It all started innocently enough.
A shower at the end of a long night flight back from Cape Town. I wasn’t even looking for anything. I’d seen the adverts, read the stories, even had an Aunty that had been through it all herself, but I have to be honest, I did not check my boobs. Stupid right? And I still don’t even know why I did that day. Maybe there was a whiff of ‘sixth sense’ at play, but probably I just wanted to scrub that awful ‘plane smell’ off me. And that’s when I felt it. The smallest of lumps. I didn’t panic. Much to my husbands delight, when I got out of the shower, I even asked him to have a feel.
Yeh, maybe. Was his response. And I know I should have run straight to the phone and made that appointment with the doctors, but I was tired, and it was a Saturday, and it was nearly Christmas, and surely it was just that time of the month.
When January rolled around and my old friend the lump was still there, I decided perhaps enough was enough. But then I couldn’t get an appointment for a few days, and I was going away on an extended work trip, so January turned into the start of February, and the doctor was very nice, and said she wasn’t overly concerned but just to be on the safe side, let’s make an appointment.
So I went home with the letter, which if you’ve ever been referred under the government’s two week referral scheme, is basically two sides of A4 which screams out in capital letters, Do Not Panic, chances are you do not have cancer. So I didn’t, I carried on flying.
Alex and I even broke with our traditional boycott of Valentine’s day with a trip to the Lake District, and it didn’t end in flooding, food poisoning, or a trip to A and E for stitches, all of which have happened on past February 14ths.
So when the 16th, my appointment day was suddenly upon us, I wasn’t feeling nervous. I was scheduled to be seen at the Park Centre for Breast Care, which let’s be honest, I didn’t even know existed before that day. An innocent enough building alongside the main road into Brighton, we skipped up the ramp hand in hand. Even when we arrived at the third floor waiting area, the nerves still hadn’t kicked in. After all, all these women were far older than me, of course I would be okay. I didn’t fit in here at all. Travel magazines helped to pass the long wait, before finally I was called into one of the nurses. Then it all gets a little hazy. I’m pretty sure the first nurse wasn’t too concerned, but suggested an ultrasound ‘just to be sure’. Downstairs we went, then in for a ‘core’ biopsy, where basically, exactly like an apple, my lump was cored, marked with a piece of titanium, and then off I went for another first, a mammogram. My poor wounded boob now squeezed between two metal plates. Then back to the ultrasound room, so they could check again.
And then it starts getting weird, because suddenly there is another doctor in the room, and he has a huge needle inserted into my arm, taking more biopsy, in his words ‘to save time later’. And still I’m telling myself it’s all fine. It’s just procedure. What do I fancy for tea? Then we’re back upstairs and it’s going to be another two weeks, which works out well as I’ve got a back to back Tel Aviv, and then we’re off on holiday for a week.
And then we’re out, and back into the real world, and we’re in the pub clinking pints, and remembering to order extra olives on my pizza, and chucking stones in the sea for the dog to chase, and life goes on. And I think I have truly managed to put it out of my mind, because what’s the point in dwelling on something that hasn’t happened, but sometimes, in random moments, such as reapplying my red lippy in the plane toilet, or reversing out of a space at Tesco, I think what if?
But I don’t dare say it out loud until the final day of our holiday. When we’re walking along the quay in San Sebastián, dog tugging at the lead, desperate to chase the seagulls picking at the fish scraps. It is a wonderful sunny spring morning, and we are hand in hand, bellies full from an evening of tapas, wine and laughter.
‘What if it is?’ I say, watching the fisherman haul the next load of clams from their nets, looking anywhere but at Alex’s face.
‘What if what’s what?’
‘Cancer’. There I have finally said it out loud. One word that could change everything.
‘It won’t be’ He says, squeezing my hand, yanking the dog back as she dives for a discarded crustacean. And we carry on, hand in hand, in the sunshine, watching the fisherman haul the clams, the dog chase the seagulls, the last perfect day of our last perfect week.