This is the third post of a series which is introduced here.
On the car journey to hospital my boyfriend and I had been laughing at ourselves as he shoulder shimmied stiffly and I shrieked along to the sound of the Bee Gee’s.
We weren’t laughing now.
Lots of people hear the word ‘cancer’ and recoil. That two-syllable word has a lot of power. The consultant used the word, ‘cancer,’ but I heard the words, ‘death sentence.’
What can I say? I was back to freaking out. I was still in catastrophising mode.
I was glad Paul was sitting next to me. I knew he’d be my brain and take in all the information I would undoubtedly not be able to retain. My head was already swimming, but I did take in the most important stuff…the consultant said the type of cancer I have is one of the most common. The type I have is like a double-edged sword; it’s a grade 3, the most aggressive form and it carries the highest risk of recurrence. But it also responds very well to chemotherapy treatment…I whimpered internally: Mum’s cancer had been aggressive, and he said chemotherapy!
‘Do I have to have chemotherapy?…Can’t you just cut my breast off?…I mean, what’s a lump of flesh compared to a life?…I don’t mind!’ I said. Barely drawing breath I added, ‘and anyway, do you know how long it has taken me to grow my hair this long?’ I tugged at my hair and laughed. ‘If I have chemotherapy it will all come out. That sucks!’ The consultant laughed with me, but affirmed that chemotherapy first was my best option.
‘Good results from the chemotherapy should shrink the tumour. This way more breast tissue can be saved during surgery. If the tumour was operated on now, because of its position, the breast would likely collapse in on itself,’ explained the consultant.
‘She could get breast implants though,’ said Paul, ‘nice, big ones.’ We all laughed and then the consultant continued talking while my mind whirred off again at a million miles an hour, until I interrupted again.
‘My Mum had had a lumpectomy and then radiotherapy. Her tumour was smaller, more operable – yet it had still spread to her lymph nodes. My lump’s obviously a colossal fucker if it needs shrunk, does that mean it’s bound to have already spread?’
‘Do you want to see it on the screen?’ the consultant asked. I looked at him like he’d just offered me a plate of shit on toast and a pint of piss.
‘No,’ I said, my head shrinking into my neck.
I did not want to see ‘it.’ I just wanted to know if I was going to die and I wanted to know more about the treatment that he said I should consider.
‘I want to see it,’ said Paul. I shot him my best withering look. The computer screen remained where it was.
‘There was no evidence of the cancer in your lymph gland. I’m hopeful that I’ll cure you and you’ll die of something else,’ the consultant said, chuckling along, ‘I’m going to enjoy looking after you.’
So the proposed plan was this: six sessions of chemotherapy to be given over eighteen weeks; each session lasting about two and a half to three hours. ‘If’ all went accordingly I could expect an operation at the end of July or August – when surgery would reveal if there was any further spread. Radiotherapy would follow. ‘In other words,’ the consultant said, ‘it’s going to be tough year. You’ll get an appointment to see the oncologist next week and he’ll take you through the pros and cons of chemotherapy.’
I had to return to the small room where I’d had the ultrasound and, under local anaesthetic, a titanium marker was inserted into my breast: if the chemotherapy worked well it had the potential to reduce the tumour to a size so small as to be undetectable. The marker would therefore indicate where surgery was required.
I left hospital with facts. Being armed with those facts was a small step in the right direction.
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