it to him whilst he was just waking up from his slumber. I think he thought that all his Birthdays and Christmases had rolled into one. He began to have a good feel of my left tit. "Well when you ask and present it so nicely it would be rude not to." he said starting to move into a better position to get mauling. "No not like that I mean I want you to touch my breast at the bottom - I think I can feel a lump that wasn't there before. I just need to get a second opinion." He sat up and started to feel my breast. He started somewhere near the lump then proceeded to move to the side of the breast and said "Yes I can feel something and its quite big." "What?" I shouted. "Yes all round here I can feel something." he said as he continued to squeeze the side of my left breast. "No you fool that's my breast you're squeezing and as you know they are quite big, but not there, down here." I said rearranging his hand whilst continuing to yabber at him mindlessly saying "You squeezing down there and saying its quite big is like me squeezing one of your testicles and saying yes I think your right - it is a lump!" Exasperated by what I was feeling was a poor judge of second opinioner but desperately wanting to have got it wrong myself he then quietly said, "Yes I can feel something. You should get that checked".

I moved away from him and sat on the bed. "Look it could be nothing but you need to know so there's nothing to worried about yet is there?" He was trying to get me to snap back into practical mode and not dwell on something that I had no idea what I was dwelling upon. As far as I was concerned it could be one of two things - malignant or benign and the only way I would know was to make an appointment with the doctor.

The following week came and went and I still had not made a doctor's appointment. In fairness to me I was so busy struggling to meet deadlines it just wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Subconsciously I had stopped the touching myself routine so I suppose I didn't have to acknowledge it was there - something that I am still struggling with starting up again.

But by the end of the week I knew I had to make that appointment as I work from home on Mondays and it would have been the best day to go. So by Friday I had made the appointment and I was going to see the my doctor on Monday evening. I asked for a double appointment as I felt I needed to make sure he or I were not being rushed.

I did pretty well about forgetting about it over the weekend which you can do when you have small children around you demanding of your time and was still struggling to get my work down on Monday. My mind was reeling with a number of things. I had applied for voluntary redundancy from a secondment. It felt really unfair as for the first time since I had my son I was really enjoying my work but because of organisational restructure I was being forced to leave and return to my old posting which I had hated. It felt even worse because I was still needed in my current job until they filled the vacancy internally. I was angry and feeling really hurt that they couldn't have found a way to keep me. I was also feeling really used. I wasn't good enough to be kept in the restructuring but I was still expected to work full pelt. However I had taken the control back and made a decision to take voluntary redundancy, get some cash, spend a bit of time with my little man before he started school and get another job when I was ready. My partner was behind me and things were starting to feel good. I was back in control and things would get better. Or so I thought...

Monday came and as the day progressed I became more agitated. My appointment was at 6:00pm and was with one of the lovely doctors at the surgery - a male one at that. I had been given a choice between him and another female doctor, but I had a better history with him. He was one of the partners in the surgery and getting to see one was like winning the lottery. He was older and I just always felt reassured and listened to so felt he was a better choice. However as I sat in the waiting room I felt sick. The anticipation of what would happen next was overwhelming. I can't remember a time I felt so anxious about something. My body was rooted to the chair in which I sat but my legs wanted to pull me up and make me run away from the situation I might found myself in. "Get a fucking grip woman", I kept saying to myself. In my head my life was already descending into one of those daytime TV specials about a Mum (or is that Mom - as they are inevitably American) with a young family dying of breast cancer bravely trying to keep it altogether but succumbing to this terrible disease in her prime! My thoughts raced to who would play me or my partner (Selma Hayek/Johnny Depp - I'll let you guess whose playing who). I was pulled out my reverie by my doctor calling my name...

I explained to him why I was there. The touching myself scenario though with less detail and my concerns. He asked me to lie on the examination table and once I was settled proceeded to examine my left and right breast. I was suddenly wondering if he was a good choice because he is an attractive man and I started to feel really embarrassed that a man I had seen on numerous occasions had not seen me in this position and suddenly was getting a eyeful of my mammaries close up and personal. He was very gentle but his hands were cold and I started laughing out of nervousness and because it tickled. It felt inappropriate to be laughing but I couldn't help it. So I went into my fallback flippant mode and made an apology for having to end his day this way just before going home to his dinner. He looked at me strangely but obviously thought he should smile and continue as if I hadn't spoken. I then babbled on about my partner's examination and sharing my joke about the testicles which again on reflection was probably not the best place or time to have shared this. 

At first he couldn't feel anything and I started to feel less anxious. However a few seconds later he said he could feel something. He obviously had some visual tests or signs he was trained to look for in these circumstances. He said he thought it was probably benign as he proceeded to feel under my armpits stating that he couldn't feel any lumps their either. Again my anxiety levels began to subside. Maybe I was being an alarmist and actually I just had a lump that was going to turn out to be nothing at all. However he said, "I have to refer you to the breast clinic to ensure that its nothing more. In the old days we would do the tests here but we can't anymore." I asked him what a malignant lump looked like and he said that there were visual characteristics like dimpling of the skin around the lump and the nipple, an inverted nipple, soreness or pain none of which were obvious in this case. However a mammogram and ultrasound would give a better indication. I had already done a bit of research on what happens when a lump is found and he confirmed that I would receive an appointment within two weeks and then further tests would be taken. 

As I left his office thanking him for his time he took my hand and held it in his saying not to worry. However I felt that his eyes and body language were saying something quite different. I wanted to hold onto his words that he didn't believe it was malignant but yet he couldn't be sure. He hadn't told me that it was nothing and I was just one of those lumpy muscly ridgy breasted beasts with nothing to worry about. I had become somebody who needed further investigation. 

Although my anxiety levels had subsided by seeing my doctor they began to rise as I left the surgery. I still didn't know for sure what the lump was. I didn't want to think worse case scenario but it was there in my head niggling away. I called my line manager to tell her I had yet again missed my deadline but also to tell her what had happened. She needed to know that there were bigger things afoot than me just being belligerent about my job and refusing to meet my deadlines. I started to cry as I spoke to her. The first time I had really properly cried about finding the lump. She was great and tried to reassure me by telling me she had recently undergone a similar experience and it was all okay in the end. Again clutching at straws I tried to take what she and my doctor had said as being positive things for me. I was going to be okay. It was going to be alright. Women found lumps in their breasts everyday of the week and they were fine. The odds were good and wasn't it 1 in 8 or was that 1 in 3 women or 1 in 10 (or was I getting confused by the UB40 song). Anyway it was 1 in something so I would be fine. 

However as I walked up the hill back home I knew I was no nearer to feeling better and even further away from the truth of what that lump meant. As I recalled that first day of finding the lump and wishing it had never ever happened a random tune came into my head. A completely inappropriate tune for the matter in hand, but one that has stayed with me since. As I thought about where all this had started this song seemed more and more appropriate. I vaguely remembered the video on Top of the Pops with the very curvaceous lead singer writhing around on the floor rubbing her body and basically just having a good old feel up of herself. Its kind of become an unofficial anthem to all of this as it started in the shower with me just doing just what the female singer of The Divinyls cooed into the microphone 'I Touch Myself'. That's what I did and far from it conjuring up the sexually explosive feelings that it did for the lead singer it was about to become explosive for me in a whole lot of other ways...

Sunday, 19 February 2012

You say 'journey', I say 'gap year'...

So my numerous followers (I know but a girl can dream...) can see that I have not been as forthcoming as my first post in my Life in 3G series (listen to me like I've been a prolific blogger with a number of blogs - not!) might have intimated that I would have been, but in fairness to me I think I have a pretty good excuse...

You will have noted that I have started another blog with an intriguing new title. Well I will be continuing to blog  (not sure if that's a promise or threat?) about my Life in 3 G alongside, but as if life wasn't complicated, complex and challenging (l'm liking the the 3 C's) enough I decided to add another dimension to it (and another 'C') cancer.

I know I am a greedy cow and obviously the amount of stuff I had going on in my life just wasn't high octane stress level inducing enough for me. Oh no sirey. As I was beginning to reduce my stress by deciding to eliminate the most stressful part of my life - my job - something decided to knock me off centre completely.

You are all probably thinking what depths would this woman sink to to get material for a blog. Will pretty low as nothing is sacred, but in my defence on receiving my diagnosis blogging was the furthest from my mind. The only resounding technicolour thought I had can be summed up in one word - FUCK - yes that was the first thought and continued to be the only thought for a number of hours after. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK. All those years of a fairly successful education and for those who know me I have never been one who is lost for words, but really the only word that kept coming up was FUCK. But you will be pleased to know that it did progress and by the end of the day the word had morphed into a sentence (probably more of a statement) albeit it a short one, but not deviating far from the initial thought."I'M FUCKED". See progression however subtle.

But look at me skipping along and giving you way too much detail already. No no no missus. Stop being so easy and giving it all away at the first opportunity. This isn't a date. Have a bit of mystique woman. Play a bit hard to get. Leave them wanting more. I am not sure who the 'them' is and if there really is anymore that anyone would be vaguely interested in. Still my followers (I at least have one, but I think it's me) will be the judge I am sure.

Anyway a lot of people have said I should blog my 'journey' with cancer to help get through it and to have something to look back on to make sense of it all when the 'journey' ends. But in the first instance I struggle with the word 'journey'. Is it really a journey? I am not knocking those who view it as a journey because what I have learnt is that when you are the person going on this 'journey' you grab whatever you need to get through it so if the 'journey' helps you journey away. I have even found myself using the word when talking to others especially when trying to convince them (and undoubtedly me) that this is something that is going to be okay and I have to go on  the 'journey' to get to the other side (and no I don't mean the afterlife - well not yet or for awhile anyway!!!)

However for me the word 'journey' is something you plan, embark upon willingly and by choice with an idea of where you are heading on the way and where your ultimate destination will be. This is not the case with this. I didn't plan it, I am certainly not a willing passenger and I haven't a fucking clue what I'll be encountering on this trip and where the fuck I will end up. So journey to me is a bit of false advertising. Its feels more like what I imagine a gap year would be. This is the gap year I never had. Gap years were not part of my working class state school comprehension. But now 24 years later I am embarking on my 'gap year'. Gap years start with a vague idea of a plan but then ends up wherever they end up and this is exactly the same. There is a starting point and a plan of action on which we hope that things will work out but actually who the fuck knows, in the middle of it when you're drunk and drugged up who the fuck cares and frankly by the end of it you can only hope it was worth doing and hasn't left you too traumatised on the way.

So join me on my 'gap year' in my adventures with my left tit. See me become spiritually enlightened (or is that drugged up on chemotherapy), stripping back my western vanities (losing the shackles of womanhood - my hair and maybe a breast who knows) and my rebirth (or is that regrowth as will probably - or should I say hopefully - involve hair again and maybe breast reconstruction) and finally emerging in the glow of the new improved me (radiotherapy followed by hot flushes from early menopause and 5 years of hormone surpressing drugs). Wow what a 'journey'. Gap Year - Bring it On...