So I found a lump – two actually – in my right breast. We’d just had a miscarriage of a much wanted and longed for pregnancy, and then this lump appeared. Well, I thought, it’s probably hormonal shenanigans. Leave it a cycle, it’ll probably settle down. I’d found a similar lump, as I realised later, exactly a year previously, which on having an ultrasound was found to be a cyst which disappeared as predicted by the radiographer.
A month after I found them, they were bigger. I went to the GP. Her view, quite correctly, this is nothing too peculiar for a woman of my age, most probably another cyst, but the guidelines are to refer someone presenting with this to be seen at the Breast Clinic at hospital. The targets insist you’re seen within 2 weeks, and my appointment fell on the 14th day, 18th April. My lovely friend Stef agreed to have Tilly for a couple of hours so I could go. I left at 1pm and expected to be back by 3pm at the latest.
By the time the day came round, I’d found a 3rd lump and the first 2 were more pronounced. When I went the year before, I had an ultrasound and all was fine. The whole process took 20 minutes if that. This time was different. They were running about an hour late – not a problem. Was called in to have an ultrasound with Dr G – the same radiologist as last time- who is lovely. She asked me the story so far, then had a look. Pretty much as soon as she began the ultrasound, she said I’d need to have a mammogram and a biopsy. “So you’ll post me an appointment date for those?” I said naively. “No, we’ll be doing them straight away today,” came the response. “Uh-oh” I thought.
Phone calls to Stef and Dan to update them, and they proceeded to arrange childcare details between them. Mammogram was uncomfortable but quick. Slight design fault with the machine in that there is nowhere for your head to be. Then 5 biopsies which were uncomfortable, not painful, and handled with extreme care and sensitivity by the staff. “So what happens next – will I get a letter with the results or do I come back here?” I ask as I’m getting dressed again, still not really thinking anything could be wrong. Surely this is all just to be on the safe side, aren’t they conscientious, what a good service! Duh.
“No, no, I’ll show you your mammogram images now and talk you through. And I’ve asked Kate, one of our nurses, to come in and join us,” said Dr G. I glance to the left and see a very kindly looking nurse, and see on her namebadge it says ‘Macmillan Nurse’. “Oh fuck” I thought.
The three of us standing looking at the computer screen, Dr G showed me the images and pointed to the various areas and talked about what each meant. Then something along the lines of “in cases similar to these we would expect chemotherapy and a mastectomy…”
I left the hospital 6 hours after I arrived, a different person.
Driving home not quite believing what had happened that day. The shift in reality from lunchtime to evening was too big to comprehend. Crying then calm then crying again. Arrived home to Tilly and Dan, desperately trying to hold it together until Tilly went to bed.
A week to wait for the biopsies to come back. Looking at the mammogram images and the conversation that followed was such a blur, I called the unit to check I had heard correctly. I wondered whether (hoped) I had misheard/misunderstood but they confirmed that the scan results were ‘highly suspicious’ and therefore the lumps were very likely to be malignant tumours.
I told friends the little we knew so far. However much I said it it seemed so surreal, I couldn’t possibly be talking about me having cancer could I?! I didn’t really sleep – avoiding the drift into sleep where my worst thoughts would surface, and then waking at 4. I began a diary in an attempt to get these thoughts out of my head and down on paper. Constant nausea. Dan and I spent the week in a hazey blur. If it wasn’t for Tilly carrying on as normal, demanding her breakfast, wanting to play, I think we would have hidden under the duvet sobbing until it all went away. And a timely pre arranged weekend to see fabulous old friends made the time go quicker than it might.
Tilly knows something’s up and we’re all a bit tetchy and short tempered which doesn’t make things very easy but there’ll be more of that to come I’m sure.
Meeting with my consultant JM and Kate , the Macmillan nurse.
In brief –
Stage 3 breast cancer with spread to lymph nodes. 3 tumours. Plan to treat in the hope it’s curative.
CT scan required to check for any further spread. If tumours are found elsewhere, cancer likely to be incurable.
If CT is ok, the plan is 6 sessions of chemotherapy – one every 3 weeks – then a mastectomy, possibly followed by radiotherapy, and definitely then a further 5 years of hormone suppressant treatment.
The treatment will most likely render me infertile.
The usual course of action may be egg harvesting in order to preserve some fertility, but this is impossible in my case. The biopsies show the tumours are the type that is stimulated by oestrogen. Increases in oestrogen required for egg harvesting will stimulate my tumours to go nutso and so such preservation is ill advised.
I will lose my hair, probably during cycle 2 of chemo.
So much to process and come to terms with. Although we knew for a week that something may be wrong, we didn’t expect it to be this wrong.
Now we know the details and the plan, a trip down to mum and dad’s to tell them face to face. Have avoided mentioning anything so far to them as we didn’t know for absolute that there was anything wrong, and with mum’s health problems only a few weeks ago… They were of course shocked but what other reaction could there be??
Another long week waiting for my CT scan. Then an hour and a half in the waiting room drinking a contrast dye drink that smells of Ouzo – oh Liz, bad bad memories! – then a 10 minute scan with an intravenous contrast dye. The results of this scan are massive. If it shows spread we’re talking management and palliative care.
A week to wait until the results, but then JM calls the next day to say ‘no distant spread’ is visible – such massive news and the best news for Dan’s birthday tomorrow.
Fab weekend for Dan’s birthday with wonderful friends to stay. For the first time, I think ever, I’m happy to have my photo taken – it’s all about the hair which I have to say did look pretty good that weekend!
Another meeting with JM and Kate to go over the scan and treatment plan. All as was in the first meeting, and confirmed by the CT scan. We asked questions trying to make sure we’ve explored all avenues vis a vis fertility, but it is more strongly confirmed that there is absolutely no possibility of having another baby.
In some ways, this has been the most devastating news of the lot. I guess because it has always been the plan to have 2 children, I’ve spent 20 years assuming that will be the case. We’ve been disappointed so many times over the last year or so, were so thrilled when we were successful and then having a miscarriage was awful. Tilly is the most gentle little girl and loves babies, she is so quiet and caring around them, noticeably so in our groups. We are so so lucky to have Tilly and she is our focus.
It is such a total bastard that is it not bad enough to have cancer at 31 years old, but my tumour is the specific type that means due to the hideous treatments necessary, I’ll be pushed into the menopause with all that that entails by the time I’m 35??
All feels overwhelmingly unfair.