I visited the Breast Unit this afternoon. It was for an ultrasound progress check as I am almost halfway through chemo (I have had three lots out of six, for eight weeks out of eighteen) to see what is going on with the lump.
A trainee first asked me where I thought the lump was. I showed her and she managed to locate it on the screen. She had a little look around. Then the doctor took measurements. She said they would send the report to the oncologist. I said the lump used to be 16mm, but that I was only given one measurement. She said now the largest measurement they could find was 11mm.
This is good. It means the chemo has been doing things. But a difference of 4mm! Blimey. For all this effort. You can see why people use battle imagery in describing their dealings with cancer. I’ve been on the chemo for eight weeks. Two weeks needed to shrink each millimeter then. Slow going in anyone’s book: think squelchy, swampy ground, thorny thickets and plagues of locusts.
Thought about it all the way home. Had almost got my head round it. Told Fred about it. He unfortunately sent all my calculations haywire by telling me I needed to cube the millimeters. Aargh, panic, three-d shapes. No, said Fred, this is good. My progress is apparently much more than I thought as I was wrongly thinking linearly rather than in terms of volume. What are you expected to do if you are only ever given one measurement though?
Fred took it upon himself to be my teacher. He grabbed an orange, a lime and two jugs (lol not intended). The orange was not that much bigger than the lime in diameter. We had to watch how much the water rose up the jugs when he put the orange in one and the lime in the other. The orange made the water rise twice as much as the lime if not more. Fred was trying to show me that, given the change in measurement, the tumour has probably, depending on its shape which remains an unknown, more than halved in volume. I think. I can never be sure with maths and find my eyes glaze over easily.
Fattipus was very interested though as he is a scientist. His real name is Lucifer Archimedes Benjifluffles Fattipus. Bash called him Lucifer as she had found it in some Disney movie, Fred called him Archimedes as he had an obsession with the kitchen tap, Ben of the snailmail postcard called him Benjifluffles (I know, how come Ben gets to name the cat?) and I called him Fattipus, as he truly was one.
Fred kept saying that the lime was three quarters of the size of the orange. ‘Hang about’ I objected, ’11mm is not three quarters of 16mm.’ See, I can do elementary stuff.
‘No, but it very nearly is,’ said Fred.
Hunh! He wants to pretend my lump is 12mm instead of 11! He means to ignore that hard won millimeter that took me a whole two weeks to shrink? Cheek of it.
We then decided that the lime’s shape was warping our calculations. Found an olive and a blueberry that better suggested the ratio we wanted.
My maths insecurity stems from sitting next to cute, high-flying twins Jill and Pippa when I was seven. After one week at school, they were on problem number 1867. I was on problem 6. That was it really. Staring in defeat at their bulky notepads bursting with neat figures I knew I was destined for the slush-pile. I mean, how could you ever hope to catch up? The only option was to keep struggling onwards, six problems per week, while they steamed ahead and disappeared over the horizon.
It is fantastic that some pupils are seriously motivated. No one should set out to pop their bubble but something really should be done to stop high achievers from annoying people who are crap at maths. Thinking about it, simply being put in sets would have helped. Or maybe the Jills and Pippas of this world should just go to uni a decade early and let us plodders be. They must have really enjoyed maths to spend such vast amounts of time doing it at home. And it all resulted in them becoming brilliant doctors. I just went home from school and sat dreaming in the lilac bush or swung on the rope and read pony books.
It did mean I made a friend for life though. The maths results list was put up on the wall every week. The first week Hester was at the bottom, Darylle second bottom. The second week, Darylle bottom, Hester second bottom and so on. The class would cluster round the list to squeal and mutter names. There was a sad inevitability about it over which Darylle and I eventually laughed and bonded. We found that we had read more pony books than anyone else for which we awarded ourselves secret A*s. I now appreciate that these early lessons in the necessity of remaining upbeat in the face of weekly humiliation developed my understanding of humour as a massive source of relief.
Must just say, I am still friends with Jill and Pippa whom I love dearly and have forgiven for unwittingly denting my self-esteem. They would probably say that I dented theirs, anyway. We have shared big lols. And to me, big lols will always be more important than maths.