A diary excerpt about breast cancer diagnosis
I hope by simply sharing my story it may bring insight and perhaps comfort to others
On Monday, I left work to attend a follow up appointment after I had complained of intermittent pain in the breast, shoulder and upper arm. The doctor, like me, felt that I had strained a muscle at the gym (I’m a bit of a weakling and I had been conscientiously working out since joining the gym over the holidays. I recognised that at forty-one it really was time to look after my health) and the pain would disappear within a couple of weeks but to be sure she arranged heart tests, a mammogram and an ultrasound. She could feel no lump and a previous check just a few months prior indicated no lumps either. The doctor assured me it was routine and I went off sure I would be quickly dismissed with the 'all clear'.
I noted that the mammogram clinic I had been referred to had a cold atmosphere and I shuddered as I was told to take a seat and wait until my name was called. I thought immediately of my husband's aunt, who died from breast cancer. I hoped she had been treated with dignity and respect throughout her treatment. The wait was soon over and I was called for the mammogram and from there for the ultrasound.
The mammogram was a quick procedure but the ultrasound took a long time and panic started to mount. My arm was filled with pins and needles as the radiographer speaks of cysts. She says they’re simple cysts and I feel relief when she says these cysts can come and go. Then she talks of blocked ducts and the tone in her voice tells me there’s more to be told. I watch the screen and I panic so I look away. The radiographer gets the doctor. He continues the examination and then asks if I want to know what he thinks. Of course, I do. He replies, “I think this is cancer. I might be wrong and I hope I am but that’s what I think.” He talks on about doctors, referrals, surgeons and cuts. I don’t hear a thing. The room is spinning. I haven’t come here for this. I’m supposed to be leaving with a spring in my step. The lady asks if I’d like to make a call. They help me sit up and then they leave. I’m dizzy and my mouth is so dry. I call my husband. I tell him that they think I’ve got cancer. He’s on the way. I’m taken for another mammogram. It seems rougher this time although it’s not, and I’m unable to follow her instructions. It’s finally over and I’m told to sit on the chair and wait. Then someone returns to tell me I can now dress. I’m offered a tea, coffee or water. I decline. Another lady comes in almost immediately and quips, “It’s a lot of fun isn’t it?” I shrug and then I begin to shake. I shiver and shake uncontrollably. Finally my husband arrives and the relief floods me. He hugs me tight. The doctor returns and repeats his spiel.
I then went back to work. My boss apologises because he doesn’t know what to say. That’s ok because I don’t what he’s supposed to say or how I’m supposed to react anyway so we’re both off the hook! I joke that I have a really legitimate excuse for handing in my university assignment late. I had recently attended classes for the subject 'Spirituality' and I’d been floundering with my assignment simply because I was really interested in the broad topic but no specific area was leaping out at me. Well, at least I think I’ve got an assignment topic now!
I tell a couple of close friends. Annie’s response is, “Bullshit!” This is sadly one of those times when her positive determination and strength of character cannot eradicate a problem. However, I am to learn that this same positive determination and strength will be invaluable to me in my healing along the way.
My husband arranged an appointment at the doctors for 3.30 p.m. and I was to meet him there. He rang to say he would be late because the report for the ultrasound wasn’t finished although they had promised it would be available at 2 o’clock. They hadn’t emailed or faxed it to the doctor either. Finally, he arrived with the film and the report, only the report belonged to another lady! The film was mine however, and indicated a carcinoma in the 6 o’clock position measuring 18 mm. The doctor was quite reassuring and told me not to update my will yet. She said it would be a simple cut, cut, cut! She then wrote a referral to a local surgeon who has a fine reputation for breast surgery.
At home we rang my mother-in-law, who is a breast cancer survivor. She was fairly stunned by the news. My own parents were heading home from a few days away with family friends so I had to wait a while longer to tell them the news.
The children arrived home soon after. We had always made a point of being honest and upfront with our kids and this had to continue. We sat them down and I told them how much I loved them. Then I explained that I had breast cancer and it would be a tough time for all our family, but I would beat it. I would have an operation and cut ‘the bastard’ out. The kids were half amused and half stunned by my language. Tears slid down my son's face with the reality of this news. My daughter sat motionless. It was so difficult to tell my children that their happy, carefree days with a Mum who was fully involved in their lives was now going to be subject to huge change.
My parents returned happy and relaxed but this was quickly shattered. I came home to bed for a long, disturbed and restless night.