Death Eaters at Dawn
It’s biopsy results day and I’m wide awake at 5am wrestling the life out of a panic attack. I don’t get panic attacks any more, I prefer to kick the living shit out of them. But this one was a powerful one, and it caught me off guard. If you’ve never had a panic attack, think of the death eaters in Harry Potter - sucking the life out of you by pinning you down by the chest and stealing your breath away. This one came out of nowhere in a stealth attack and the first thing I knew was a sudden feeling that someone was sucking my eyes out from behind me, and dragging me downwards into a black pit of swirling terror. But I know this bitch and I’ve beaten her many times before. Using all the weapons of 30 years experience and a fair dose of CBT, I managed to slice her hands off and despatch her back to Azkaban within a couple of minutes.
I’m very tempted to use a YOU SHALL NOT PASS meme at this point, but I know you lot are purists and you can’t mix Potter with Baggins, or Dumbledore with Gandalf, so I won’t. Even though I just did. Clever, eh?
So, it looks like Thursday has arrived with a pretty bad attitude, spoiling for a fight. Well bring that on, sweetheart, because I’m ready for you. Today I find out if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, and if so, I will need further surgery to remove them. It might mean there is a chance that it has spread elsewhere in my body. So this particular Thursday has got a lot of potential to cause me a great deal of trouble.
The good thing about my cancer (ok, the least shite, but also still very shite part) is that because it is responsive to hormones I will need chemotherapy, even if it hasn’t spread. Of course chemo is hellish and no one wants it, but it is a bloody good adversary for cancer cells, and gives me the best chance of nailing the slippery little toad for good. So I already know that one’s coming regardless of the outcome. I also know I will have to have radiotherapy, and I will have to have hormone treatment, probably for years. So Thursday, whatever you think you had to throw at me, don’t even bother with half of them because I already know, and I’m already way ahead of you.
I decide to dress like a warrior, because even if you don’t feel like a warrior, if you put on the outfit and act the part, first off your opponent might fall for it, and second, you might actually start feeling like one. I decide on an all black outfit, front fastening, natch, and a lot, I mean a LOT of black eyeliner. It’s a gamble to go to a potentially life-changing medical appointment with non-waterproof black eye make up, but I figure that if anything is going to stop me from crying, it’ll be the prospect of having to walk back out through the busy hospital and car park looking like an extra from Kiss. Fear of public humiliation is a big motivator.
Big Girl Boots
I’m dressed but I’m not ready. I need more. I get my cancer talisman gifts, my ‘You’ve Got This’ ring, my friendship bracelet, my ‘Superhero In For Repairs’ badge and I grab my bag with its flamingo key chain, Totoro mascot, SBL Connect badge and I'm almost ready. I’ve got you lot with me in spirit, a formidable crew. I need one more thing for a big girl job, and that’s big girl boots. And when you need big girl boots, there’s only ever one way to go. To the Doc Martens shelf. I select the pink vegan pair, picking up the whole Breast Cancer branding vibe, (I know, thank you) I lace them at a kick ass angle, and I’m ready.
I march my way to Zone C, walking the walk. It’s a distraction technique, I’m fully aware of that, but it’s working. A million disastrous possibilities are floating around in my peripheral psyche but I will not let them in. Whatever today’s news is, there is time for all of that later. Right now I have to focus on not running away and not making an utter tit of myself by going to the wrong section, falling over or getting my name wrong. I find a seat in an eerily empty waiting area and I wonder if everyone is cured, or if everyone died. A perfectly timed message arrives from Darcey, my cancer buddy, and I have something to focus on other than catastrophizing.
15 minutes later and I’m called in by my Macmillan Nurse, and there he is, the man who has seen the inside of my left breast. It’s a curious relationship, and not one I want to explore. He puts me out of my misery very quickly, It’s good news.
There was no cancer in the lymph node, the lumpectomy removed all of it, the margins are clear and it hasn’t spread.
This is the best possible outcome and I feel the weight of worry physically lifting from my shoulders as he speaks. The death eaters that have been following me roll their eyes, let go of my throat, and slink off out of the open window, looking for another victim. The room actually brightens and I can hear myself exhale.
He tells me I will still need chemo, herceptin and radiotherapy, which I already know, and it will all take about 5 months or so. My incision site is healing brilliantly, the dressing can come off, and my scar is looking good (it actually looks red and scabby and totally worthy of winning any future scar battles, but I’m completely cool with that). The Oncology Dept will be in touch with chemo dates and schedules, and he’ll see me again in a year.
He tells me I’ve done really well. I haven’t, I haven’t done anything other than pitch up and let the NHS work their magic, but I take the praise like a 5 year old getting a reward sticker for eating their school dinner, and I head off out of the door. Of course I turn the wrong way twice and end up in the ECG unit, but a kindly looking doctor nods me towards the exit and I scatter wheelchairs and porters aside as I scurry out, beaming, to find my husband waiting outside in the car for me. We go home, holding hands (it’s an automatic, don’t even think about it). We have gin for lunch and we somehow find a happy place in this new world where chemotherapy is a great outcome.
One in Two
I have been very lucky, There is a long road ahead of me, the treatment is pretty rough, and statistically the cancer might still come back at some point, but for now, I’ll take a moment to thank the universe for cutting me some slack. I have some friends, walking the same path, who haven’t had the same news, who are heading back to the operating table, or who have found out that their cancer has spread. This is a tough and relentless disease, and I'm still walking a long journey, but every day the treatments get better, the outcomes improve and the collective support of thousands of us, united against a common enemy, means that no one will fight alone.
I rarely preach, I’m a total hippy who believes that every one of us is in charge of their own self, and that the universe will balance things out in the long run. But if there is anything you can do, any appointment or screening or self-test you can access to increase your chances of beating this evil wankspazzle of a disease, please take it. Mine only got picked up because of a rogue cyst and an excellent GP. For many other people there are no signs or symptoms until it’s already got a firm hold. As the advert says, 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime. Those are pretty crappy odds. Let's beat them.