Today was Diagnosis Day. Today I learned what I feared, but what I expected. I have breast cancer. Typing that is hard, saying it is worse.
The clinic at The Whittington was much busier than before. There was also a flipping tube strike today, so appointments were running late. Friends and family had offered to join me, but I’d had nearly two weeks for the shock of 28th December to subside and I knew I’d prefer to go to the appointment on my own. I’ve done some research and had my notebook ready to take notes, and all my questions prepared. Professional Alison kicked in.
I entered a surreal new world. In the busy clinic, there were lots of women, many wearing turbans, hats and wigs. The atmosphere was palpable. Anxiety. Fear. Panic. How many other women there were getting their results today?
Bargain Hunt played on the wall mounted television as I waited. Not much of a distraction, but suitably bland and uncontentious.
In between all of this it becomes clear I will miss a critical meeting at work. Fortunately, my amazing work colleagues are all set to pick up for me. I text and email. Life goes on.
I met my consultant, Professor Vaidya. He told me in a straightforward way that I have breast cancer. I didn’t need to write that down. I’d remember that.
Then he’s talking about radiotherapy, and a new clinical trial, and surgery, and I need another ultrasound to check my lymph nodes today. So off I go to Imaging to get my pizza bleeper and wait for another scan.
The doctor shows me on the screen what he can see – I’m not at all squeamish (comes from having a mum who was a nurse) and I like to see and understand what is going on in my body. He’s happy that my lymph nodes look clear. Phew. This matters, because if cancer spreads from the breast it goes to lymph nodes first.
So, back to the clinic and I met my breast care nurse, Elizabeth. She seems kind and well informed. She gave me a folder of information and pack of leaflets. Wow, I really am part of a process. I’m not unique, they’re telling women everyday that they have breast cancer and this is what happens. I take comfort from that. They know what they’re doing. I’m in good hands.
Then she says something that rocks me to my core. “I’ll be your nurse for the next five years”
The reality of my new normal hit me when she said that. I’m in a new tribe now. I have a new world view.
Then a moment that was funny and surreal – I think I’ll be grabbing on to these moments in the coming months. My professor asked if his medical students could examine me as apparently my breast cancer has presented in an unusual way. It feels like a benign lump, and there are no other symptoms, and it did not show on the initial mammogram. So, they file in to the room and they’re all encouraged to have a good look and feel of my boob.
Me, to the fresh faced, respectful students; “It’s fine, please go ahead, have a feel, it will help your training”
One of the students; “Sorry if my hands are cold”
Professor to the students; “Now come on, you need to use both hands, right around there, to feel it. You see, many clinicians would not realise this was cancerous. No dimpling of the skin, no dents.”
Now I understand why my GP was so reassuring.
Finally I can leave the hospital. I phone my family. The hardest phone calls of my life. I text and email friends and work colleagues, friends text and call me. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. But I’m also relieved. I’ve known since December 28th that I have cancer, I knew as I lay there looking at those ceiling tiles having that biopsy and the doctor made small talk. I’m relieved because now I know what I am dealing with. Now we can get on with it and get rid of those pesky cells that have gone crazy in my poor boob.