I arrived home post mammogram and unexpected biopsy with stitches in my boob to be greeted with a running jump from all three kids and a small semi-furry/semi-chewed stuffed mallard shoved promptly up my top.
‘Careful – Mummy’s got a little cut up there’ I blurted out because a) I felt really sore and b) the toy looked mildly rabied. Anyway, it wasn’t the most ideal way of letting Mark know that i’d had to have a biopsy. We’d spent a good 8 minutes that morning discussing how enticing a mammogram sounded. We agreed that anything which ended with ‘gram’ could only serve to enrich your life. Like a telegram, an anagram, a kissogram or even a stripogram. Actual wall to wall fun potential if there’s a gram in it – right? Thankfully it didn’t occur to us that my appointment might involve a biopsy as well. That’s when the dictionary corner hilarity would’ve abruptly ended because the only word I can find that ends with ‘opsy’ is autopsy. Little lols there my friend but quite symbolic of how I actually felt when I was told that i’d needed to have one done. Even though around 75% of breast biopsies come back clear it definitely felt like things got a smidge more serious. Sorry, back to me getting home and the ‘King Of Flappers’ (Belle’s class mascot and our grubby foster mallard for the weekend) being launched up my tshirt was the icebreaker. Mark and I spoke little about it which in a way spoke volumes about how we both felt deep down (about the lump biopsy i mean – not the duck – although we were pretty cheesed off about that too).
For both of us the weekend was a distracting godsend. We bounced merrily from
gymnastics to a paintball birthday party to cricket to huge Tudor history homework meltdowns. The whole time and I mean the WHOLE time photographing and documenting the King Of Flapper’s stay in the Addis household (which included a rigorous 60 degree wash cycle).
Alas, there was little time for a date with Dr Google or morbid contemplation.
Tuesday came fast. The revitalised Lenor aromed quack quack was returned to school. Life felt almost normal but the niggling of the 4pm results appointment was ever lurking. Mark and I didn’t discuss possible outcomes but I secretly knew we’d be going for a fat glass of vino that evening and breathing a sigh of relief. Work was a welcome distraction but also a stark reminder. Our main guest of the day was breast cancer survivor and Coronation Street star Sally Dynevor talking about climbing Everest in aid of Prevent Breast Cancer charity. Coincidence? Fate? Who knows but it was an inspiring watch. The next item was trench coat fashion and Lorraine brought her puppy Angus in who modelled a jacket himself. Utterly adorable and couldn’t fail to put a smile on my face (until he pee’d on the dressing room floor).
On our way into the hospital Mark and I walked under a huge bushy blossom tree that was one half pink and one half white. Both loving a bit of trivia (more so Mark) we stood and marvelled at how that natural phenomenon might have occured – part new tree, part old tree? Soil changes perhaps? Whatever the reason, it was unusually pretty. A good omen I thought walking in. The clinic was overrunning so it was almost 4.30pm when Mrs Smyth came to collect us from the waiting room. We held hands (Mark and I – not Mrs Smyth) as we walked down the long corridor to her room. The whole time I was willing her to airily tilt her head and say ‘it’s all fantastic news – come in and let’s have a jolly old chat about that hybrid blossom tree outside, did you notice it?’. She stayed pretty schtum as she settled herself at her desk. We sat silently opposite and she opened the grey file in front of her. Before she even opened her mouth I could feel my whole inner being just falling to the floor. Silently falling. I knew.
‘I’m sorry but it’s not the news we were all hoping for today, you’ve got breast cancer…’ I felt immediately submerged and any words that followed evaporated. I was, in an instant somewhere else. Somewhere deep underwater. I can’t recall taking a breathe. Sweat gathered in my hands. Sweat gathered in our hands. I realised Mark was holding on to mine for what felt like dear life. Then i remember straightening my back and urging every brain cell to focus – I could feel survival mode willing it’s way into me. All I could hear between my deafeningly loud heart beats was probably every third word that Mrs Smyth said. ‘…aggressive….chemotherapy….mri scan…surgery…mastectomy’.
In the fog I was handed a glossy lever arch folder which had ‘My Breast Cancer’ printed boldly across it in that unforgettable magenta breast cancer PINK colour. Like we’d just gotten ourselves something exciting and new. Like a car or a house and this was our guide to how it works. Except this was a manual that I didn’t want. I didn’t ask for it. Mark didn’t ask to marry someone who was going to be given this booklet. Then in a blur we got up and the four of us left the room. Mark, me, the lever arch file and my brand new cancer.
The blossom tree looked different on the way out. The tears that I wouldn’t let flow had saturated my eyes making everything blurred. We couldn’t make eye contact yet knowing that we would both lose it and what good what that be? Hands gripped to the bone and eyes burning straight ahead we paced to the car. We got in and held each other whilst we let it all out. A honking noise broke our unadulterated bawling. It was an impatient driver wanting our space in the car park, he was gesticulating furiously in a manner of ‘stop heavy petting and get out of the car space’. Unsure whether to clothes line him or thank him for snapping us out of our meltdown sobbing frenzy we buckled up and drove off.
We decided not to tell the children straight away. I didn’t want it to be done through tears so thought that a few days of letting it sink in would be best. Plus how do you tell a 5, 7 and 9 year old? We got home and put a truly British steely face on it as we bathed and put Archie, April and Belle to bed. Mark and I purposely stayed out of each others eyeline because neither of us wanted to set the other one off again. I read Belle her favourite book (Hairy Maclary) whilst Mark listened to April reading her school book about Dangerous Substances (why a 7 year old needs to gen up on alcohol/drug addiction is beyond me). When I went in to say goodnight to Archie he asked me why I had been to hospital again because I was only there last Friday. I didn’t know what to say so said i’d explain later and managed to distract him with pokemon chat. Life for them was still normal but for me our ‘normal’ had been turned upside down.
Knowing that I was supposed to be at work at 6am the next morning I called my boss. Saying the words ‘I have cancer’ outloud was numbing. Thankfully she just said to take all the leave that I needed and with that a huge cloud lifted. I knew I needed time to focus on me, my family and the months ahead.
I had hardly told anyone about the lump but there was a small handful of people who knew and that evening I was getting messages asking how the appointment went. How do you begin to reply to them? Your closest loved ones. I couldn’t do it by text so Mark and I made a short list and shared the load. Calling my brother was the hardest as we were (and still are) already dealing with our mum’s dementia – he’s my best friend and I didn’t want to shatter his world further. I tried to be as positive as I could during the conversations but it was hard because the news was still so raw. It was good to hear the words of support from everyone.
The days that followed were strange. Life felt on hold for me but of course it goes on for everyone else. I wasn’t at work so mums I bumped into at the school gates were asking me why I was there ‘Morning, no work today? Everything ok?’. What was I supposed to say ‘Yeah all good, just bagged myself some breast cancer so taking some time off’. It was all so awkward and scary and real. A good friend offered to spread the word which actually really helped.
I still didn’t know if the cancer had spread anywhere else in my body so the feeling of the unknown was beyond unsettling. The next 7 days would bring testing, testing and more testing followed by a healthy dollop of mastectomy surgery. Oh how I would’ve given anything to just be looking after the King Of Flappers again and living my normal life. Cancer shmancer.
HOPEFULLY YOU NEVER NEED THIS BUT HERE ARE MY TIPS FOR WHEN GOING FOR AN IMPORTANT CONSULTANT APPOINTMENT
*Always take a pen and paper to note down what’s being said – trust me you forget everything if/when it gets emotional
*Make a list of questions/concerns before you go in
*Best not to go alone for results appointments
*Obvious but try not to Google too much – you can self diagnose even the smallest symptom with anything your heart/head can think up if you try hard enough. I remember once I had a lump behind my knee. Convinced it was knee cancer I awarded myself a self-search-engined-diagnosis of a could-be-fatal Osteoid Osteoma. In less than 2 minutes into my GP appointment Dr Fozard told me it was an infected flea bite.
TIPS FOR TELLING PEOPLE YOUR NEWS
*It’s exhausting repeating your emotional news. It really helped me to get a good friend to let the wider group know and that I needed some time to digest everything.
*Same with family – I got my brother to let a lot of my wider family know and to give me some space whilst I went through the various scans/tests.
*I got lots of texts of support and trying to respond to them all was equally overwhelming and emotional. I was quite strict and only replied when I felt ready to – good friends understood completely and many even said in their messages ‘do not feel like you need to reply)
COMING UP ON THE TITTY GRITTY…
*What NOT to say to someone who tells you they have cancer – you’ll be surprised what some people say
*How I told my children and their reaction
*What happens after a breast cancer diagnosis including a PET Scan, Brain MRI, Nuclear Medicine Scan, Mastectomy and more.