Some of my more demanding Bladdicts have requested the tale of how the whole cancer thing began. It’s true that the beginning is missing from the blog: I only started writing things down two weeks into the saga when everything was already spinning round. I do remember the start of everything in fine detail though, and you never know when a story might help others who are newly diagnosed, so here it is:
I was lying in bed reading Asterix or maybe Tintin, absentmindedly stroking my breast, as you do. I registered an irregularity. Not even a lump, more of a slight ridge. I felt it again and again. They are hard to feel. They kind of slip away from you. ‘Fred,’ I asked, ‘Is this a lump?’
He felt it and said, ‘Yes.’ He doesn’t pussyfoot around, Fred. No ‘Sorry’, or ‘Oh, dear’, or ‘Mmm, could be’.
That ‘Yes’ was the beginning of it all. It was a Friday in early March. I waited the weekend and went to the doctor first thing on the Monday morning. It was Doctor Hunukumbure. I said to her, ‘I am Tabitha Tingey’s mother. Diabetes, remember?’
She did remember.
‘I have a breast lump and I would like to go to Addenbrooke’s please.’
She felt the lump and filled in the forms without any fuss.
Addenbrooke’s Breast Unit phoned a couple of days later and offered me an appointment that very Friday. Fred was away in India with work so I went alone. (Silly me, but I had no idea that needles and biopsies would feature at this very first appointment.) I started to feel really scared sitting in the waiting area. Apprehensive, embarrassed that I would have to take my top off, verging on terrified. Wanted to just run out of there screaming my fucking head off tbh. Chatted to another lady who confessed that she also was shitting bricks.
They show you into a room which has a panicky level of equipment in it. I took my top and bra off and put them on a chair. I lay down on the bed. They probed the breast with ultrasound, confirmed the existence of the lump, took images of it, and measured it. During this you crane your neck trying to ogle the screen but you can’t see a damn thing. They then put a needle of local anaesthetic into the boob, and really soon afterwards inserted a long needle, wiggled it about to make sure the end was in the lump, then shot a kind of gun which made the end of the needle bite into some of the tissue. They pulled the needle out. This is called a Biopsy. It feels revolting. They did the same again to a lymph node under my arm. This was all pretty scary, but they are trying to help you, long term, so obviously you try to be brave. (If you are mad enough not to have taken a friend, a kind nurse holds your hand when the gun goes off inside your breast.) They then put steri-strips over the wound and a dressing over the steri-strips.
During all this, your mind tussles with the realisation that needles and ‘discomfort’ could be playing a largish part in your life from then on. After it, you feel proud for being brave but also like you might start weeping and wailing at any moment. The only thing that comforted me was the thought that the gin club was absolutely going to love the drama of it all, darling.
Then I was called in to see Mr Farouhi. He said, rather quietly and sadly, that he thought my lump was cancerous. ‘I look at lumps all day long,’ he said. ‘So I know what cancerous looks like.’ He mentioned lumpectomies and mastectomies. The word mastectomy gave me chills. I was told to come back a week later for confirmation. ‘Bring someone with you,’ they advised.
Remember, this all happened within one week of having first found the lump. A lot to take in.
I drove home in a stew and entered a state of constant anguish. I spent the week researching online. Phoned friends who I knew had been through it. Didn’t want to tell Gwanny. Didn’t want her to be sad. ‘Should I tell Gwanny?’ I asked Bashi.
‘Well….would you want me to tell you if I had cancer?’ offered Bash. She is clevs. I told Gwanny.
A week later, Fred was still away. Kind Claire came with me to the Results Clinic. We discussed it on the way. I said to her ‘Look, they told me not to spend the week hoping. So I haven’t. It’s obvious they think it’s cancer.’
So when they said it was, nothing moved inside me. I had already understood. I did space out though, so Claire wrote things down and asked questions on my behalf. One does go into a bit of shock. Mr Farouhi said the cancer was very probably caused by the radiation I had when young. He explained that with a lumpectomy one also needs radiation. He was therefore recommending a mastectomy as my only option because I had already had over the recommended life-time dose of radiation. The breast care nurse showed us line drawings of mastectomies and different types of reconstruction. She did say one reassuring thing. It was that all the possible surgeries are at least on the surface. It’s not as if you have to go deep into any body cavities.
Claire and I went for lunch at Brown’s. I did enjoy it, as pitta with mezedes and vino can always cheer me up, but found, of course, that I was heavily distracted.
That evening the gin club came round to commiserate. We wrung our hands together, googled pictures of mastectomies, checked out survival stats, and got pissed. Over the next few days, I contacted cousins, friends and friends of friends who have experienced breast cancer and I listened to their stories. I berated myself for not really having realised that they had a story until it became my story. Selfish bitch that I was. ‘It’s all about me!’ My feelings swung up and down and around and about like I was a loon.
Fred then came home from India: his arrival home is charted in the first blog post ‘My husband comes home.’
Thinking about it all now, six months later, I realise that it seems strange to say this, but I am glad that this happened to me. I have discovered a blogger, Florence, who writes about ‘the perks of having cancer.’ She has seriously managed to find zillions. I hope she won’t mind if I tell you my top seven ‘perks’:
1. Miss Benyon sigh with admiration and joy.
2. Dennis the Healer.
3. The many kindnesses of wonderful family and friends near and far.
4. Experiencing the joys of a brazilian with none of the pain.
5. Discovering a whole social cyberwhirl through the blog.
6. The fact my kids have finally learnt how to do the dishwasher, do the shopping, cook, tidy up, clean out the parrots, do the ponies, walk the dogs, pick up poos, sweep the floor, wash the clothes, de-flea the cats, clean out the car.
7. The fact that the gin club is going global, which would not have happened without the cancer nor blog because our international profile would not have been sufficient. (OK, OK, cousin Kate in Paris just invited us to stay, but still….woohoo Europe here we come.)