117. The test results

If all goes according to plan, we are travelling back to London from Majorca today. Ah, the spring of 2015 is so much better than the spring of 2014. But just in case you don't want to miss out on last year's colourful events, this blog post was prepared well over a week ago and put into the system to appear on your screens today...


17 April 2014

My perspective has shifted. Now, I perceive this as Good News:

I have cancer. It is confined to a small lump in my breast. It hasn't affected any cells in the rest of my breast, or in the other breast.

I will need a lumpectomy. My operation is planned for the 1st of May, in exactly two weeks' time, one month after my diagnosis.

Six to eight weeks later, I will start a three-week course of radiotherapy.

And that, we hope, will be that.

The only remaining unknown is whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This will be tested during the operation.

These are the facts.

We met with the surgeon today. I think she was rather taken aback by all the questions I asked (What is the hormone receptor status? Is it HER2 positive?) even though I'd been given a rather smart folder with information for the breast cancer patient, directing her to ask exactly those kind of questions. In the end, she offered to show me my MRI scan pictures. Even I could see how  clearly defined and confined the cancer is.

Of course I am relieved, although there is also a strange sense of anti-climax. All that worry and upset, all those utterly fundamental thoughts about living and dying. All that frightening loss of control.

I feel as if I have some, if not most, of my control back again, now that I am armed with the full facts and a certainty that this will turn out to be a mere blip on my path, rather than a deviation from it.

[Ah, little did I know that there was more to come...]

Now, there is a danger that I slip back into my old familiar self, the one who is in control, the one who can cope.

The charmed one.

Perhaps the biggest shock in all of this has been my shock itself. I keep thinking: if I'm so utterly thrown by this, so tearful, so shaken, then how on earth will it be if something really difficult happens? If, like so many people I know and love, I have to cope with a life-changing, life-long condition? (Diabetes, arthritis, depression.)

If, worst of all, I lose a child or husband?

Cancer carries a certain gravitas, I have discovered. I have told almost everyone I come into contact with, including people I don't know, who need an explanation for my inability to give a talk or attend a conference. There is universal, instant sympathy and understanding.

Now that it turns out to be relatively minor, I feel a bit of a fraud. Of course it is nice to get all this sympathy, but shouldn't others get an equal share of it? There are so many misunderstood and debilitating physical health conditions (quite apart from equally debilitating mental health conditions) that need as much sympathy, as many allowances.

In a way, I feel lucky that I have cancer because people understand my distress and my need for time off. As I have been saying, only half-joking: As far as excuses go, cancer is quite a good one.

But perhaps I ought to listen to those wiser than me. Like one of my good friends, who said: "It is like you to be positively reframing this as an educational experience but you are allowed to feel less positive emotions from time to time."

Owl has helped enormously in making the children part of this, making them understand.

I almost forgot to take him to the appointment with the surgeon, but my younger daughter reminded me.

"He's a bit worried about what the doctor is going to say," I said, making him tremble.

"Oooh, don't worry Owl," my younger daughter said, rushing over and kissing him. "You are not alone, because your mummy is worried too."