I can’t say ‘cancer’ out loud. My posh friend Janet has advised that her family are managing to get her mum through lung cancer only by saying it in a real East End accent. So we have adopted this in our house too, all going round like Ray Winstone saying ‘caaaancer’. Because last week (I cannot believe this was only days ago), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Yup, it was a bit of a shock to me too. Sorry about that.
It happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you can’t miss the little pink ribbons everywhere and the endless women’s magazine features about checking yourself . Actually, I didn’t know I was totally ‘on trend’, as Grazia would say, when I found a lump in my right breast (yeah, DH’s favourite one, with the little mole!) about three or four weeks ago while washing in the bath. Further probing revealed a hard moveable round marble-like lump in my armpit. And when I lifted my arm up, I could see a funny crease down one side of my boob in the mirror. I’ve soaked up enough of those magazine features over the years to know that one of those things was possibly not great news, two was probably dodgy, and three was waaaay past avoidance-of-GP time. So I went to the doc, who referred me to the amazing Jarvis Breast Screening Centre in Guildford immediately, and three days later – last Wednesday – I was having a mammogram. Me and DH sat in the waiting room, the youngest people there by a good 20 years, waiting to speak to a doctor and get the ‘probably benign’ result. DH noticed the ‘Bin your Bra’ bin and muttered ”That’s a bit premature, we’re only having a scan.’
And then there were the x-rays up in front of us, and a serious woman doctor breaking the news as gently as she could, and saying things about surgery and chemotherapy and lymph glands, and then doing three different biopsies, and I was shaking uncontrollably and DH was beside himself.
Then it got worse, as we called family and close friends. (I had told them I was going for a mammogram. I think I suspected deep down it would be completely crap news and it would have been much worse coming out of the blue). We went round to our very dear friends S&J first, to sort of get used to saying it before calling our parents. They were amazing, with exactly the right blend of sympathy, support, black humour and absolute blind conviction that of course, I would be absolutely fine and would beat this. ‘Fuck Cancer!’ we all toasted with our cups of tea. I floated the idea that maybe it was punishment for me always having my cleavage on show and J said ‘if that’s the case, S would have arse cancer’.
So then I had to call my mummy. So hard. She was amazing, abandoning a board meeting and with me within an hour. Our best man did the same. My sister (who had quite enough on her plate that day, leaving her 11 week old baby for the morning to do her MBA exam) was fantastic: ‘We’ll do it like Kylie, Pinch!’ she said. After the initial shock and upset, our friends were quite amazing. I’m very into complementary therapy and I got my friend E on the case immediately to do the woo-woo research for me (of which more other posts to come). The hardest call was with Pops – mummy told him when she got home to Salisbury that afternoon, and he called after the children were in bed and just sobbed down the phone to me. That’s really tough, hearing your daddy cry.
I was, and still am, completely overwhelmed with the love, support and incredibly positive messages from so many people. It’s quite some blessing, to realise how much you are loved and cherished. I haven’t had so much attention and love showered on me since I produced the beloved First Grandchild! And gradually, Team Pinchy has begun to take shape: the core family and friends who I know will be here for me in terms of practical, logistical, emotional and other support over the long haul ahead.
So two days ago we got the biopsy results back, and they confirmed the initial diagnosis. It’s a rather interesting scenario with a cast of two breast lumps, one lymph lump, and a chorus of probably pre-cancerous calcium deposits in my milk ducts. Well, I never did like to do things by halves. I was expecting to have to have an immediate mastectomy, but given the complexity of the situation the treatment will be chemotherapy first for six months to shrink the lumps and then surgery afterwards to stop whatever’s brewing turning nasty. Oddly, I felt immediate relief – I wouldn’t be in hospital over DD’s first half term! – and extremely positive. I felt ready to get this thing handled. ‘Bring it on!’, I thought. I was dreading a dramatic op and then months of ‘mopping up’ with the chemo – this way just feels better for me, and means I can carry on with all my mind-body-spirit stuff in the background while the chemo does its stuff.
More good luck: apparently the St Luke’s cancer unit in Guildford, part of the Royal Surrey County Hospital is pretty much the best place in the country to be treated for breast cancer, and even has its own complementary therapy clinic, the Fountain Centre, so I can have as much acupuncture, massage, reflexology and homeopathy as I need to help keep me calm and positive.
Last night we had our first appointment with my surgeon, the phenomenal Ms Tracey Irvine. This was in Outpatients and for the first time, waiting there with the clinic running an hour late, I felt like a patient (so surreal when I feel so well), and it really threw me. I burst into tears and didn’t really stop crying and shaking throughout the appointment. But she is brilliant: she’s ordered loads of extra scans and tests, including an MRI (I’m only 37 and young breast tissue, even in my saggy post-breastfeeding knockers, is trickier to see clearly with an x-ray than old lady boobs), a bone scan, and an extra biopsy right at the edge of these calcium deposits.
Because apparently, they have no proof as yet that they are pre-cancerous. And if they aren’t, and the chemo shrinks the lumps, we might only be looking at removing Quite A Lot of breast and lymph, rather than all of it. So instead of a full-on mastectomy and Bionic Boob, she could, in theory, just give me back a smaller version and resize the other one to match, so I’d have a pair of pert B-cups rather than these running-machine-defying DDs. She said don’t get your hopes up, but it was great to hear for the first time that actually, a mastectomy is not necessarily our only option.
And yet more good news: my cancer is the kind that responds well to the new breast cancer wonder drug Herceptin, which I’ll be having alongside the chemo. And it’s probably down to dodgy oestrogen receptors, so I’ll be able to take Tamoxofen to stop this happening again in my left breast, which is feeling rather neglected this week with all the handling its partner has had.
I felt pretty down last night for the first time, and rather flat this morning, but am perking up while writing this. I think I’m going to find blogging very therapeutic over the next few months, and there’s so much I want to write about on my X-Factor-style ‘Journey’ (sorry). But that’s enough for now. I’m tired, the children are safely dispatched to their grandparents, it’s Friday night, and I’m looking forward to a glass of wine and a Thai takeaway with friends. All together now, ‘Fuck Caaaancer!’