So I now know when my chemotherapy will start, what cocktail they're going try (unfortunately not the little paper umbrella and slice of pineapple kind!) and how many rounds they're proposing to give me. The knowledge is making me feel dizzy and a bit sick and I haven't even started it yet! (I reckon it's that old psychosomatic tendency again mixed in with a good dollop of nervous tension - fear of the unknown).
I'm being a bit of a baby if I'm honest - the urge to do a walking version of the Forrest Gump run is almost too strong to resist. I just want to turn my face into the wind and keep walking forever, away from this situation I'm in. Away from the treatment. And, strangely perhaps, away from all the love and support which has been pouring towards me in many forms and from so many people. It's not that I'm ungrateful, completely the reverse - I know I wouldn't have stayed this strong and positive without such caring, loving support. It's just that, I think. I don't want to be in the position of needing the support. Hmm it's feeling a bit like a stroppy teenager, 'independence' thing... Or the coward in me... But it turns out that I am actually quite brave and strong, and I am NOT a quitter (thank gawd for the three 100 mile challenges I've completed!) so I will face the coming treatment with as much PMA (positive mental attitude) laughter and good grace as I can muster (look out for my stand-up debut some time in October!!).
But so far (even now, after two surgical procedures and the looming spectre of chemotherapy) the hardest part of this whole thing has been telling people that I have cancer. Reactions to the news have varied from gentle and loving concern to abject horror. It has been especially difficult telling the people I love and care for the most.
I told my husband, Mike, over the phone as I left the hospital. He was shaken, I can remember hearing it in his voice, though I don't now remember the conversation or exactly what was said.
Miranda, my lovely little sister was the next person to know after Mike. They both knew I'd been in for tests but, after a discussion with my sister we'd decided not to worry Mum & Dad by telling them I'd found a Lump - after all it was probably nothing...
I told my Mum the following day, after we'd been for a pamper morning at a little place just outside Beaconsfield. It was part of her birthday celebrations and (although I knew it would probably ruin the day in retrospect) I decided to wait until we were eating lunch so she could enjoy the massage and manicure we were booked in for. Poor Mum. What a horrible thing to hear. She was very brave and hardly cried at all. Together, we phoned Dad, who was at home - which probably wasn't the best way for him to hear the news, but is there really a good way to hear that someone you love has cancer? Poor Dad.
We told our two sons just over a week after I received the diagnosis. The reason for the delay was to let Henry (our 11 year old) enjoy his year 6 adventure holiday with the school. We felt that he'd have been too worried about things to have fun and he'd been looking forward to the trip since he'd started at the school in Nursery! I knew that keeping it from them indefinitely was out of the question. Both of them are intelligent and in very different ways, sensitive children and I knew with what I was going to be facing, honesty was the the best way forward. Also, the ad was still doing the rounds (more of that another time!).
Mike and I sat them both down on the sofa and announced it as gently as that sort of information can be imparted. It went something like, "Mummy found a little Lump in her left bosom and when the hospital tested it, it turned out that it was breast cancer. I'm going to have to have an operation to remove it and then some treatment called chemotherapy..."
Henry immediately broke down into great wracking sobs. He'd had a nightmare one night, while away with the school, in which I'd died (I suspect that, despite trying very hard to hide it from them, both boys had picked up on our sky high anxiety levels) and the news that I had cancer was, in his head, that nightmare evolving into reality. "Are you going to die?" Was his first question. To which my reply was, "Yes, of course! Everybody's going to die but I have no idea when!" That might sound a bit harsh but we've always been honest about the life/death cycle (well since they started asking about death and dying, which occurred at around four years old for both of them!). I hadn't had the staging tests then, which would tell me if the cancer had escaped and spread to other parts of my body so had no idea of the prognosis and didn't want to tell them I was going to be fine if I was going to have to turn round in a couple of weeks and tell them I wasn't. It's a trust thing.
Arthur was very quiet. Despite only being 5 (and a half!), he already had a pretty firm grasp of what cancer was all about because of the Macmillan's ad. An inquisitive and thoughtful child, interested in how bodies work, he'd asked lots of questions at the time the ad came out and had particularly identified with the boy playing my son. After we told him, Arthur was very quiet for about 30 seconds. Then without saying a word or shedding a tear (though his face betrayed the struggle he was having to stop his eyes leaking), he came over to where I was sitting, wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tightly.
It hasn't got any easier telling people. Broaching it is awkward. Saying the words "I've got breast cancer", now sound like a a bit of a lie as the actual cancerous Lump has been removed along with all 11 (eventually) infected Lumpy Lymph Nodes (LLNs) and their 13 healthy fellows... I suppose I should now say something like, "I'm recovering from breast cancer and being treated just in case my LLNs didn't manage to stop all the cancer which was trying to escape" (a job which I happen to believe they attempted valiantly). One of my friends, who was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer last year, described chemotherapy as "putting bleach through the pipes" to ensure that there aren't any tiny, microscopic pockets of cancer hiding away ready to start another Lump somewhere else... Which is I think, a very clear and succinct analogy.
So round one of six chemotherapy cycles starts this Thursday, 4th September. Each cycle is 3 weeks, so with any luck and a following wind, the last cycle should be over before the New Year. I'm on the FEC-T combination (which is probably how I'll be feeling for at least some of the time during the next 16 weeks!!). On Facebook, for each of the cycles, I'm setting challenges for myself and some brave friends in the 'Chemo Countdown to Christmas'. I'm hoping it'll be a fun way to keep me focused, positive and out of too much trouble...
Right, that's quite enough for now! So, to quote a favourite playwright of mine, "Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more..."