Being diagnosed with cancer is similar to starting a new relationship. From your first kiss, to your wedding anniversary, cancer treatment has its own special dates and milestones. And today, August 4, is a very significant one for me.
Twelve months ago, at 2pm, I strolled into the McMillian Cancer Centre, London. I entered my name and date-of-birth into a touch screen terminal next to the reception desk, and was directed to the second floor. I took a seat in the waiting room, pulled out my phone, and started to play backgammon – my standard ‘time-killer’. I had landed that morning from Dubai, and only managed a few hours’ sleep. In my bag were a book and some magazines, also to help pass time. But I was too tired to concentrate; I was struggling to stay awake!
After a short time, my name was called and I was ushered into a room for a consultation. Name? Age? Family history? … This was the start of the three questions I was to be asked many more times in the next 12 months. The doctor explained that the McMillian Cancer Centre is a one-stop-shop – you don’t leave until they have are able to give you a definite answer. You’ll either be told you have cancer, or you don’t. After a brief chat – and touch up of the lump in question – the nurse transferred me to an adjoining room.
The next step in this process was to perform an ultrasound. And again… name, age, and family history… My breast was prodded and poked by the magic wand. There was no question about a lump being present, especially once it flashed up on the black and white screen; there was a big round ball of white. ‘Let’s take a biopsy,’ the Sonographer said.
A fine needle aspiration was done to extract cells from the lump for testing. Having a long needle jabbed into your breast is not a pleasant thing; however, in hindsight, 12 months on, it was no big deal.
After the biopsy I was sent back to the waiting room. Two hours gone. Now I was really getting tired. I remember sitting in the waiting room, looking around at the other patients. I was wondering who there had cancer; who had been given the bad news. I wondered who was like me – just there to have a lump checked, that would surely be nothing. I felt sorry and was sad for those who were clearly distressed or upset. Poor them, I thought. They must have cancer.
The clock ticked over another 30 minutes before I was called back in to see the doctor. As I walked in I saw another nurse sitting to the side of the room. I instantly knew that there was something wrong. I sat down. To this day, I don’t remember what was said. Something like, ‘The biopsy showed abnormal cells… more testing….’ I burst into tears. I don’t know if it was because I was jet lagged, tired, or because I was in shock about the information I was being told. After some counseling from the breast care nurse, I was finally set free – so to say.
I was in a taxi on my way home and I was texting Thea, she and Nash had left that morning for a week in France. …Something about abnormal cells… I told her ‘So what does that mean?’ … I’m not really sure…
Did I have cancer? I didn’t know. Maybe I imagined it. I knew I was being booked in for more testing, so maybe abnormal doesn’t mean cancer, maybe it just meant they wanted to check again. I only told a handful of people about the testing and results. How could I tell people if I wasn’t sure myself? What if it wasn’t cancer, what if I misheard…
It was Friday afternoon and the breast care nurse wouldn’t be available until Monday, so I wouldn’t be able to ask any further questions until then. I arrived home, cried in the shower, put on my comfy clothes and poured myself a glass of red wine… and then another… and then another.
I went to bed with so many unanswered questions. I couldn’t imagine how my life was about to change, for better and for worse. Just like any relationship, after a year together, you grow and you learn. Not just about the other person, but yourself. By the 12 month mark, you should have worked out if you want to stay together or not. After a year with cancer, I have grown to be a better person. Cancer has taught me many things about myself, and life in general. But this is one relationship I do not wish to continue. Sorry Cancer, but I think it’s time for us to go our separate ways (soon).