It's been a few days since diagnosis and the reality is starting to settle. After 2 days of being lost in a deep, dark forest of despair and rage, I reach out to someone I know who is a breast cancer survivor, an absolute warrior, and one of the most inspirational women I have ever met. I tell her about my diagnosis, not knowing what I want or need, but asking if I can sit down in the shade of her powerful tree and shelter there a while. I know I will draw strength from her, just by being close by. She doesn't let me down. She's there instantly and she wraps her boughs around me, protecting me, sheltering me and enclosing me completely. I am safe here.
She tells me she will be there for me, forever, for whatever I need. She listens, with the experience of a traveller who has passed this place before, and the wisdom to gently, softly, steer my course from out of the forest and onto a well-trodden path.
She asks me about my diagnosis, and as I fumble to remember snippets of that underwater conversation 48 hours before, I realise I really haven't a clue about what type of cancer I have. If you don't know cancer, you probably just think there's one type, that can appear in different parts of your body, that's what I thought too. But I realise now that is like a toddler's drawing of a flower, when the reality is a encyclopaedia of botany.
With my well of courage refilled a little, I feel my strength starting to return, and I take a few tentative steps forward on this new path, a path I never wanted to walk along. But when I turn around I see my old path is no longer there, I can't go back to how things were. I have no option but to walk forward and see where it takes me.
I contact my cancer nurse and asked her to tell me what it is I'm dealing with. She tells me that I have a grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma which is ER positive and HER2 positive. They don't think it has spread yet (no promises), but the invasive bit means it's the type that can. The ER+ and HER+ bits mean it is receptive to oestrogen (the hormone) and HER2 (a protein receptor). This is (I wont say good news, none of this is good news) not the worst news, as it means there are lots of different treatment options for me. Some cancers don't respond to these things, so can't be treated by anti-hormone therapy or anti-body treatment, which means that although I now have options, I also have to have all these horrible treatments too.
I'm engaged. I can feel it like a physical shift in my being. I am coming back from a dark place I don't recognise and I'm starting to feel the blood coursing through my veins again, My mind is sharp, focused, hungry for information. I'm calm, clear and coldy determined. I am nobody's victim, and nothing, nobody and no mis-formed bunch of mutated cells is going to take me down without a hell of a fight.
And suddenly I'm starving, desperate to consume and devour every piece of information I can. I search the internet relentlessly, I read, I research, and I write down what I need to know. I skim thousands of pages of information. I delve into people's lives, their blogs, their tragedies, their family stories. There is so much out there, so many stories of people touched by this awful disease. I find myself by chance at a blog written by a breast cancer surgeon who contract the disease herself. It's a perfectly written combination of medical fact, human emotion and brilliant prose. I binge read it in hours.
If you want to really know what breast cancer is, what it means and how it affects your life, read Liz O'Riordan's blog at http://liz.oriordan.co.uk/
Finally I understand what I'm dealing with, and finally I think I can give it my best shot.
Back In The Room
I start getting organised. I find a notebook and I scribbled down my appointments, a timeline, questions, definitions, outcomes. This is me in action. This is me at my best. I am taking control and owning this experience. This is my story, my project, my plan. I feel like me again. I'm writing in a journal called "This is What A Feminist Looks Like", and I'm using a large novelty pen with a flamingo wearing boxing gloves on it, to do it. I am back in the freaking room.
And as I write my notes, thoughts, emotions and phrases start gathering in my brain, jockeying for attention, jostling each other in their confinement, needing to be released. I know, before I've even considered it, that I will write this story down, that I will record it, capture it and share it, because it is an important story. it is my story. And if no one reads it, it won't matter, it will still be my story, and it will still matter to me.
I send my husband out to buy me a hole punch, because having the right desk-top equipment is essential for any important job, and I file my hospital letters in a pink and white gingham folder that I've been saving for a special project. I have stationery. I mean business. I roll up my sleeves, I open my website. I click 'New Blog Post' and I'm away.