Tuesday 13th February – diagnosis, snow and pancakes
I have been putting off writing this post since I started sharing these tales. My diagnosis hurt a great deal of people and to write about it now brings back all those memories and no daughter, wife, sister, niece, in-law, friend wants to cause pain to their loved ones, no matter what the cause or reason.
I found a small, hard lump in my left breast, I am active and healthy, I’m only 37, there is no recent history of breast cancer in my family (although my great grandmother sadly died as a result of BC), there was no way the small, hard lump could be cancer. I have a pretty horrific recent track record with doctors and hospitals so I was in no hurry to head to see my GP. Very briefly, in February 2015 I had a very late miscarriage due to a benign uterine tumour. Unfortunately I was treated very poorly by the hospital (not Cheltenham, where I am being treated now) and this caused me to have 2 emergency surgeries, almost a dozen emergency hospital admissions and I required 8 pints of blood transfusions over the course of the 3 weeks when this all took place. It was a terrifying experience and I suffered with PTSD following; but ‘they’ are right and time is a great healer. Anyway, I digress, my point is that I was scared to see my doctor and I put off getting this lump checked for 4-5 weeks. This I DO NOT recommend – if you have any questions about your health, go and see your doctor, please don’t wait.
On the morning of 7th December, I had some pain in my armpit and felt a small swelling; I knew that I had to do something at this point, I phoned Ally and he knew from my voice that something was wrong. He immediately booked me an appointment with a private breast surgeon for the following day and took leave from work. I don’t think that either of us got any sleep that night. The following day, my mother in law came over to look after Filly and Ally and I made our way to the Nuffield in Cheltenham. I had a mammogram, which was a little uncomfortable but nothing awful, followed by a meeting with a very kind surgeon who did an ultrasound examination. I knew it wasn’t good news when my surgeon stopped the ultrasound and told me that he wanted to do a biopsy. I asked him if it was precautionary or if it was cancer. He told me that he was certain that it was cancer. It sounds like a cliche, but the world seemed to stop; my only thought was for Filly, my longed for and dearly loved baby and best friend; she needs me and I need her, I don’t want her to grow up without a mummy. My next thought was how the fuck am I going to tell my family, we are so close this will break their hearts. However you think you will react is not necessarily the case, I didn’t cry, I didn’t throw up, I just asked to carry on with the biopsy.
The surgeon was very straight talking but also kind to Ally and myself and we continued with the biopsy (don’t look at the needle, its bloody massive), the biopsy wasn’t too painful and was over quickly. The surgeon told Ally and I that he couldn’t tell what stage it was at, but that it had spread to my lymph nodes. He advised that a PET Scan would be the only way to understand the extent of the cancer.
We left the Nuffield with a referral made for a PET scan for the following week. We got home and I told Ally’s mum, and sat down in my study to telephone my parents. It was the worst conversation I’ve ever had, I asked them not to come over immediately but to stay at home and travel the following day, once they were calmer. They phoned back a couple of times that evening, each time with more tears and questions. Ally and I didn’t mention it again until Filly had gone to bed. That evening we sat together on the sofa and cried for all of the plans we had been making, all of the future we thought we had was now hanging in the balance.
The following morning my parents arrived and after lots of talking, tears and cuddles we had lunch – of course! It felt a little bit like we were all grieving, things would be ‘normal’ and then there’d be a reminder and it all came flooding back. We all had the same fear but I don’t think anyone else could say it apart from me, being the one with cancer gives one a little more control than those around I think. As we buried ourselves in lunch, then dinner and playing with Filly and the dogs (my parents have another retriever and a springer spaniel, so the house was pretty full) we didn’t notice the snowfall at first and by the time we did it was fairly heavy. I convinced my parents that it would just be a fleeting storm, so they decided to stay overnight as planned, unfortunately by the time we woke up there was over a foot of snow and absolutely no chance of my parents, or us being able to get our cars out. The village was impassable anyway but we live at the top of a hilly and very muddy, stony track. I don’t think that anyone really felt like playing in the snow, but I donned my ‘bad taste’ ski suit and persuaded everyone to play out in the snow; it turned out to be a great distraction. The snow remained until Tuesday when finally there was enough of a thaw to dig our cars out. My lovely mother in-law came with a care package on Monday as we were running out of essentials and Ally had eaten all of the biscuits and chocolates we’d bought for Christmas; luckily she was able to get halfway into the village and Ally walked up to meet her.
Wednesday was the PET-CT scan, this (very simply) is a CT scan where a radioactive substance has been injected prior to the scan in order to show up any active cancer cells (I have friends who are radiographers so I hope they will correct me if I am wrong.) The scan itself was fine, obviously scary but not at all claustrophobic or noisy and it only took a half hour or so.
The wait for the PET scan results was the longest wait of my life (and Filly was almost 3 weeks late to be born!).
We eventually got the call to say that my results were ready. We made our way over to the Nuffield to see the consultant, I don’t think Ally and I spoke a word to each other on the journey or in the waiting room. I saw the consultant coming towards us and he was smiling, I knew I had cancer he was certain of that, but surely the smile meant that it hadn’t spread? He came and put his arm around me and whispered in my ear ‘it hasn’t spread’. I almost fell to the floor, Ally and the consultant had to hold me up to get me into the consulting room, it was such good news. The surgeon went on the tell us that my cancer was stage 2 and that it had been seen in some axillary (underarm) lymph nodes and that I would now be referred back to the NHS to start chemo and then surgery.
I felt I had been given a chance and now was the time to think positive and to do exactly what I could to help the doctors give this cancer the boot. That was the day that my cancer was given its eviction notice; no fighting, no battle, its just time to leave now, quietly and without fuss.
This is a really long one, so thank you for reading. As its Shrove Tuesday I’m signing off now to go and make pancakes for Filly and me, but first….
I had one small, hard lump to start with, there were no other changes which made it very easy to discard as nothing of any significance, the truth is that just one symptom is enough – go and see your doctor.
Thanks to Cancer Research UK, here are the symptoms to get checked out: a change in the size, shape or feel of a breast, a new lump or thickening in a breast or armpit, skin changes such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin, fluid leaking from a nipple and you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, changes in the position of a nipple, breast pain.