In life you cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude towards what happens to you.
*please note this post contains medical stuff and might be an emotional trigger.
When you are diagnosed with a life threatening illness the surgeons and specialists can only do so much and then the rest is up to you. Your attitude and how you choose to deal with things can go a long way to helping you heal and making the best out of awful moments.
2012 just wasn’t my year…or so it would seem. I can choose to look at the events of 2012 as awful or I can choose to say it was the year that saved my life.
I had been working in a job where I gave away my power and in the process I lost myself and I lost sight of what was important to me. Eventually I made the call and resigned. It was sad to leave an organization I believed in and loved but it was like something was lifted from me…a heavy cloud. I took a month off to heal and get well baking for my children and picking them up from school. I caught up with friends, had the occasional massage, meditated, cleaned my home and took the time to listen to my body.
I resigned from my full time job in management in early March, started my part time job at the beginning of April, and in July my instincts told me there was something wrong.
When I showered I would look down at my left breast and sometimes it looked a little puckered, deep down I knew there was something not quite right but I chose to tell myself it was ok because most of the time it looked normal. In late July I noticed a raised lump on the areola of my right breast, and around the same time I watched a programme on television that did a feature story on mammograms. I remember the reporter saying that after the age of 40 women are entitled to a free mammogram. It resonated with me and I posted on Facebook that I was going to book a mammogram.
I made an appointment to see a G.P. but not my regular one, I don’t like to see him for personal girly things so I made an appointment with a female doctor at the same clinic. She checked my breasts and dismissed the raised lump as a ‘simple cyst’. I was told it wasn’t a problem and didn’t need investigating. In her words “I see breast cancer all the time and you don’t have breast cancer, you are also too young”.
As I redressed I didn’t feel like I had been heard, I wasn’t happy with the outcome and my intuition was screaming at me. In that moment I chose to speak up and I threw my hands up saying “unless you have x-ray vision I want you to send me for a mammogram”. I was forceful in my tone bordering on rude but I didn’t care. Reluctantly she wrote a referral to the BreastScreen SA for a mammogram and explained that it might take a few months to get an appointment. Again my intuition raged and I asked if there were any other options, I wanted one as soon as possible, I felt her smirking at me as she wrote a referral to a private radiology centre for a mammogram and ultrasound, I took it and left her office feeling totally pissed off.
The mammogram appointment was made for Thursday 20th September…a day forever embedded in my mind….a day that would change my life.
My friend and I arrived a few minutes early for my appointment chatting idly about typical girly stuff, I was wanting to check out a strapless floral dress that I had seen online and was describing it when my name was called. I expected to be back in around 15-20 minutes then we would head off for a day of fun. I was shown to a little room where I changed into a front opening gown ready for my close up.
This was my first ever mammogram and I didn’t really know what to expect, I had expected it to be painful but it really wasn’t. It was a bit uncomfortable as the machine squashed and tugged at my breasts. After a few minutes of taking images the female nurse asked me to take a seat while the radiographer checked the films. I sat patiently reading the health awareness posters on the wall and after a few minutes she returned saying they needed some clearer shots of my left breast, she tried to pass it off as normal but it was in that moment that in the deepest part of me I knew I had cancer. I shoved that voice back in its box and continued with the mammogram making light hearted conversation with the nurse.
The pictures all taken I was then shown back to the little room where I had changed earlier and asked to wait a few minutes. A few minutes turned into about 20 minutes and I began feeling concerned about why it was taking so long for her to return, deep down I knew why but was in denial. Finally the nurse returned and took me to another room for an ultrasound. A female radiographer awaited, she explained the procedure to me and then went to work placing me in position and started the ultrasound…on my left breast.
Now remember the breast initially of concern was my right breast. As she rolled her camera over my left breast, again and again, clicking and taking pictures I started to listen to that inner voice. I turned my head and looked at the screen where I saw a dark mass that she was concentrating on. I asked her what she was looking at and in a tone that meant business she explained she couldn’t discuss anything with me, that the doctor would talk with me soon.
Oh crap, her bedside manner sealed my fears and after what seemed like an eternity spent on my left breast she then took a two minute look at my right breast, wiped her tool clean, placed it back in its cradle and said she would be return in a couple of minutes. I lay there willing myself to be calm and practised some meditation. After about 15 minutes she returned with a male doctor in tow…uh oh, this couldn’t be good.
He explained they had found a mass that was of concern to them and had consulted with my GP in a phone call. After discussion they decided a needle biopsy was necessary and now they wanted permission to do one straight away. I agreed and signed the consent forms while they set up for the procedure. It was fairly painless, three samples were taken, with the results to be sent to my GP.
With jumbled thoughts racing through my mind I redressed and headed out to the reception desk to pay the bill, my friend was waiting and getting concerned at how long I’d been in there. I’d been gone an hour and forty five minutes. I laughed nervously and pointed to my left breast and mumbled something about it showing something suspicious..
Now I am not one to sit idly back so that night when I returned home I turned to Google and researched what had happened earlier that day at my appointment. Most people will warn you off googling medical things, but I need to be informed, I needed to know, I‘m no good at waiting. My intuition was already speaking to me and what I was reading on the internet was speaking even louder. I received that fateful phone call while I was at work on Saturday morning.
A female voice came down the line that I didn’t recognise, it was the female GP who had reluctantly referred me for the mammogram. The call from her took me by surprise and instantly my heart started to race as I listened to her words. I didn’t hear all of what she said, but I did hear “malignancy” and “we need to do a core biopsy”…”do you understand what I’m telling you?” I replied that I did.
Of course I did, didn’t she realize that I had been researching all the possible outcomes ever since that morning of tests. She advised me to phone the clinic to make an appointment to see her on Monday and I hung up. Feeling panic set in the tears started rolling and I phoned my mister; I really needed for him to calm me down. I relayed the call that I had received from the GP while he silently listened. He seemed lost for words but eventually he did speak and he sounded disturbed…oh crap…he’s always so solid and calm. It all started feeling too bloody real.
First thing Monday morning I phoned the doctors clinic, this time I wanted to see my own GP, the male one so I relayed everything to the receptionist and she told me to come straight down and put me in for the very first appointment with my doctor. I can’t thank him enough for the care he showed that morning. He ordered my test results, sent emails and made phone calls, we don’t have private health cover but he made things happen that morning and two hours later I was lying on a table having a core biopsy.
I remember the room felt like it was full of technicians and nurses, but in reality I think I had 3 people in there. They explained the procedure, stroked my hand while the anaesthetic was injected and rubbed my arm, soothly talking me though the procedure while three samples were taken. The needle went in, a loud click, a stinging pinch then on to the next one.
Each sample they took hurt but the last one hurt like hell. I could tell by the look on the female technicians face that things weren’t good, the human emotion she relayed spoke to me and it made the knot in my stomach tighten, I was scared. Afterwards my mister and I headed out for a posh lunch and pretended everything was going to be fine, we were on auto pilot.
That night we sat the kids down and told them what was going on, we tried to make light of it so they wouldn’t worry, god knows what they were really thinking. The next day I waited and waited for the call, by two in the afternoon my patience had run out so I called my G.P. He read out the pathology results and said he had called The Queen Elizabeth Hospital to make me a priority appointment; the results showed among other things that I had a malignant tumour. He explained the results, invasive ductal carcinoma, with carcinoma in situ and lymphovascular invasion. He ended with “I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer”.
I hung up, my face was flushed, my heart was racing, I was filled with fear, yet it still didn’t feel real. From the moment I had that mammogram I knew what my diagnosis would be and when I heard the doctor reeling off the pathology I knew what he was saying as I had been reading about it on the internet for days.
When you hear the words, it sucks the air from your lungs, no matter how prepared you think you are for them.
It means it’s real and it’s happening to me.
My next call was to my mister, he was quiet and speechless when I told him the news, it was the hardest call to make and he later told me that after that call he closed his office door and had a cry.
It Was Tuesday 25th of September; I was forty one years old and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Til next time
*recount of my cancer journey. Diagnosed Sept 2012.