One Lump or Two?
Five actually, in my right boob. I’m thirty three! I have these two tiny, (breast-fed) children. Not overweight, don’t smoke, drink caffeine, much alcohol, I’ve had a career as a holistic therapist, compelled to all things wellness and feeling good. I’m a member of the Stress Management Society ffs! In short:
I. Shouldn’t. Have. Cancer.
I found out at the hospital yesterday and whether it was because I had Baby Girl on my knee, or something else, I felt oddly calm. Some of the words that followed were: mastectomy, chemotherapy, definite hair loss, inflatable implant, augment, general anaesthetic, nipple reconstruction, how’s a week Tuesday for you?
Well first thing’s first, how to tell everyone? It felt somehow worse than the cancer! I rang my sister; it went OK and then rang everyone else, to varied response. People must really quite like me! You never can be sure… One of them burst into tears at work, another made me laugh, another nearly fainted – steady! My Mum went through all emotions in one day, only to ring me at the end to tell me it was all going to be ok.
People keep saying ‘It’s going to be alright’. I know that. It is a fact. I don’t need to worry about that. Leaving my kids and Nusband (not my husband) is out of the question. I need to get through the next six months that’s all. I tried multiple times yesterday to tell The Boy, aged four, something… anything. I don’t even know what, but every time, the words morphed in my throat into something else.
My other concern is my boobs. I am not the person for whom a boob job rests well, sadly it has not been on my ‘to do’ list. I have to make the decision between having the frame of a young boy or a Kardashian. Then there’s the chicken fillet option – I struggle with the faff of my contact lenses so I can’t see that going down well. Another option – I can use my back-fat (rude!) to create a more natural pair of puppies, but operations back and front with further scarring … You see, not good options.
And then there’s my hair, I have no problem shaving it off once chemo begins. I’ve had a skinhead before when I was busy being artistic at college, so it’s no biggy. But I don’t know how to explain it to the small people – especially The Boy. He’s pretty unforgiving for people’s idiosyncrasies. At the baths the other day we were waiting patiently for the slide, when he reached out, chubby finger extended in readiness to poke a fat man’s trunk overhang. Thankfully I caught him just in time! Kids can be cruel and that’s fine. I do though want their lives to go on pretty much as normal. That said, every time they pass me at the moment, I will reach out for them, pull them close, nuzzle them, as if I’m all kinds of death throws, and tell them I love them. Natural much? Baby Girl is already sensing something. Since the hospital she has been closer than usual, saying ‘Mummy, I’ll keep after you’, before promptly forgetting and setting off to admonish her brother about something.
I didn’t enjoy being preggers, some people do, but I felt rubbish. Weirdly I did wonder if pregnancy must feel the same as having cancer. Actually… having cancer feels like nothing, I feel the same today as I did last week, last year, all my life. The irony being that when these unwanted visitors, (like punks at polo) are cut out and obliterated with drugs, I’ll feel pretty shocking. Will that feel like the pregnancies I had? Maybe. I know the path it’s taking is reminding me of pregnancy in reverse, beginning with a stay in hospital, followed by months of feeling tired and queasy, being restricted physically, before finally my strength returns and I feel anything like having sex!
OK, so now most of you know, this is my private page of Recovery Central. We’re here because I have a cancer in my boob. What’s to come is a mastectomy (2nd Oct) and assuming no spreadage six months of chemo: hair loss, pneumatic boobs, the works. This group is 30 of all the women who I care about, some old friends and some new. Bad luck if you’re new!
My BooBs are Killing Me!
On account of my career as a holistic therapist, I see the body all together: emotions, thoughts, memories, scars, energy, body – as smooshed up and swirly as unsupervised play doh … I think because of that, my beef is not with the cancer exactly but with fear. I know that staying calm is my weapon. I’m a big believer in feeling good to feel better. But I think this has shocked the hysteria out of me. Even I’m surprised how calm I feel! So I’m cheering myself on. I’ve commandeered an anthem: Titanium, by David Guetta and Sia and I’m communicating with my cancer frequently, letting it know in NO uncertain terms, its days are numbered. I’m visualising tiny planes flying over my chest, dropping bombs on invaders. Or geysers behind them, against my chest wall, exploding out of my body taking all of the dirty matter with them.
Last week, after numerous biopsies bruised up my boob, my consultant told me about the cancer, I didn’t flinch. She had to check I had understood. I did, I sort of knew. You don’t get a lump the size of a Malteser in your titties for nothing. I rang Nusband and asked him to come out of work, he refused because he’d forgotten where I was. Awkward! I said ‘I’m at the hospital and the results aren’t what we’d hoped.’
‘What do you mean?’ He made me say it:
‘I’ve got breast cancer’ my voice cracked momentarily. My consultant was satisfied I understood what she’d said. And Nusband came out of work.
Lisa my Breast Care Nurse said it’s normal to feel euphoric. Shit! I just thought I was coping really well. I asked her about the chemo, ‘Will it make me sick?’ She said probably not, the anti-sickness drugs are good these days. Could it be my cancer wasn’t going to be like my Dad’s ten years ago? Could medicine have advanced so much? I’ve got loads of presents; and loads of unfathomable paperwork. They kids are helping, they have no response to cancer. It’s everyone else’s responses that are freaking me out: fear, shock, sadness, outpouring’s of love, anger – my favourite is easily humour! I was unprepared for everyone wanting to see me, it soon became impractical. I receive a card from a friend, it says “Let go of all expectations.”
I prefer to be alone, to concentrate on positive images and not being scared. There’s a jam jar in my stomach, sometimes it opens and lets out a little squeak of panic, makes me feel sick, so I screw it tight shut again. I have wrangled over whether I should be freaking out and having more emotion about this or if I should stay calm. My choice is to stay calm for as long as I can. Will it hit me? It sort of does. Titanium comes on the radio one morning after I’ve dropped the kids off at school and nursery and I cry hard and quick at the chopping board in the kitchen… then I get on with the washing up.
When I have my surgery some of my lymph nodes will be removed from my armpit to see if the cancer has spread beyond my breast. I visualise Pac Men eating away at malignant cells, ‘nom nom’. Snarling, nasty dogs defending my lymph nodes. Virtual cling film around my boob keeping everything inside. Vacuum hoses at my lymph nodes, sucking anything back that might have got out. Probably this will cure me.
I eventually tell The Boy. The conversation starts, as is so common these days, with us barking at each other, then…
‘I need to tell you something Little Man. Mummy has a bug in her boob’, he summed it up perfectly:
‘So this is a Super Boob, and soon this one will be too!’
‘That’s about right, yes.’ It was easier than I expected.
Let’s think about the positives:
- At least it’s me, and not them.
- And at least I’m not alone or lonely. I met an older lady at the hospital, who was on her own. Nusband is proving himself to be quite the nursemaid. Although he does keep making me green soup…
‘Will it hurt when I wake up?’
‘No the anaesthetist will put a block in your back like an epidural.’
If I can give any of you any comfort, it feels like I’ve also had one put in my mind. I don’t seem to be feeling this like the rest of you. I think I will after the op, but I’m hoping the relief will take over. I have my moments, I forget and remember and a wobble the other night, feeling protective of my boobs. They’re nothing to get excited about but they’re mine and they match. Bye bye old nips, you’ve been good to me and my babies xx
I am a “qualms” person…
In case I’ve mislead you, I am very much a qualms person. I have qualms. I’m the sort of person who will worry, after the fact, about a flippant comment that might, or might not have caused offence. I’m sensitive, sometimes paranoid, sometimes doubtful, often apologetic. Some say ‘intense’ – they say I think too much – my brain likes to think! I bet Einstein never had to put up with this shizzle! I’m sure you wouldn’t find Socrates in repose in the bath houses of ancient Greece, infusing Plato with his enlightened wisdom, only to conclude with: ‘Oh and by the way, all of these proclivities towards complex free-thinking you’ve been having, it’s going to do nothing for your sanity, best to knock it on the head.’ What important conclusions or mind-blowing breakthroughs can be achieved from that sort of snoozy thinking? … Although probably Plato wasn’t thinking: ‘Did she think I was being sarcastic, could that have been taken for sarcasm? I really did like her stiletto high-tops…’ What I mean to tell you is I’m flawed, like you, and them and her – and as much as I’d like to tell you it’s all “Titanium” and take-it-by-the-testicles triumph, there is another side – a more doubtful side, a more “qualmish” side… I don’t know what the end of this story looks like I keep going back to that card though: “Let go of all expectations…”
I try and find more positives… Only a couple of months ago I started working with KidsCan, a children’s cancer research charity in Manchester, hoping to raise money with one of my childrens’ books: Pants Hats. I have been writing children’s books for the last few years without a snifter of getting anywhere. Pants Hats was a project to do something meaningful and worthwhile with my work, so that it doesn’t feel so… pointless.
But would you believe it, no sooner have I chosen to support a Cancer Research Charity do I realise weeks later that I have cancer! So I am well positioned now to bring more attention to the cause. Perhaps also I will be able to relate better to children with cancer. I had envisioned going to hospitals for storytelling sessions and at least I’ll have more experience of hospitals and cancer. You see every cloud… Then there’s this blog. Right from the start I knew I wanted to raise awareness and support breast cancer charities. Perhaps this has happened to me because I’ll make a lot of noise about it? Check your boobies, check your boobies, check your boobies – even moobs count boys! I don’t mind sharing my story, my body. It’ll be worth it if it raises a nice amount of cash. I’ve written blogs before but nothing has had the response that this fledgling blog has already. And not everyone would choose to get their kit off in the way I plan to, to document the physical journey that my body will go through. In fact I’m not sure if anyone has ever done it. It takes a certain kind of exhibitionism!
And actually the kids are at the perfect age for me to have cancer (weird sentence I never thought I’d write!) They’re not old enough to understand but old enough not to wake us in the night or need their bums changing. Pretty self-sufficient all told, so best it’s happening now. They also have no respect whatsoever for cancer which is hugely refreshing when that’s all I have been talking about to everyone I see. They are an elixir, in a world of utter distraction. And when I’m feeling tired and Baby Girl insists ‘Mummy, sit up, stand up, now let’s go shopping’ which involves pretending to buy carrots in the dining room, I find myself doing it. And of course them, I can’t leave them. I’ve got too much I need to teach them, like how grown up dresses don’t come in age sizes and windows aren’t sketchpads for yoghurt, and learn from them and experience with them. I’ll fight for them.
We spend the weekend after the diagnoses with some lovely friends. We have fun and try to forget the elephant in the room. Kathryn takes some beautiful pictures of the family, paparazzi style. They make me smile. I posted the pictures on the Facebook page to show everyone I was OK but later I imagine them in a montage at my funeral. I start to wonder what songs I’d like. Could it be that is the story? At the start of this journey, I don’t know how it will end. I know there’s no strength in these thoughts. I’ve thought a lot about dying over the years – why it happens… The only good reason I can come up with is basically that bad things happen for the greater good. Dying feels so unfair but if it opens up an opportunity for growth, change and rebirth then who am I to knock it? So begins another question: Is this experience designed to shape my life? I.e. I get to live and improve my life. Or to shape the lives of others? I get to die and it might inspire others to improve their lives, in a character-building stylee. Or perhaps it’s neither, it just is what it is. Perhaps it is just a warning – So I can enjoy my life with a new bon viveur. A good kick up the sitting pillows followed by a long and happy life… perhaps I’ll have less qualms! I can now see that life has been… pretty mediocre. In actual fact we have had a stressful ten years, starting with my Dad’s death, two house moves, four pregnancies, two miscarriages and two businesses closing down. Which to this I can now add personal injury / illness and it covers seven of the ten most stressful things to happen to a person. All I need now is a marriage, a divorce and a jail term and I’d have the full hit! In contrast to how I started this blog, belly-aching about why I shouldn’t have cancer, perhaps it was always heading this way! It’s been a rocky road and I’ve just kept on regardless. I can’t switch off. I find myself ungrateful or frustrated with my lot when I know I should be enjoying it. At one point of particular introspection I even convince myself that just a short time of enjoying life to the full would be O.K. as a payoff for dying sooner. Perhaps it’s better in contrast to a mediocre longer life… I made that ok in my head for about half a second. But to get to enjoy my life with knowledge of a better existence, perhaps it is just the warning I needed. Hard times now, followed by a long and happy life. Yes please, can I choose that one?
I come back to this weird sense of calm that has come over me. It does in catastrophic situations, a feeling comes over me that does not exist under normal “qualmy” conditions. It’s a bit like an out of body experience, like this can’t actually be happening, can it? Maybe you get it too? I’ve seen it in myself other times: when I was told my Dad was ill, when I was told he was ill again, when he died, when I had miscarriages, when my son’s waters broke 16 weeks too soon. All of this I can somehow handle. I’m not ashamed to say I do in fact morph into Superwoman. When my consultant told me my diagnoses, my immediate thought wasn’t holy shit I’ve got cancer, it was: well… this’ll be interesting (actually no, my first thought was… Thank God I’ll get a rest!).
In other news, I have it on good authority from Dr Ali, that I should be “juicing” – making vegetables into liquid… so that’s what I do. And excuse me but how is it I’m the only person in this house, not visibly ill…?
Well I’ve been for my pre-assessment and rather than feeling freaked out, feel o.k. still. I’m going to be in just one or two nights I think if all goes well. I met Kayne, a lovely young nurse, who winked at me when I gave him my wee sample! Nusband assures me I’m not his type…