As we left the office a breast care nurse, Claire, came and took us into a separate room. ‘A bit of a shock, not expecting anything like this today, or…?’ she trailed off asking inquisitively. ‘My husband is a really positive person and he refused to believe it would be anything other than a cyst, whereas I certainly had hope but preferred to be prepared for either outcome,’ I replied.
Claire went on to explain a bit more about the cancer, that it was low grade which meant it was very slow, not a quick or aggressive growing tumour and that their plan was to go on and cure and treat this. She said it was obviously very frightening and that I’d clearly want treatment to start as soon as possible but that due to the nature of my tumour, it wasn’t going to change at all in a period of weeks.
Claire said that breast cancers these days are much more treatable and that success rates are very good and for grade one tumours in particular, however it would all depend on the size and grade after surgery and whether the lymph nodes were infected.
Pats asked Claire what lymph nodes were and she explained that they are part of the lymphatic system. A filter system that gets rid of waste products – debris, infection…and cancer cells. She said that if anything was in the breast that the lymph nodes might try to get rid of the cancer cells and that it often spreads to the glands under the arm. She pointed out that my glands seemed to be all normal and so were optimistic that it was confined to the breast.
Claire then went on to say that radiotherapy would be likely afterwards. This is an x-ray treatment that sterilises the rest of the breast. She said I may not need chemotherapy as its a grade one and that the benefit to me would be very minimal, but that they would need more information. I asked again about what effect this would have on my fertility.
As most of our friends and family know, Pats and I had been trying for some time to get pregnant with a little Moonmin but sadly to no avail. I’d already rang a fertility clinic the week before to ask about what options might be available and the lady I spoke to said they would be able to harvest my eggs. Claire also said that this could be done, but that it would very much depend on timing. ‘Often by the time they can harvest eggs we would need to have you in for your treatment but that’s certainly something that we can look into.’
The cancer I have is hormone receptive (it feeds off of oestrogen) so I would need to take anti hormone drugs. Claire said that there is a possibility that the medication could potentially switch off the ovaries which would affect my fertility. I’d have to take the tablets for up to five years with a recommendation of being off them for two years before getting pregnant. ‘It’s like a double whammy isn’t it?’ said Claire. I began to cry again.
All our hopes and plans had been on starting our own little family for such a long time, to hear that those dreams could now be taken away from us was just absolutely heartbreaking. It sounds strange but it kind of hurt more than hearing about the cancer diagnosis.
Pats and I had certainly taken our time in deciding when we wanted to have children. We’d spent many fun-filled years enjoying ourselves, having a great social life, travelling the world together and not marrying until eight years after we’d met. Starting a family was something we’d always said we wanted to do but had left it to a much later stage in our lives than most couples.
I was already rather neurotic about the desire to get pregnant. I constantly read books, websites and blogs on the best tips to maximise success. I was having regular acupuncture treatment and had spent god knows how much money on ovulation kits, tests, potions and vitamin supplements – you name it, I had it! Poor Pats had felt the pressure from my yearning, especially since moving into our new home which we’d especially chosen as it was perfect for a family. We’d already started investigations into why things hadn’t been working for us…in a way it was a blessing that I wasn’t already pregnant at this stage.
Claire went on to say they had a fertility specialist at the hospital and that she would make an appointment for us so we knew what our options were. She said there were possibilities that we might potentially be able to wait a month or two whilst my eggs were harvested before starting the treatment. She said if my cancer was a higher grade or lots of the lymph nodes were affected we’d be in a different situation, but said that we may have time and might be able to wait one to two months before starting the anti hormone drugs.
Claire said she’s known ladies who have successfully got pregnant after breast cancer treatment, which raised a smile and some hope within me. However she said they may not want to me to have IVF as that would involve giving me hormones and they would need to be mindful of the breast cancer risk. ‘We’d need to take age into consideration as you would be on the tablets for at least five years, but it may be that you’d be able to take them for two and then…well, that would need to be a consultant decision. We want to give the best treatment for you, what’s safe for you, against the risk of breast cancer returning.’
Claire then went on to book in my pre-op assessment for 11 May and gave me some blood test forms saying I could have the bloods done that day or if I’d had enough I could get them done when I go back for the mammogram on Monday.
As she left us in the room alone together, Pats gave me a massive hug and said how positive it was and what a good job that I’d caught it early. He said you just don’t ever think it’s going to be that. “It can do one anyway,” I replied, my fighting instincts kicking in. ‘That’s the attitude,’ said Pats. ‘Will you still love me with a deformed breast?’ I asked Pats. ‘I’d still love you with no breasts,’ he lovingly replied.