Part 2 (sort of)

Can I preface this post by saying that I’m writing this on a beautiful spring day, hanging with the niecelet on a blanket, while my family work the allotment (Note to A, sadly not our allottment). If I wasn’t recovering from the Op, I’d be in doors at work – Ha, ha cancer I win this round.

So where had we got too? Oh yes, I’d just won entrance into the Breast Care Centre, a place that at points, seemed more exclusive than SoHo house. When actually the reverse is true, they can’t give memberships away, so they sneakily stuff them into your bras instead. No suave mixologists here, just amazing NHS staff handling the brave and scared masses.

There are a lot of plugs sockets in the waiting room of the BCC, like a ridiculous amount, sockets as far as the eye can. I cannot stress this point enough, there are an insane amount of sockets here. I can’t for the life of me figure out why there are so many, it’s my new favorite way to wile away the waiting game because none of them are being used! You see? The mind boggles.

If I’m not pondering the sockets, I’m reading hideously out-of-date copies of Hello magazine. Granted, they’d be hideous if they were last weeks but they sure are distracting and the orange people in them lead crazy lives. My Grandma used to buy Hello for me as a treat (?) when I was younger so I find them quite comforting.

Dad always has a science journal or a pre-bought newspaper with him. I always bring a book too but it’s soon ignored – which is why he will be even smarter at the end of all this and I will know who the cast of Made in Chelsea* are. I guess cancer wins that round then.

I am about to make perhaps the most obvious of all the observations thus made on little blog; I do not like hanging out in the BCC waiting room. Don’t get me wrong, they have tried to make it nice – apart from the sockets, really what is that about? (must stay on topic). The truth is, I do not like being around sick people. Wait, I need to qualify that, I welcome the support and love from those now in the trenches or those who have gone before. I more than welcome it, I am grateful for it, I really hope I can be a rock for others someday**. I just do not like to be around sick people en masse. I’ve heard (and seen in movies) that the Chemo rooms are full of camaraderie and jolly banter, I think this is because there’s nothing else to do but plough on through. The BCC waiting room is a place of anxiety; of dashed hopes, of fear and A LOT of the bad kind of waiting. I think it’s because everyone is heads down and involved in their own fight, which is absolutely fair enough, but the JuJu is just a little funky.

We go in to see MBS and then it’s all cancer, cancer, cancer, blah, blah blah. I’ll introduce you all to Burt another time – yes I named my tumour Burt, irony of all ironies, he was christened Burt the Benign tumour in those blissfully unaware two days (let’s just ram that 2 theme home here shall we?) before life got weird. I think it was a work friend who renamed him Burt the Bastard.

Anyway the day finishes with Dad and I going to see a trashy, violent thriller – Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop. It certainly does the trick, it numbs the mind, I am no longer thinking about cancer. If the PR people for Non-Stop want to use that last sentence on the DVD jacket, feel free to quote me. The day we found out about mum’s re-diagnoses, I went to see The Dark Knight. I crave violent films when I get difficult news…. I wonder what that says about me?


* I was going to explain what this is, to those not in the know but then thought, why should we all suffer?


** Can we take it as read that I really don’t wish this on anyone else? I actively send out vibes that no one else in the history of ever gets this but that’s not realistic now is it? 1 in 3 people, people, so keep checking your bits and bobs, hell have a full medical!  (now I sound ominous – happy thoughts everyone, happy thoughts)


I am the 2%

White noise that’s all I hear, white noise. Someone is trying to tell me something incredibly important and all I can hear are random whizzes and bleeps. I squeeze my eyes shut hoping this will help me concentrate, now I’ve got bright white in front of my eyes too. So I guess my abiding memory of finding out I have cancer is white, I bet there are worse memories


Can I stress again, how difficult I’m finding this post to write? If you think, in the last few days I’ve flooded little blog with posts; I’ve woken up thinking about writing, I’ve stayed up until 3am writing. I. Need. To. Write. This post, this post I’ve been staring at for a few days now and it’s slow going.


Dad says he’s finding it fascinating what I choose to write about and I’m finding it fascinating how little I want to go into this particular day. So I’ve analysed this and I think the problem is Two fold (sticking with our ‘Two” theme for today):


One: I know when people think about cancer and diagnoses it always seems really scary; people say it’s their worst nightmare. I don’t want to write the wrong thing, to concern people un-necessarily or project how others might feel. The truth is, for me, this life-altering news became normal surprisingly quickly, it’s now just what’s going on at the moment. There’s a reason for that which I’ll explain in a moment…


Two: The worst bit for me about this process so far? Telling the two people I love, more than anything, the news. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it, I’m not willing to scratch at that particular surface at the moment. I know I rang A first, waking him at some ungodly hour, I had to ring him first because I thought I’d probably cry and I didn’t want to cry when I told Dad (Sorry A, I love you). After that, it’s a very welcome blur. Do you know what gave me this gratefully received amnesia and helped me accept things, at least in the short term?


Full. On. Shock. Having done First Aid courses, I know how dangerous shock can be and I don’t mean to be flippant but looking back, I thank my lucky stars that I went straight into a room marked ‘shock’ and I didn’t come out for at least 48 hours.


Shock makes me very practical, or so I like to think. I’m not sure how practical it was of me to tell MBS that’d I’d probably have to swing by the Breast Care Clinic the next day, as I’d need to O.K the time off work……


This is where my second boob angel comes in. The actual very first person I told, actually in the flesh, was a work colleague. I used the phrase “I have Cancer” or maybe I just said “Cancer”. I think my eyes were a little wild which helped get my point across. Either way she moved me pretty swiftly out of the open plan office. 


My second ‘In the flesher’ was due to shock, it was a brill actor who made the mistake of asking me how I was doing. He then stood out side with me for a little bit, while I waited for my dad. 


The third was the wonderful Director I was working with. She was with me when my dad ran up. She hugged us and said, “you will both be ok” and I believe that helped get us to the hospital.


To these three lovely people, I say a heart felt thank you, for dealing with me so kindly and so gently. I’m also really sorry that fate threw you in my way and you got the un-finessed “I’ve got cancer” monologue. I really am more adept at it now.


End of Part One


Rage aka the one where everyone stops reading

I’m not going to lie to you, I really thought this next post would be about diagnosis and everything that came next. It’s coming, I promise you, but it’s not there yet. I’m finding it a tough write. So please accept this terrifically un-PC ramble on Anger instead. With my apologies on every level.


I can’t seem to get angry at a cluster of rogue cells who don’t know any better, I can’t get angry at how unfair life may seem – turn the radio on, life isn’t fair or unfair it’s life and it has been fairer to me than a lot of people. I’m not even alone with this disease, I know of far too many people doing battle with cancer; some win, some lose but in amongst them, I’m not even that unlucky.


It’s like the rational side of my mind simply can’t or won’t blame biological processes (gee, thanks Dad). Sometimes, I would dearly love to have a full blown pity party with streamers and a cake, lots of cake, but I get half way into a “why me?” thought and I just can’t follow through. Maybe it’s brewing, maybe one day you’ll return to this blog to find a black-hole of a post. At the moment though I’m on the side of Happy.


I’m aware that this sounds sickly sweet and far too saintly, but please read on, I’m about to blow that out the water…..


Anger is good, I doubt you can get through any illness or loss without it. It’s what keeps you fighting and we all need a little fight in us.


So, do you know who gets my spectacularly, irrational anger at the moment? Those who abuse these amazing brain receptacles we’ve been given. Mine was in fairly good working order, I was looking after it ok, and it still malfunctioned on me. I can’t seem to get angry at it, so I’m going to be angry at you. 


1 in 3 people are going to get cancer at some point in their lives, so why in the world do you want to increase the odds that it’s you? Because if this looks like it is a fun way to spend a year or more, I’m not telling it right.


I guess I should go back to the first incidence of blind rage. A few days after my diagnosis I was sitting in a jacuzzi (I know, I know it’s a super tough, first world life I lead), it was pretty busy at the pool that day and everywhere was rammed*. I had had only about 2 minutes of bubbly goodness time when two huge people started tutting at me, my mind was occupied so I didn’t at first notice them, but they forced me to squish up with their eyeballs. Meaning I was bubble-less, so now I am just sitting in hot soup with 6.5 strangers, 2.5 of whom I would happily fillet and I’m thinking – “I’ve had a bad week, I really need these bubbles, here I am with my broken body, which I take care of and you don’t look like you care at all and I bet your bodies are just fine. And now you want my bubbles too? Well that’s fucking typical.” So I said nothing and got out. 

I got my passive aggressive revenge later when one of them wanted to dry their hair and I put my shoes on more slowly than normal while sitting at a hair drying stand. Yeah, yeah – How do ya like them apples lady?


And don’t get me started on the skin burners and the smokers – it simply blows my mind, how anyone, in this day and age would knowingly play Russian Roulette with two of the biggest Cancer Guns out there….. I have no words.


So feel free to tell me that you only live once, life is short and you should make hay while the sunshines.


1 in 3 people get cancer. Once you hear that diagnosis, you may get the anger but you will almost certainly get the guilt. The gut wrenching, stomach flipping fear that you could have done / not done something to stop this from happening to you. I imagine it’s a hell of a lot worse when that something is staring you right in the face.


So I say – do what you want, whoop it up with a cigar in one hand, cake in the other, butt naked in the midday sun if it makes you happy but do it in moderation and stop if you can see the effects too harshly in the mirror. Oh and check your boobs or your balls or both from time to time!


**** Can I book end this post by pointing out that I’m not totally ignorant? I’m aware that socio-economic factors play a huge factor, that other medical conditions can also be a cause, that illnesses like SAD and addiction are no laughing matter. That I’m aware how judgemental I sound? Can I also point out that I said that my anger was irrational? Gosh, I mean, it’s not like I’m blaming God….*******


*As a side note, I have observed, where I swim – in a rammed sauna/jacuzzi situation the females of the group will squish up and meekly make room, the males actively seem to open their legs wider and talk louder. What crazy Gender Politics is that about?


All just a little bit of history

I feel like I need to give a little more context now, a little back story. As I start to write this post, I have very little idea how it’s going to come out, I’m more than a little curious frankly. I’ll try and make this as succinct as possible.
Some years ago my grandma died, and then my mum died. I was with them both and while this was a real privilege and I wouldn’t change it for anything, it was tough on me mentally. I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress disorder, which went untreated, as I busied myself convincing the world I was fine. 
I was not fine.
Two years down the line I was about as unfine as it is possible to be and it was about to get worse. 
A and I met when my mum was pretty sick. He walked into a crappy situation and became my life preserver, keeping my head above water after mum died. He covered for me – with family, friends, at work, everywhere – as I basically became a highly functioning, depressive agoraphobic. To those of you out there who knew me at the time, Ha! fooled you! I became very good at wearing a mask.
Then one day, or over the process of many months A realised that the person he fell in love with no longer existed, she had turned to colourless dust, who only wore a smile for the outside world. 
Now, everyone knows that break ups are hideous, people say stuff and do stuff that are really, really awful. As this blog is only one opinion, my opinion, I’m going to leave it there on this.
In short, we broke up.
I fell off the cliff then, the cliff that I had been edging towards for three long years and it was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me. Because somebody caught me, lots of somebodies actually. 
I started to be honest with myself and others. I started getting professional help. I allowed my family to see I wasn’t fine. I trusted that my friends would still like me if I didn’t have a smile plastered on. I accepted help, as opposed to using one person as a crutch. I started saying yes to things instead of no. I actually started driving – some 8 years after passing my test. I started to exercise for the first time since school! I grew up and began to find my happy, all by myself.
And then somehow, somewhere along the way, A and I found our way back to each other. 
What I’m trying to say is that by the end of 2013 I was mentally and physically as fit and healthy as I’d ever been. Which is either incredibly ironic or wonderfully serendipitous, depending on the time of day I reflect on it. I also have an amazingly strong family unit – headed up by my superhero Dad, a rockstar boyfriend and just about the bestest group of friends / support network it is possible to have. And they all know the real me, not some warped fraction of a person. 


I feel lucky I had the 2013 I had because it made handling the news I was about to get easier. Had I got this diagnosis a year ago, you sure as hell wouldn’t be reading a blog about it.


I wasn’t going to post again today but then I found this letter, written by my mother, years ago now, before she was even diagnosed. I typed it up a while ago with another purpose in mind. I have absolutely no idea what she’d say about this new situation and while the below was written about homesickness, I find it rather apt and incredibly comforting.

Nearly Thursday


This is the only paper around so this will be a RED LETTER DAY for you (even if you are feeling rather blue). Actually, since, with any luck you will receive this on Saturday it will be rather special because Daddy will be coming down. It may not be in the car though because the poor old thing is rather sad and has to be hospitalised … It could be a lengthy operation. Oh dear.

It’s 3am and I’m writing this in the kitchen. I went into your room but it was too sad to sit in there. I woke an hour ago thinking and wondering about you, hoping you have managed a nights sleep yourself. Daddy said you called at 10ish – unhappy again and had found the disco rather loud so had come back early. I hope you managed to get thru to E and that speaking to him may have settled you down a bit.

The telephone at your ‘house’ was busy when I tried, so I left a goodnight note on your pager (a somewhat embarrassed young man was taking the message so I couldn’t be too soppy!) M also left a message when we arrived home, so you know we’ll always be thinking of you – as much (or more) than you think of us. Really, truly.

P, darling, I know your thoughts and feelings are awfully muddled just now – mine are too – of course I don’t want you to be unhappy and would much rather you had been looking forward to starting as you thought you would when you first saw the brochure.


I hope and (actually pray) that you will begin to see a light at the end of what must seem at the moment like a very dark tunnel, and that you can hang on to all sorts of little positive catch phrases like – imagine it’s this time next year, how far away all this will seem and try to help someone else – it’ll help you too and keep active mentally and physically – retreating from life makes it harder and people out there need you – need your sunshine to warm them and your smile to comfort them and your hugs to keep them going. You are blessed with so many gifts of love and tenderness, the world is a better place with you in it. You have so much to give.

(PG here, obviously she’s my mum so thinks I’m pretty great. Apologies for own horn tooting)


Everything that ever works best for people is what they’ve actually turned it into. It’s the creative part of living – not the pieces that are handed to you, you just smile and say “thank you” for those (and hold them dear) they are the passive gifts; the active ones are the ones you are about to receive by your own making – little things, like spending the first night, that’s an achievement. Coming back with M and me or even having us stay the night would have given you nothing to be proud of. Now you’ve done it! You never thought you would and you did! Just keep quietly patting yourself on the back for things like that a and you’ll realise bit by bit what I’m talking about.


We do miss you already and love you to bits.

Hugs and oo’s and kisses Mum


My First Specialist

I trust MBS (My Breast Specialist) immediately. Like a newly hatched chick I would follow him anywhere. This has very little to do with how young he thinks I look (if it’s a technique to gain my trust, it’s a great one) and everything to do with his nature. He is just so intuitive, when I explain why I’m here and the family history, he doesn’t labour the point but swiftly sets about the tasks that will help relieve the anxiety.

He explains what he sees on the ultra sound; a general anatomy lesson not just Lump oriented  and encourages me to watch the screen when he takes a core biopsy* – I actually see a needle** piercing the Lump. He even allows me to look at the little cross section he’s taken, “Like a little baby worm” he says. He’s right, it looks exactly like a powder-pink baby worm. To my mind cancerous tumours should be black and viscous like tar – I have a feeling this has a lot to do with those creepy government anti smoking/lung cancer ads and less about learnt science. In short MBS is super cool.

The thing I love best about MBS is that once he has explained it all to me, he is most anxious to set Dad’s mind at ease, sending me with the nurse to fetch him. He explains succinctly that from the look and feel of it, it’s a benign tumour. The core biopsy will confirm it but he’s 98% certain and he’ll text me on Tuesday with the results. I skip out of his office into the sunshine, to a life of few cares and little worry.

*A word on core biopsies, three words actually – Brace. Your. Self. It’s like being hole punched from within. Most peculiar and if you aren’t ready for it quite disturbing I’d imagine, obviously MBS made sure I was quite ready (gosh, I feel like I’m boasting about MBS but I feel very lucky to have him). The local anaesthetic means there’s no pain but you do get a freaking cool bruise. Everyone is different but paracetamol for a few days sorted me out. I did get a few sharp stabs when I forgot and caught myself, should have been better with the Arnica but I say that whenever I have a bruise.

** I’m afraid with cancer tests come a lot of needle jabs (sad face). If I haven’t had a needle stick for a while I always remember them worse than they are, which is stupid as I’m forever poking myself with sewing needles and the like. The build up doesn’t help, I just try to relax and zone out,  they’re generally over pretty quickly. The debate rages on as to the merits of looking vs. not looking – I generally look, I do not like surprises. This is also because I have funny veins, they hide and wiggle out of the way, I like to try and help (which now I think about it, probably isn’t very helpful, who likes an audience while they are trying to work…… hmmmm something to ponder on). I prefer the nurses who can acknowledge that perhaps needle sticks are not their strong point and hand me over to a colleague, as opposed to those who forget that I am not their human pin cushion. To those I say, perhaps it would be kinder to evoke the three strikes rule, while I understand you’d like to save face, I would very much like to save my arm.

Also, while I’m on the subject of needles; why is it that I am surround by menfolk who turn green at the very thought of injections? This is dull when I’m trying to show off war wounds. Women seem a lot more blasé. Am I wrong about this?


A little twist of fate

Friday dawns, Dad and I listen to the radio on the way to the hospital. I can’t chat, I didn’t sleep well, and I’ve been dwelling again. Dad doesn’t look particularly well rested either. This probably goes some way to explain what happens next.


I’ve the phone in my hand already, partly incase there’s a problem at work and partly, with A away in a different time zone, it’s habit. The phone rings, not a number I recognise, so I answer and it’s the BCC. Everyone is sick; nobody can see me today, they are going to have to reschedule. I say (more than a little desperately) that I’ll sit and wait, I’ve got the day off, I can wait until someone is free. A very kind voice at the end of the line explains that everyone is sick, there is no one to see me, they’ll ring on Monday.


Dad swears, my Dad does not swear. I slump despondently, mentally re-ordering my day and hoping my new colleagues don’t think I just wanted to get my nails done (I don’t have any nails, they are always the first casualties of stress). 


Then Dad swings into action, the car swings round as well, we will head to a private hospital. I protest, this is not how we do things – my Mum had the very best treatment, loved her doctors and received top draw medical help, all on the NHS, I want no different – but already deep down, way down inside, a knot has already started to loosen.


We are in a car park, surrounded by a sea of massive silver and black cars. Parking proves to be difficult and it has started to rain.


“It’s a sign, we can wait, they said they’ll ring on Monday.”


“ We are just going to go in and enquire. That’s all”


We scuttle, beetle like, in to a foyer. It’s the wrong foyer. This one is for Physio only. The receptionists are patient as we try to explain to them and each other what we require. They are amazingly kind and helpful, they find someone to come down and talk to us. We are asked to take a seat. Looking back, this reception reminds me of a giant elevator in a very smart hotel; the lighting is soft, the carpet is soft, the doors open automatically and softly, the chair I’m sitting in is very soft. If there is music playing and I can’t recall if there is, I feel strongly that it’s ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ but you know, softly.


A wonderful lady (my first boob angel) comes and explains the options, she understands how I feel, she has had a needle biopsy on a lump only this morning. There is one slot left for tomorrow morning, we take it, just like that. I need to know now what is going on with me and the Lump.  As we leave, the lady looks me dead in the eye and then hugs me, “It will all be O.K.” she says.



Waiting Vol. 1

The bloomin’ Breast Care Centre don’t get in contact, they don’t write, they don’t call, it’s like they don’t, in fact, care….. The bastards (FYI I’ve actually got a huge girl crush on my breast care nurse, I’ve a huge person crush on my whole darn cancer team).

I manage to act cool for 4 days – patience is not a virtue with which I am deeply familiar, A’s skills at present hiding in our tiny apartment is testament to this – in my universe this feels like 4 years but this is the modern age and I am a modern girl woman. I ring them. Just, you know, to make sure they’ve not lost my number or the lines haven’t been down or something. Don’t worry, I’m totally cool about it, super subtle. They do know who I am, they will phone me. When they’ve got a space. 

So I go about living life.

I help pack A off on his big work tour, I’m so pleased for him. He does not leave before I’ve made him promise – I’m afraid to say there was some eye rolling here (ha! in your face A, in your face! I love you) – that no matter what, he will not come home, not even if I do have cancer. At the time I really meant it too.

I start a fantastic new project, I’m so excited about this job, I can’t tell you. I am in awe of everyone, not least because there are smart, strong, talented women as far as the eye can see – the men folk are pretty ace too. Everyone is kind, interested and as excited as I am.

There’s also my one month old niece, she’s still in the docile phase of babyhood. She doesn’t know who I am yet but the scent of her scalp is, I think, what perfection smells like. The M’s make good smelling babies.

Along the way I mention the Lump to some other close friends, everyone is supportive, everyone knows I’m going to be just fine.

I am happy or I would be if the darn BCC would call! 

Day 12 and throwing my dignity to one side (not for the first time, boom boom) I ring again. I point out that I need to give notice at work for time off and that I’m within a gnats breath of the 14 day limit. 30 minutes later they call back, I have an appointment for Friday morning, today is Wednesday. Phew.


A little side note on the NHS….

I feel like I need to preface this blog with a little flag waving. 
I am a strident supporter of the NHS, as a concept and as a practical user. My brain cannot comprehend a definition of ‘civilised society’ where caring for the poor, the sick and the weak isn’t a cornerstone of that society.
On coming round from my lumpectomy (spoilers) after establishing the well being of the nurses around me, I spoke at length of my love of the NHS. I was high on morphine at the time, so goodness knows what this robust monologue consisted of, and to their very great credit not one of those nurses smothered me with a pillow, which goes to prove what saints they truly are – not least because I also sang or at least heavily referenced Pharrell Williams’ Happy as well. It’s all a bit blurry.
So I guess this is a disclaimer. My personal views are shared in this little blog; it is as open and honest an account as I can stomach to make it – my own letter to my future self. Sometimes I get frustrated, make unexpected choices and sometimes I get angry at the people trying to help – I get angry with friends, loved ones and kittens too, this illness just makes you mad sometimes (this doesn’t mean I’m not totally legit mad at you. It just means that perhaps, when I think about it later, I was right not to bite you).
The fact is I feel lucky; lucky that of all the worries that came flooding into my life when I heard the word cancer – how I might afford to pay for the high quality care and top of the line medication I need – was not one of them.
I know there may be flaws in the system, but at least we have a system and while we still have it, it can be improved. You can, if you are able, opt out of it and I’m totally cool with that too. This is a live and let live kind of blog. 

I’ve never been very good at exams….

As it It turns out, I am by no means cool enough to carry on a normal conversation while an almost perfect stranger touches my breasts. (I imagine that if I could have thought of a funny Porn Career joke this is where I’d insert it.) In less than 2 months this is going to become very normal. By the day of my operation I’ll have a lengthy conversation with a rather bemused nurse, having forgotten to put my top back on – a top I whipped off far too readily to begin with. 

This first time though, I’m lucky it is Dr W, she was my mother’s doctor so there is no need to explain the family history here. With only the briefest of preambles, I’ve got my arms above my head and a decidedly blank mind.

Dr W is concerned that her hands will be cold, I have since observed that no matter how awkward or painful the examination that is about to occur, there will always be apologies for cold hands or cold instruments. I always want to point out that this is perhaps the least of my worries but they always apologise while rubbing their hands together and I always murmur something along the lines of “oh, not at all, I’m sure they’re fine”. Yet, should I make some equally apologetic remark about my breasts, perhaps it is they that are too warm? Medical professionals I’ve found, often lose their sense of humour when faced with boob jokes and actual boobs.

Just one of the funny dances we do, the etiquette of a breast examine. I guess it’s something to talk about, it’s more on topic than the weather.

It has led me to wonder if those who go into the medical professional have a predisposition to cold hands. Perhaps studies should be done on that.

Safely cocooned again in my bra and sweater, Dr W is swift to reassure me that by the look and feel of the Lump (and due to my age, of course!) it’s probably nothing. I will have to go to the Breast Care Clinic to be sure and thanks to government directives this will happen within 14 days. She is kind and quotes statistics, the same from the websites – everyone is keen not to to panic you where cancer is concerned. I find this amusing, I know the facts and figures but I know the reality too. I thank her and try to take with me the comfort that this will all be over in under 14 days because joining my loved ones - I’ve now got a doctor who says so too.