After over two months of knowing that I have one of the biggest killers of women in this country, I am finally catching up. The lag I was experiencing is becoming less frequent and I now intellectually and emotionally know this is happening to me, now...
Back at the beginning of June, after he'd told me I had breast cancer, Mr Gordon (the consultant breast surgeon) had suggested that it was probably a big shock and that I'd be bound to have lots of questions. He outlined the proposed treatment - a wide local excision (lumpectomy) and total axillary clearance, followed by approximately five months of chemotherapy, up to six weeks of radiotherapy and then (as my particular type of cancer was very responsive to oestrogen) a long course of hormone therapy. What?!
Was he talking to me?
All I could think about was how foolish I felt, having done that advert, to now actually have cancer. I had cancer. Me? No hang on... But if I'm honest it wasn't really a surprise, the truth of the situation had been dawning on me in incremental stages since I'd discovered The Lump in the shower in Pontypool.
I told Mr Gordon & Vanessa (my breast care nurse who was also in the consultation) as much, saying that it was a shock to finally hear the words but not really a surprise. Then I mentioned how ironic it was that I played the cancer patient in the current Macmillan ad...
Trying very hard to get my thoughts together, I attempted to ask some intelligent questions;
Me: How long before the op?
Mr G: About four weeks - we have to operate within 30 days - government guide lines.
Me: What does 'total axillary node clearance' mean?
Mr G: All the lymph nodes from your left armpit up to your collarbone would be removed to avoid any residual cancer escaping into the rest of your body (this isn't exactly word for word but the gist of what he said)
Me: Oh. (I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I said)
He then explained that Vanessa would take me to another room and talk through any questions I may have.
The "Why me?" question would have probably been an obvious one but perhaps strangely, even now that question only pops up as a secondary or even tertiary, passing thought when dealing with other more practical and useful queries (I don't like any question which starts with why - it's a cop out and I won't even let my five year old use it if we can come up with a better way of framing the question). Mine were things like, "how am I going to cope with... (Insert relevant subject here!)?" So far: telling people I love & care about, telling my new employers, dealing with surgery, dealing with inactivity, being a good patient, being patient and good, being looked after, having no lymph nodes in my left arm... The list goes on and the latest one is, "how am I going to cope with chemo?"
I'm writing this, sitting in the Maggie's centre (a wonderful, tranquil place in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital). This morning I was signed off by the breast surgery team for five months and this afternoon I will meet an Oncologist to pass on to the next phase of the treatment. Chemotherapy. Ho hum!
Meanwhile, back in June, Vanessa took me in to a room which on closer inspection was stacked, floor to ceiling with boxes of post mastectomy, prosthetic bras. They were fascinating and a little bit distracting so I can't clearly remember what exactly was said... I know I cried a bit. And we went through leaflets about various aspects of my particular type of breast cancer and what it meant in terms of treatment. By the time I left I was loaded with information, full of further questions which hadn't quite surfaced yet and slightly dazed. I also had my next appointment, to meet the breast surgery team.
So I hadn't been wasting their time. It was real. I had breast cancer. But I felt absolutely fine!
Two operations later and I'm not feeling quite so well now. A combination of two general anaesthetics in one month and all the surgery side effects have taken their toll on the poor old bod. And I have a feeling it's going to get worse before it gets better but...
BRING IT ON!