Its hard sometimes to remember a life Before Cancer. In the summer of 2018 I was 47 and starting to enjoy life with my new husband and our puppy.
In July we went on holiday in Cornwall. It was a really hot summer and had a feel of the Mediterranean. One day I felt a lump in the shower, quite a hard big lump just below the collar bone, nothing I would associate with breast cancer, but nevertheless a definite lump. I also had had an irritating cough that wouldn’t go away. I didn’t say anything, nor did I google it, I just wanted to enjoy our holiday.
So, first harsh lesson that I learnt. Don’t wait to see a doctor. I did and will never know how much the tumour grew in that time, but it was the summer – we had visitors, and for a variety of reasons I tried to put it to the back of my mind.
I enjoyed that summer, my sister, parents, in-laws, kids all visited until late September, the lump was still there and I was struggling to hold it together at work. I knew, I would have to make the appointment.
So at the beginning of October I finally told my husband and the next day I rang and asked for an appointment.
I was lucky enough to be seen by a doctor who I had seen before so I was comfortable with and trust. She took measurements and said she really didn’t think this was cancer as would expect this to be smaller but would refer me to the Breast Care Unit to be sure.
The following Tuesday, we were sat silent in a waiting room full of worried faces, women in hospital gowns, clutching shopping baskets filled with their clothes – husbands reading their phones. At 9 am my name was called so I kissed Mark…said see you in a minute, and off I went. I had watched other women go off and come back quite quickly so really didn’t expect it to take long.
The first room I went to there were 2 nurses who said they were going to examine me. I showed them where I had found the lump, and after marking it with a black marker pen they felt that it was suspicious and want me to have a mammogram and then possibly a scan, but not to worry as it would also be all done that day. They had a feel around and drew another mark….hmmm I had missed that lump. This didn’t feel good.
The mammogram wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, and they chatted away to put me at ease. The room had quiet piped music and relaxing pictures going round on a TV screen. I stood transfixed not really comprehending that this was actually happening. Then followed a scan. I could tell by the look on the radiographers face that it wasn’t good news. She said that she wanted another opinion and someone else came in to look. They decided that they wanted to do a couple of biopsies there and then. If you haven’t had a biopsy, which is hopefully most people then it involved having a local anaesthetic before they took a sample of the tumour through a big needle. It didn’t hurt, but it did leave huge bruises! By 12 o’clock I was sitting back in that waiting room which was nearly empty just Mark and another couple. We had been asked to wait as they wanted to give me results that day.
People came and went and still we were sitting. Eventually someone came over to me, and said they had my results….and would I like my husband to come with me into a quiet room.
I could tell by the look in her eyes that it wasn’t good news. She said they were sorry, they were almost sure that it was cancer but needed to do more tests before being certain, so could we come back in a week.
Tears started rolling down my cheek, I couldn’t look at Mark. He found a tissue and the consultant held my hand. I felt numb.
We walked out, hand in hand, in silence, both too afraid to speak, as if we didn’t then it couldn’t be real. We texted both our managers and asked for the afternoon off…and went to the pub.
Life would never be the same again but the next week was probably the hardest. What were we to do? Did I have Cancer or not? Would this kill me? How could I tell my children? They had told me not to use Google, but I just wanted facts. My birthday was on Sunday and I couldn’t face talking to family. Mark took hold of the situation and booked us a last minute break to Northumberland, in the picturesque village of Seahouses overlooking The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Unknown to him I had been looking at that area for his 50th birthday the following February. This was the perfect hideaway, just us and Jessie. We got there late on Friday and he had arranged for Gin and Tonic to be left in the accommodation. Perfect!!
For the next 3 days we were just able to relax and try and digest what was happening. I was able to text family but use ‘limited reception’ as an excuse not to FaceTime. We were able to make memories to help us through the months to come. We had only been together for under 3 years, married for 18 months and had Jessie since the June. I had been the one who had desperately wanted a dog, and now I was facing maybe not being around for her. Olly was at a conference in America and Millie was in Amsterdam with friends. I felt so helpless and alone, not because Mark wasn’t there for me…but because for the first time in my life I had to face up to the fact that I wasn’t going to live forever.
This time was invaluable, before the madness of appointments which was to follow. We got back on the Sunday and there was just one day to get through before we went back for the results…..