Prior to this period Pats and I had been on a bit of a health kick and had cut out drinking alcohol on school days, saving it just for a treat at the weekend (technically called binge drinking I think!) However in the days leading up to my next appointment god knows how many bottles of wine we drank! It was the only thing that seemed to get us through those long days filled with worry.
The Wednesday night before my appointment I didn’t sleep well. Once again I was up in the night making tea and tapping away on my iPhone at some ungodly hour.
The appointment was at 1.15pm so I’d tried to do some work in the morning but had so much on my mind it was so impossible to concentrate. We arrived at the clinic and took a seat – ironically Pats selected the exact same two seats that Lou and I had sat in last time. We sat clutching each other’s hand whilst we waited for my name to be called. After what felt like an eternity I heard …’Allison Moon.’ Holy cow here goes.
We were shown into a room by a nurse where a lady consultant was sat at a desk and the nurse stayed in the room with us. ‘Don’t worry about it’, she said. ‘Even if it’s there, it’s small. So for this small lump it’s just a lumpectomy, that should be enough, ok,’ She said asking me to relax. ‘It’s been caught early. Even just the name of cancer makes people go oh my god. It is very early, you picked it up yourself and it’s a grade one cancer (there are three stages).’ I burst into tears.
Everything in my being had been willing her not to have said those words. How could this be? I heard what she was saying that it was caught early, it was small. But it was the dreaded ‘c’ word. I’m 38, I felt far too young to be hearing this.
‘It’s tiny, it’s small, it’s low grade. So we should look at this in an optimistic way. Breast cancer is not one of those cancers that can kill you so don’t worry about it ok? I appreciated her optimism, but ‘don’t worry about it’ – really?!
I’ve since pondered over what methods doctors use to relay upsetting news to their patients. I now realise what she was doing and am very thankful to her, as it enabled me to later translate what I’d been told to my family and friends in a similar context and allowed me to think about the positives in the situation.
She then went on to say that they didn’t find anything in the biopsy of the lymph node which was also good news as indicates it hasn’t spread. What a relief. She said they weren’t able to have the complete management plan there and then because I hadn’t had a mammogram as yet. She said they’d plan to do a lumpectomy but it would be if’s and buts without the mammogram and that they’d already made that appointment for me for the Monday coming. The multidisciplinary team (surgeon, oncologist, radiographers etc) would then discuss the results and me on the Thursday.
Pats asked how long the surgery would be to which she said it would be within 31 days from today. She asked if we had any holidays planned. We’d booked to fly out to Cyprus on 27 May to spend my birthday and our wedding anniversary there. There was that fecking Murphy’s law that my Dad says is always against us. She said they would try their best to fit the op in 8-10 days before the holiday so that we’d still be able to go. Our eagerly awaited holiday, which had taken me weeks of hunting to find a nice place at a reasonable price, now paled into insignificance.
She went on to explain that there were options in that I could have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. She said there was absolutely no need for a mastectomy and that the survival rates after each were equal. She then said that after the surgery I would go on to have radiotherapy – external x-ray beams – just to the breast area. She also said that as it was grade one I wouldn’t need to have chemotherapy (but that would need to be confirmed after they’d removed and analysed the lump). More relief.
She explained that they’d remove one lymph node during the operation and that whilst they were doing the lumpectomy they would test that under a microscope to check it hadn’t spread. If it had they would remove the lymph nodes at the same time.
I had already prepared a list of questions, those to ask if it was good news, those to ask if it was bad. Was I just being uber prepared or did I subconsciously know? I proceeded with the bad news questions. Amongst these, I asked if I could be scanned to check there that weren’t any other lumps in my body that I wouldn’t be able to feel. She said there was no need for any further scans at this point. I also asked whether this would affect my fertility and she said that neither the surgery nor the radiotherapy would affect that. She said that they don’t recommend getting pregnant for eat least two years after finishing the radiotherapy treatment and that if I had any further questions regarding that to ask one of the breast care nurses.
She presented me with the mammogram appointment letter and out we walked. I felt utterly dazed, shocked and didn’t have a clue what to say.