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.


The Adult Thing To Do

I’m 34 years old, at this age you would think I could get a lump checked without involving my Dad. 
My wonderful father who has already been through so much, my beloved Dad who kept me tethered to the earth when 2013 blew up and threatened to rip me from it. You would think I would give him some peace. 
I’ve now told A and he has confirmed there is a Lump. He has yet to roll his eyes when I ask at various points throughout the weekend if the Lump feels; smaller, bigger, harder, softer or “just different”. I love him for this. He is being practical, the doctor will confirm what he believes is true, that it is nothing.
I have discussed the Lump with two close girlfriends these conversations are helped by wine. Wine makes me feel braver. We soon move on to other, more cheerful topics.
We all conclude it can’t be anything, it can’t possibly be anything and I won’t tell my Dad until it’s all over. That is the adult thing to do. 

I think I last 3 days. I jabber on to him about everything else under sun. If he is bemused as to why I’ve been standing outside Selfridges in the biting wind chatting to him about NOTHING for 20 minutes he doesn’t say. He doesn’t suggest I ring him back later or ask me to get to the point, thank goodness he doesn’t because my only point is to prove how absolutely fine I am.

To give myself credit, I last 2 hours in his actual presence without saying anything but then I do say something and Dad thinks it’s nothing to worry about too.
I shall go to my Doctors and get it sorted.
But now I am worried because my gut is still yelling that something is wrong. In the face of so many loved ones who think the opposite, I wobble. I’ve been here before, the last 3 years robbed me of my sunny optimism and almost my mental health. To put it in West Wing terms, I was a Sam and I slowly became a Toby, but Toby on his darkest days. It cost me, it cost me deeply. I don’t want to be the voice of gloom at this particular party. So I yell back at my gut and all is quiet for a time.


I shall go to my Doctors and get it sorted.


It’s 4.30am and I’ve just sat bolt upright in bed, I raise my left arm above my head and my right hand instinctively lands on a lump. Bullseye. 

I don’t know what made me do it. I am not normally awake at this hour. While I do self examine, I tend do so after I’ve showered at a more regular hour.  I don’t think it’s divine intervention or some spirit of my dead mother. I’d like to think that it’s my subconscious coming late to the party. Remember the scene in Speed, where Dennis Hopper is looking over black and white video footage, his stumpy hand to his mouth, his howl of fury as he realises that Keanu Reeves has managed to outwit him (like that would ever happen). I like to think my brain has been running over video footage, to be frank I’m so flat chested simply washing is all it would really take, for a day or two when – Boom! It’s remembered it felt something it previously hasn’t. And now I’m awake.

It’s 4.31am and I’ve just found a lump in my left breast. All of a sudden, I’m not  alone in my little flat anymore, it’s me and the Lump.

Normally, it’s at this point I’d be nudging A, my boyfriend awake, but he’s in London working. I imagine that he’s probably going to be grateful for that when I tell him about this later and I release my grip on the phone. I am in fact meant to be on a train later today to visit him and several other dear friends. Valentines Day is coming up, we aren’t big celebrators but this is different. A and I will be travelling extensively for the first half of the year, time together feels very precious. But should I be going to the doctor’s instead? I use two fingers to wiggle the Lump – back and forth, back and forth, as I contemplate what to do.

It’s 4.45am and without turning on the light, I’m googling. I’ve my Doctor’s office hours, various Bristol to London timetables, the NHS and Macmillan websites laid out in front of me by 4.55. 

By 5am, I’ve learnt I can see my Doctor first thing on Monday, and that lumps in women my age are almost always benign, especially because I have no other symptoms. I comfort myself with this. I try hard not to be a drama queen. I push all other thoughts and what my gut is yelling at me to the back of my mind. I fall back to sleep.

Later that day I head to London where the Lump and I have a really rather fabulous weekend.