One Lump or Two?

When I was told I had cancer, there was no time for a pity party.

It was all go, go, go from the outset.

There wasn’t even that ‘movie moment’. You know the one. When they’re ushered into the room, silent but for a ticking clock. Someone clears their throat, then the words – It’s not good news I’m afraid – uttered in a deep, pitying tone.

Nope it was just me, Alex, a friendly nurse, the smiling doctor, and another slightly nervous trainee doctor (he nearly gave the punchline away), all huddled around a screen, looking at pictures of my boob.

The doctor was pointing, I was pretending to know what we were looking at (squiggles and patches of light), and so when he just casually threw in the words – and there’s the cancer we’ll be taking out – it went over my head at first. It was only when Alex squeezed my hand, that the words, like lead, finally sank in.

Cancer, I had Cancer.

But that wasn’t the best bit (is there a best bit?). Nope, the reason we were looking at this now defunct boob, was that we weren’t sure if there was just the one lump. So I would need more tests, before we made a plan for treatment. Then he shook my hand, and said to prepare myself, think of it as one of my flights. It may take a while, but I would get there eventually.

‘So I guess this means I’m not doing the San Diego tomorrow?’, was all I managed to say before falling, snot first, into Alex’s arms.

The blood tests at another clinic came first. That very afternoon in fact, in between phone calls to family, tears, those dreaded words ‘stay positive’. My mum came over and I gave her 5 minutes to cry. No longer, this would not be a sad time. So instead she panicked over the clothes that she had bought, worrying she wouldn’t have anything suitable to wear for my biopsy tomorrow. She hadn’t got the right jumper? This made me laugh, a lot. I mean just what the hell is a biopsy jumper anyway?

There was even a list of words drawn up that people may not use around me. Positive, Journey, Brave, Strong. I wanted nothing to do with any of them.

My sister named me Sunbeam after a particularly angry rant to her on the phone about how I was that fucking positive, that sunbeams were flying out of my butt. She also promised to make me cancer cards, so that anytime anyone was annoying me, or even if I wanted to get to the front of the queue in Tesco, I could just flash one of these and magically be let off. The ultimate VIP pass.

Then a funny thing happened. Life carried on. The abnormality of the situation became normal. I went to work. Flew to Austin, Tel Aviv and Cape Town.

Drank wine, walked the dog, laughed a lot. So far so good. I was starting to think this might be okay. Just another thing to chalk off the to-do list. Walk dog, buy loo roll, beat cancer. I even thought that perhaps, and I feel like a complete arse for admitting it now, it might even be a good thing. I would take some time off, and then return to work fitter, healthier, with a free boob job and shiny new hair. Of course there is nothing like a second MRI guided biopsy, this time with vacuum, to bring you back down to earth with a bump. God, that was a shit way to spend a Saturday.

Still I count myself lucky.

All the testing meant my surgeon was convinced I only needed a lumpectomy (or wide local excision to give it its’ official title). I was prepared for an overnight stay, but nope I was in and out in one day, back home in time for Bake Off and a bowl of sausage and mash. It had been a rollercoaster of a 4 weeks, but as my wonderful surgeon said at my follow up appointment, after confirming that all tests and nodes were clear.

‘Well Joanna, now that we have removed the lump, congratulations you no longer have cancer’.

I prefer what my sister wrote in a card that arrived just two days later.


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