The appointment to find out the results of the lumpectomy was scheduled for two weeks after the surgery. I’d psyched myself up massively for the appointment, but rather frustratingly on the morning of the day of the appointment, I received a call from the breast care nurse to say there had been a delay with my results. I’d need to go back the following week instead – ahhh more waiting! I know it wasn’t the nurses fault, but there really is nothing worse than waiting for results, as you feel stuck in complete limbo.
When the Thursday of the following week came round, strangely enough I felt completely different to how I had the previous week. I had been reading a book called Get Some Headspace by Andi Puddicombe, and I don’t know if it was as a result of trying to observe my worrying thoughts as opposed to getting caught up in them and getting swept away by them, but I seemed to feel much calmer.
After a long wait we were called in to see the doctor. He carried out a quick inspection of the scar and said I was healing nicely. As we sat down together he then started off by telling us that “the results were mixed.” Ok here we go I thought to myself, thinking back to the last time I’d been sat opposite him when he told me about the ‘incidental findings’ they’d found.
He reiterated the fact that the lymph nodes they’d tested were all clear and how positive that was. He then said that rather than being the predicted 1cm in size, the tumour was actually 2.4cm and a stage 2 cancer. Shit I thought to myself and grabbed Pats’ hand tightly.
He then explained about the clear margins that they look to achieve around each side of the tumour. Basically the surgeon’s goal is to take out all of the breast cancer along with a rim of normal tissue around it. This is to be sure that all of the cancer has been removed. The pathologist then examines this rim of tissue, the surgical margin, to be sure it’s clear of any cancer cells. The doctor said that whilst three of the sides were clear, one didn’t have a clear enough margin so they would need to do a re-excision and take a bit more out.
He also then went on to say that the cancer I have is HER2 positive. About 20-25% of breast cancers have an increase in the number of copies of a gene called the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), called a HER2-positive cancer. The gene makes a protein that is found on the cancer cell which stimulates them to grow; these types of cancers usually grow more quickly. Because of this I would need to have chemotherapy along with a drug called Herceptin.
Chemotherapy? Did he really just say that? The word reverberated around my head. Freakily enough, I’d actually had a dream the very night before in which a doctor had told me that I’d need chemo. In my dream I had broken down into tears wailing “What about my hair?” Maybe subconsciously I knew they were going to tell me this, I don’t know, but I wasn’t the same soggy mess I had been when I’d sat in front of him a month ago.
I asked a couple of questions in quite a matter of fact way – I guess it felt like it wasn’t happening to me. All along they’d been positive about it but hadn’t been able to completely rule out chemo. I was due to go in to have my eggs harvested the following day and had been cutting out drinking alcohol but after leaving the hospital I really needed just one glass of wine to try and make this news a little more palatable!
I called my dear Mum and told her the results. She was clearly devastated. ‘My poor poppet’, she said. ‘I’ll be fine Mum,’ I said trying to reassure her. ‘It is what it is, I’ve just got to get on with it..I might need to get myself a nice wig though,’ I said jokingly. After chatting about it all for a bit she finally said ‘Think of the money you’ll save from not getting your hair done,’ putting a humorous slant on it. This made me feel better, I needed to look for positives and to try and laugh about it to take the edge off it all I guess.
I then called my sister and had a similar conversation with her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be ok – it’s just going to take a bit longer than we thought”, I said. Having never been on the receiving end of someone I love telling me such news, I really don’t know how I would respond, but I felt like I needed to hold other people up and make them feel better about it.
I felt surprisingly okay about it all on that day, perhaps it just hadn’t sunk in yet. I just kept telling myself that I’m a strong and positive person and I’ll get through this.
I then spoke to friends when I got home, all of whom asked me various questions that hadn’t even registered when I was with the doctor. I hadn’t followed up by asking him directly what my prognosis was, it simply didn’t occur to me at the time. I hadn’t even asked when the chemo would start.