I remember being told I had cancer all too well. But to be honest, I knew what they were going to say.
Historically the women in my family always had lumps in their breasts; but they were all benign. I had had a few ultrasounds over the years, but all was fine. But this lump felt different. It was painful and it was itchy. So I went to my GP who promptly referred me to a specialist. The appointment came through within 2 weeks, which is the requirement for the NHS, and off I went to the Churchill in Oxford.
First I saw a surgeon, who gave me the once over. She then referred me to the radiography department for both an ultrasound and my first mammogram. I vividly remember sitting in the waiting room watching the people around me. How people reacted when they were told they could go as they had the all clear. The relief on peoples faces and the hugs of joy. I then started to think and question, why did I not ask my husband to be with me? Especially as I had a bad feeling about it. But the pragmatic side of me said, too late now, just crack on.
I was promptly called for a mammogram screening. I'm not going to lie, it isn't the most pleasant of things to have done, especially when you have a very painful lump in your breast already. Whilst standing up, you place your boob on plate and then another plate comes down and squishes it as flat as possible before taking the x-ray. This is done a few times from various angles. I was then escorted back to the waiting room to wait for an ultrasound.
Ultrasounds are far more comfortable. You lay on a bed and if you have ever been lucky enough to be pregnant, it is the same equipment they use to check your baby out. They put lots of gel on what I think looks like a shop bar scanner, and move it over the lump. It was at this point I openly asked, "What do you think?" to which the radiographer replied, "Honestly, I don't like the look of it." My heart sank. Whilst I had a feeling it was bad, the positive side of me kept trying to convince myself it would be alright. I knew this wasn't a conclusive diagnosis, just an opinion, but you have to respect the knowledge and experience of the health care professionals. For me this was 90% conclusive, 10% reliant on the final part of the jigsaw the biopsy. The radiographer did this there and then with local anaesthetic. She explained it was a needle that would go into the lump and then a quick snap on the needle 'like an elastic band snapping' this is when the needle takes out a sample. I heard the noise rather than any pain. It was all over very quickly. She also left a marker in the lump to aid in future investigations.
It wasn't until I starting putting my top back on and was told I would hear in the next few days that the tears started to flow. My first thought was my daughter. How would she cope without me? Every little girl needs a Mum. I walked out of the hospital head down, so people couldn't see my tears, got in my car and instantly rang my husband. It was like a punch to the gut for both of us, it winded us at first, but then we started to recover. Our rational brains took over and we started talking process, planning and approach. We agreed not to tell anyone until we had the full results in a few days time.
In those few days I did so much reading on the internet about breast cancer and treatment, I became an 'expert'. For me this really helped. Knowing what to expect means you can prepare yourself for it. It also gave me reassurance that as I had acted quickly once I found the lump, it was likely that I had caught it early and could be treated with radiotherapy and a lumpectomy (operation). The list of side effects seemed manageable. I am pretty hardy, I knew I could and would cope.
My husband and I went back to the hospital a few days later and met with a lovely male Surgeon. We were prepared, felt positive and were strong for one another. We sat down and waited for the confirmation that I had cancer, which the Doctor promptly delivered. What we weren't prepared for was the next statement that it looked that my cancer was Grade 3 and therefore I would also need chemotherapy. The grading means how aggressive the cancer is, the staging is how developed it is. Mine appeared to be stage 1 or 2 so it was caught early. As it was only a few days after the biopsy, some further tests on the cells still needed to be carried out, but they were confident they were accurate with the grading and staging. I was told as it was grade 3, I would need a full body MRI and CT scan to check it wasn't anywhere else. These were done within a week and thankfully were all clear.
I had prepared myself for the fact I had cancer, that I would need an op and radiotherapy. I hadn't even contemplated that I would need chemo and that I might have cancer in other places. That was my second punch, but I took it on the chin. It is what it is, you can't change it, just deal with it. Most importantly I have to have the chemo, or bottom line, the cancer will kill me.
Ok, bring it on, lets do this thing...