Since finding 'the Lump' I've been experiencing the opposite of 'living in the moment' or Mindfulness as it now appears to be called; which (after my Mum, my Niece & I tried out and rejected a lot of new (mainly made up) words and expressions to describe the phenomenon over breakfast this morning) I've ended up describing as 'lag'. I'm mostly at least a month behind what's going on right now. This has meant that my experience of having cancer has so far been almost totally surreal.
I don't think it helped that I found the Lump straight after completing the most difficult physical challenge I've ever undertaken (including giving birth twice with no pain relief). Or that I hadn't, at the point I uttered those immortal words,
"Ooh, that's not good" (see previous instalment) had any sleep at all for approximately 52 hours (not counting the couple of times I nodded off briefly whilst walking along the canal section).
I had barely caught up with my sleep when I turned up at the GPs three days later, in a bit of a haze, hoping that she'd have a quick feel and tell me I was worrying about nothing. When she handed me the referral form with 'suspected cancer' written in the notes, she said that it was just so they knew what to look for. When she felt under my armpit for signs of 'palpable' lymph nodes, there was nothing there.
Two days later there was.
The 'palpable lymph node' was probably the next "Ooh, that's not good" moment. I'd accepted the doctor's explanation of the 'suspected cancer' note on the referral form to Charing Cross Hospital - of course they needed to know what to look for... But the Lumpy Lymph Node was my body's way of telling me something was wrong and that it was putting up a fight.
My date came through very quickly for an appointment at the Charing Cross Breast Care Outpatients department. I was going to be seen exactly two weeks after the GP had referred me. But the Lumpy Lymph Node had frightened me and after speaking to the GP for her advice, I decided to see if they could fit me in earlier on a cancellation.
The staff at the booking office and in the outpatients department were all very patient and lovely and after a couple of anxious calls (I was trying to remain calm as it's never a good idea to let yourself panic in these or any other situations - it was quite hard not to by this stage. I have a very active imagination and a slight tendency towards hypochondria if I'm not careful. Give me a list of symptoms and by the time I've finished reading it I've invariable got most of them!) Very quickly they managed to fit me in, on the Thursday, a whole week before my initial appointment.
I turned up in the right waiting room (eventually) and took a seat. I'd brought a pair of trousers I was altering for Henry's book day costume which I'd almost completely finished by the time I was called in... (There'd been a delay waiting for my notes to turn up). The gentle, slightly distant, consultant, Mr Gordon, ushered me in to the room and again I waited (slightly less hopefully this time) for him to have a feel and tell me it was just a fatty lump and nothing to worry about. He didn't. He sent me for a mammogram.
Ouch! I wasn't endowed with a pair of whoppers (far from it!) and trying to get my poor, sulky little boobs into the X-ray squasher was more than a trifle uncomfortable. Then it was on to the breast care ultrasound department for a scan and biopsies of both the lump and the lymph node. But all this still wasn't happening to me!
As I walked into the darkened ultrasound room the X-ray pictures of my breasts were displayed on the lightbox in the corner. The two semi-circular, 'top views' were displayed side by side and I remember thinking they looked like a black & white photo of the moon... Lying in the semi-darkness, left boob smeared in KY Jelly, the delightfully cheerful sonographer breezed in and reassured me with, "there's nothing very exciting going on in the mammogram! Which is good, isn't it?!"
Then he started looking at the lump with his machine and (though he did a valiant job at covering it up) his demeanour subtly changed.
He took biopsies from the Lump and (eventually once he'd managed to chase it round my armpit for a bit) the Lumpy Lymph Node.
I think I went back to see Mr Gordon after that although I'm not sure why and can't remember what was said. On the way out I agreed with the receptionist that we would use my original appointment the following Thursday to come back for the results. I still felt like I was probably wasting everyone's time.
It was a HORRIBLE week. I was working as a receptionist at UK Sport. I'd been made redundant but had agreed to work there until the office move (a whole other story there...!). But I'd applied for, been offered and accepted a job as receptionist at the British Olympic Association. Blithely trusting that old assumption that 'cancer always happens to someone else' (well this still wasn't really happening to me, was it?) I went in and signed my new contract at the BOA. Then I broke a mirror... I'm not really superstitious but it was like a cork released from a bottle, it just tipped me over the edge and I cried & cried. And cried. Two of my colleagues tried to reassure me with the statistics - only one in nine lumps are cancerous - the chances were, I'd be fine. This was one of my more lucid moments when I knew it was happening to me. Horrible.
One of the longest weeks of my life ended with all sorts of confusion over the follow up appointment to find out my results. Unfortunately the appointment had been cancelled by mistake and I ended up sitting alone, (I hadn't brought anyone with me - I wasn't expecting to need support) in Outpatients for over an hour, getting into more and more of a tangle in my head...
The (internal) dialogue went something like,
"Well I can't have cancer if they've cancelled my appointment!"
"But wouldn't they'd have called me if the results were all clear and I didn't need to come in?"
"They could've sent a letter which has just been delayed in the post...?"
"If the results were all clear why couldn't they just tell you at reception?"
"Right, yes, let's go and ask at reception!"
This dialogue went round and round with various minor adjustments but in the end, Mr Gordon himself, came to get me from Outpatients, apologising for the mix up. I followed him, slightly bewildered that the consultant had come to collect me in person. I went to follow him into his consultation room but he asked me to sit and wait outside while he went to fetch someone else. I did as I was told. He returned with a nurse, went into his room with her and closed the door. I continued to wait but had just experienced another "Ooh, that's not good" moment - probably the strongest thus far.
About five minutes later (or was it a couple of hours? Time dragged and warped at this point and it felt like forever; but not nearly long enough), Mr Gordon popped his head round the door and asked me to come in.
As I sat down with a herd of elephants (the butterflies had long since metamorphosed...) stampeding around my stomach, he introduced me to Vanessa. I can't remember now if he said "This is Vanessa, your breast care nurse" or just "Vanessa, a breast care nurse" anyway...
We all sat down and he said,
"It's not good news I'm afraid, you've got breast cancer"
"Ooh, that's NOT good"...