Last year at this time (roughly) I was sitting in a doctor’s office at King’s College Hospital in London, hearing but not really understanding when she was trying to explain to me that my biopsy results were not good.
Last year at this time (roughly) I went from denial, shock, more denial to numbness in the space of the twenty minutes she took to go over what was going to happen. I can’t say I remember much about those twenty minutes. I only remember thinking “she is mistaken, this can’t be, there is no history in my family, it’s not possible, these things don’t happen to people like me, I am too young….” over and over in a loop. It is strange but that ad on the TV about MacMillan where the guy is told he has cancer and suddenly everything becomes muffled like he has cotton wool in his ears, well it’s very accurate. That’s how I felt. I was thirty eight years of age and my body was turning against me without notice.
Last year at this time (roughly) with shaking hands and a trembling voice, I had to call my office to tell them that in fact, I wasn’t coming back for the day…”no, it wasn’t good news…”, then I called the two closest friends I have in this country and finally I cried, feeling overwhelmed. Then I sat on a bus, staring into space, trying not to think that I could actually die before I had really lived. The fact that the prognostic was actually optimistic -despite the scary word ‘cancer’ being used- didn’t reach me until later. At that moment, I thought ‘Shit, I am going to die’. Of course, everybody dies, eventually, but in my head, I would die of old age, in my bed or I would drop dead doing something exciting, but still very old. It never occurred to me that I would get a serious illness like cancer.
Last year, a little later that day, I sat at home, staring at my house phone, wondering if I should call my family. Thinking of the fact that it was going to be my sister’s birthday that weekend and that I couldn’t call her then to wish her a happy birthday and then drop the bomb ‘by the way, I have breast cancer’ nor could I see myself calling her and pretending everything was ok… Who else would I tell? Should I tell my grandparents? my uncle? I chose to keep my grandparents out of the loop until I could talk to them face to face. It wasn’t easy to pretend all was ok when inside I was screaming and stomping my foot at the unfairness of it, but they had had a rough couple years and I didn’t want them to have to deal with this alone.
Last year around this time, the lead to Christmas was not the usual joy and anticipation I normally feel. I knew I was going to have surgery, start chemo, lose my hair and tell the people who had raised me that I was sick. The last person in the family for whom they had that news my mother and she died within six months of it – when I said there was no history, I meant of breast cancer, not cancer in general unfortunately. It wasn’t too rough on me as my mother and I never were close but it was hard for my grandparents to lose their only daughter, despite all the pain she had put them through all her adult life.
Since that fateful day, on 8th November 2012, I have had surgery twice, I had 6 months of chemotherapy, lost my hair, put on weight, been poked, prodded, biopsied, scanned, flashed my boobs more times than I care to count, cried (once actually), told the family and friends, started a blog and told the world about the not so glamourous sides of being a cancer patient, laughed, joked, rocked my bald head, been radioactive a couple times, raced for life, hosted a MacMillan coffee morning, been on holiday and finally started the remission phase of my cancer life.
Now, happy to call myself a survivor and of being cancer free, I can reflect and say what a roller-coaster ride these past twelve months have been and how incredibly grateful I am that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, that I was still able to work during it all, that I never got an infection forcing me to be hospitalised, that although one of my nodes was found to be infected at my biopsy, no more of them were discovered to be infected when more were collected, that I recovered from each part of my treatment quite quickly, that my hair is growing back quickly, full and thick like it used be when I was younger, even if it is greyer and curlier than it ever was… I am extremely grateful for the friends who there for me, for the colleagues who treated me like I meant to be bald and for my family for accepting that I didn’t want to be on the phone with them every day to give them a daily recap… I am grateful that although I got a reminder of my own mortality, I feel I skidded by it, even if by the skin of my teeth…
Here’s to the next five years of being free and clear…and to supporting Cancer Research UK so that they will, one day, find a cure for this dreaded disease…I was lucky but unfortunately so many aren’t…every day. So here’s to you my fellow warriors and survivors…there is light at the end of that stupid tunnel.