Breast Cancer Blog - Episode 7 : This Way Up

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

It’s D Day. Well, surgery day, operation day, lumpectomy day, smurf day, shitting a brick day. Whatever you want to call it, it’s today. And I’m not welcoming the morning with my usual gay frivolity. First off, no tea. I stubbornly woke up at 5.58am to have my last permitted glass of water. I wasn’t thirsty, I just wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to push a deadline to its limits. Especially one foisted on me by Fucktard. Wait, you haven’t been introduced to Fucktard yet, have you? Apologies. Fucktard is my tumour. Fucktard, meet the peeps. Peeps, meet Fucktard.

Meet Fucktard

It seems to be quite the thing to name one’s tumour, according to my new and wonderful cancer buddies, and being deeply jealous of learning of a tumour called Stuart, I decided mine needed a name too. Fucktard sprung to mind and seemed apt, so it stuck. But don’t worry about getting to know him, Fucktard won’t be around long. Today is the day that Fucktard gets evicted. The story was never about him, it’s always been about me. Start packing, sucker.

It’s a complex agenda today. I have to go to my local hospital to have radioactive something or other injected into my lymph nodes, so they show up on the scan during the operation, then have another procedure to insert a piece of wire into Fucktard’s arse so the surgeon can find him and cut him out in one piece. Fucktard is a slippery little sucker and is currently hiding, like the weasley little shit he is, somewhere hard to reach and hard to find. Can't say I'm surprised to be honest, he’s hardly covered himself with glory so far. Then, after I’m radioactive and wired up, I have to do an hour journey to sunny East Grinstead (there truly is no glamour in any of this tale) for surgery. There is smurf dye at some point, but I’m not sure when.

Going Nuclear

At 8.30 I’m whisked away and taken into a small waiting room to await the arrival of the Nuclear Medicines team. There are fake flowers and a picture on the wall. This is never good news. I’ve already worked out that the amount of furnishings there are in an NHS room, the more horrific the things that happen there. But this is a small room, and a small vase, so I’m pretty sure no one’s going to pitch up and tell me my cat’s dead or auditors are coming next week. I’m being very well looked after by the nurse crew, all apologising that they can’t get me a cup of tea (I hadn’t been thinking about tea, but now, yeah, thanks), but the Nuclear Team shouldn’t be long. Now you know me, my imagination is now in full overdrive. I’m expecting a full hazmat-suited red-light flashing siren-sounding team of 10 to turn up, with a nuclear green glowing glass case containing the syringe of power.

What I get is a lady in blue scrubs and crocs, carrying a small battered toolbox the size of your Uncle Ken’s 1970s ratchet set, apologising that the motorbike courier from Maidstone got stuck in traffic. See? No glamour. Not even a smidgeon of it. The injection itself is sadly disappointing and over in 30 seconds, much like the excitement of a trip to Maidstone, and the Nuclear Team departs, back to doing whatever it is that Nuclear Teams do.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

The wire guided insertion thing is a bit more interesting. There’s an ultrasound and I get my first good look at Fucktard. He’s a pathetic little specimen really, and no match for Irina, my glorious and feisty russian Radiologist. She and her sidekick work like a well oiled machine and within 5 minutes Fucktard has a wire firmly shoved deep inside his core (I watched it go in and cheered a silent cheer). Irina is happy and almost cracks a smile. A mammogram later and she’s back with an envelope of film for me to transport to the next hospital. Now this is what we’re after, a secret mission, films in envelopes and instructions to hand the package over to a named individual. Irina knows the score. The drama has arrived. I ask Irina if I’ve had the blue dye yet and she cackles. “Not yet”, she tells me with no small hint of promise “you must wait. The surgeon will inject you with the blue dye when the time is right. You won’t know it’s happened until the next day, but be warned, you may cry blue tears.”

What the actual fuck? Blue tears? Here's me, expecting Smurfette singing a happy song, and now I find myself in a Tom Cruise cyber thriller crying actual blue tears. Irina tells me to leave, with a knowing glance at her wristwatch, so I scuttle out, clutching my secret envelope, scared that my radioactivity is going to start spilling out onto the people of East Sussex. I keep my eyes down and don’t look at any adverts, because I’ve seen Minority Report so I know how these things work.

We start the drive to East Grinstead. It’s about an hour away and the excitement of the first hour is rapidly slipping away to reveal the stark reality of what’s coming next. No, not East Grinstead, although to be fair, it’s a passer through, not a stopper off, no, the actual operation. My husband is trying to make lighthearted chat about something or other but I’m not listening, I’ve gone to the box.

The Box

Many years ago I worked in central London and suffered from severe anxiety attacks, especially on the Underground. At the time the IRA bomb threat in London was high and tube travellers were regularly held undergound in tunnels, with no ventilation, no information and no way out for hours at a time. Every package was suspect and tensions were high. It was a very real anxiety. The horror of standing in a packed, airless commuter train waiting to be blown up was too much and so my psyche created The Box. It was a dark deep place that I could retreat to, alone, where no one could get me. The scary stuff was all outside, I could see it, hear it and feel it, but it was outside, and I was inside. Not safe, but safer. Inside the box I calmed my breathing, shut down my senses and waited until the terror passed. It always passed, as anxiety does, and I never died, so The Box validated itself and saw me through some tough times.

I still suffer from mild anxiety occasionally now, but I recognise it for the physical reaction it is and am pretty good at riding it out. But today I’m driving to a hospital, radioactive and wired up, to ha