Do you know what you were doing a year ago today? In precise detail? Do you know where you went, who you spoke to, what they said, the expression on their face, the sound of their voice, how you felt in every bit of your body, on October 13th 2010? I do, because it was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I know quite a few people, who I love very much, who know exactly what they were doing too. It’s not quite up there in the global consciousness in the same way as hearing that Elvis, Kennedy or Lady Di had gone to the great Celebrity Big Brother in the sky (plus I am not actually dead, unless I’m unknowingly in some weird M. Night Shyamalan movie and none of you have told me). But in my small universe, it’s a Big Day. (Here’s my first blog post on the subject).
Can you believe it? Where did those 12 months go? It seems like yesterday, and yet parts of the year have felt like time was standing still. I’ve been having quite bad flashbacks for the past few weeks as The Date approached. I’m sure the memories will fade over the years, but there’s something about it being exactly a year ago that has been making me feel nauseous and tense for a while. Then, in a nice bit of universal circularity, last Friday we finally moved in to our new gaff (of which adventures, more later), bang on a year after I reported the discovery of my lump to my GP.
DH went into work late this morning so he could do the nursery and school run with me, because that’s what we did a year ago together before I had The Mammogram, and also because he didn’t want me to be by myself this morning. And probably didn’t want to pretend it was a normal day for him, either. We didn’t do a sentimental flypast of the Jarvis Centre where I was diagnosed, though: cancer tourism’s not our thing.
When we got home after depositing the smalls at their respective places of play and learning, a massive bunch of gladioli was waiting for me, with a card from DH. I was very touched – they are beautiful, and he’s seriously not an ‘ordering flowers’ sort of guy, so it means a lot. Then my mummy arrived, ostensibly to help with the unpacking, but mostly just to be with me for a few hours. And then the postman bought a beautifully-written card from my sister that made us both cry quite a lot.
I remember some moments of that day in surround sound and Technicolor. Staring at the screen with the mammogram pictures of my breasts, and it being bleedin’ obvious that one of them had a very bright white mass in the middle. My blood running cold when the word ‘chemotherapy’ was mentioned. My tummy turning to liquid. DH and I sitting on our fabulous friends S&J’s sofa, in shock immediately after getting the news, all shakily raising cups of tea in a pledge to ‘f*ck caaancer’, which became Team Pinchy’s mantra. Having to tell my sister, and my mummy. Not being able to say the raw, powerful word ‘cancer’; telling everyone it ‘wasn’t good news’ instead.
Also: feeling, for that day and the five or six that followed, that I was in a calm bubble of golden light, like I was blessed (I do know this sounds bloody weird, and I sincerely hope you never have to experience the same circs, but that’s the only way I can describe it). Feeling with absolute certainty that I would get through it, and it would be the most important, life-changing event of my life. As it has proved to be. I really wouldn’t want to go through the past 12 months again, but I promise you, I wouldn’t not have gone through it. I’ve learned so much, and changed so much inside. This also probably sounds a bit odd, but lots of people who have been on a ‘cancer journey’ say the same.
Although please, my dearest family and friends, look after yourselves cos I sure as hell don’t want to go through what you’ve just been through: far easier, as I’ve said on many occasions, to Keep Buggering On when you’re the one going through The Thing. Far harder to be powerless as someone you love goes through it.
And the 12 months since: a blur of scans, chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, consultant appointments. Endless giving of blood and receiving of intravenous, expensive, new, effective drugs. Having to tell DD that mummy’s booby had some bad stuff in it and I would need some strong medicine. The week of worry after my radioactive bone scan, which would have revealed if the cancer had already spread (in which case: no cure, just holding off the inevitable). Exploring a whole raft of alternative and complementary therapies. Cherishing the ‘normal, normal, normal’ days. The trauma of even partial hair loss (the new stuff on my crown and neck is about four inches long now, and dark and curly. I am hoping that at some point I will have long wavy red hair again rather than morphing into a pube head…) Choosing a wig. Erasing my beloved cheese and all other dairy produce after reading Jane Plant’s ‘Your Life in Your Hands’. The indescribably nightmarish quality of the Chemo Months: the sickness, the dead mouth, the constant nosebleeds, the exhaustion. Finally getting my critical illness cover payout so I could stop stressing about work during treatment (and just about afford our forever house). The impossibility of remaining demure as I whipped my top off to be groped by an endless succession of medical professionals. The bottomless love, support, generosity and general perking up from all directions. Letting that Chinese lantern go last New Year. Feeling responsible for so many tears. The bliss of our holiday in Spain. Doing the Pink Ribbon Walk and raising just short of three grand for Breast Cancer Care. The realisation that having two boobs of different sizes is not, after all, the end of the world (tho I am looking forward to my balancing surgery at the end of January).
Discovering interesting new body facts: my Franken-nipple actually functions; I no longer need deodorant under my right arm since 30 lymph nodes were removed; the weirdness of shaving an armpit with no nerve endings in it; you don’t just lose hair on your head during chemo; my nails have dips in them that correspond to each chemo session, and there’s still two dips (fragile, splitting) to go even though chemo finished in March.
Well, what a difference a year makes. I promised DH that day that I wasn’t going anywhere, and here I am. Very much alive and kicking, and enjoying a large glass of Fortnum’s champagne courtesy of my incredibly generous and thoughtful friend B. In an actual champagne flute, now my mummy has unpacked our glassware: we’ve been drinking pints of merlot out of squash tumblers like French peasants since the move last Friday.
You’ve all raised several glasses and cups with me over the past year, and here’s another toast. Please stand and raise your hot or cold beverage of choice: here’s to having f*cked caancer good and proper. Here’s to love (so much love), and faith, and hope. Here’s to my wonderful DH and our gorgeous children, our amazing family, and our fantastic friends (that’s you lot), without whom I simply could not have got through the past 12 months. Here’s to the next 12 months, and the next, and the next…