The one cancer story I didn’t want to write

Over the years, I have written countless stories about brave, inspirational people who have taken on cancer and won. I have also covered a few stories about people who weren’t so lucky. I never thought that, one day, I’d be fighting cancer myself.

On Thursday I got the news I had been dreading – but it wasn’t a complete shock. Like many people waiting for biopsy results, I researched the possibilities. In all honestly, there was only one likely outcome – a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer. It was still hard to hear the news, though. Trust me to get the most aggressive breast cancer on the planet with, generally, a very poor outcome!

I have got a lot to learn about this disease, but what I know already is that it invades the body at lightning speed and it’s painful. I realised something wasn’t right in November (a month after catching myself on a door handle) and, honestly, it was nothing. I put it down to the knock. Even my GP wasn’t concerned. By Christmas, I was in no doubt I was in serious trouble. Goes to show how your life can be turned upside down overnight.

My First Visit To The Breast Clinic

When I went to the breast clinic, I was a bag of nerves. I hoped I had a cyst but was worried even about that. Ask my sister – she had to try and calm me down! The thought of needle aspiration made me feel sick. I was shaking like a leaf and pretty much begging to be given a chill pill (I am one of life’s true wimps). I realised it could possibly be something more serious before and after the ultrasound scan, watching the medical staff conferring and going in and out of each other’s rooms with my notes. My breast was in too poor a condition for a mammogram (because of its shape and the pain).

It was no fine needle aspiration for me. There was no cyst – just a solid mass. So, it was two punch biopsies, which involved cutting away two small pieces of tissue. I have to say, I did not feel a thing – even the two jabs to numb the area were almost painless. I felt really proud of myself after I’d had it done.

In between the biopsies and results – one week – I received a lot of positive comments and support from friends. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew what the diagnosis was going to be. My GP prescribed me some 2mg Valium, which has definitely helped me cope with each new day. I got a fresh batch today. Yay!

I face chemo first, then radical surgery and then radiotherapy.

Immediate Cancer Treatment

Next week, it is off to oncology to get my bloods and other tests done ready for the start of chemo. I just want to get this under way as soon as possible. I have joined a group of women with the same cancer and, taking their advice, have ordered some travel bands to help reduce sickness – although I will be given medication to counteract it as well. I hate feeling sick. On the advice of my cancer nurse, I have also purchased a digital thermometer. If my temperature rises after chemo it’s straight to hospital. To be honest, I’d rather stay in hospital for a day or two because I live so far away if there is a problem.

While I suspect my cancer was lurking for a month or two before it showed any symptoms, there are two things I remember happening that worried me at the time. In October, I was helping a friend in a commercial kitchen and, without warning, came over quite peculiar. I felt hot, sick and faint. (I am well past the menopause.) It passed after a minute or two but, after that, I seemed to lose my energy levels. Around two weeks after that, I got a brief temperature during which the glands in my neck swelled for around an hour. It wasn’t long after that I started feeling pain in my right breast. I then got the small lump (now a very big lump) and the nipple inverted.

How I Was Told I Have Got Cancer

I know lots of people waiting for biopsy results wonder how they will be told if it is bad news. This is what happened to me:

  • Appointment scheduled at hospital for 4.30pm. Arrived 4pm as they saw me early the previous week.

  • The waiting room was thinning out and my appointment time came and went. Our last bus back to Lyme Regis was 40 minutes away and there was a bit of a walk to the stop, so we started to worry.

  • My partner, Pascoe, overheard my name being mentioned in a consulting room I knew was not the one I was due to be called into – my breast surgeon is a few doors down.

  • When my name was called, it was not by my consultant’s assistant but by a nurse with a green ribbon. In the room were two nurses and the consultant. Yes, I knew then.

  • My consultant knows I am a nervous person, so he avoided using the word cancer to start with. He said: “You know that you have been to your GP and the emergency department for antibiotics to treat a problem with your breast. You came here last week and we eventually (the word ‘eventually’ refers to my initial reluctance) carried out two punch biopsies. Well, we have had the results and I am afraid you are going to be needing some treatment with us because of the inflammation.”

  • So I told him I realised that was likely to be the case and asked if it was inflammatory breast cancer. He said yes. It has been confirmed as NOT triple negative, giving me more drug treatment options. They can’t finalise the stage the cancer is at until the CT scan but it must be at least III because I know it is rarely detectable before. Let’s just hope it has not gone too far. I do know that it is in one lymph node as this showed on a scan. Although, I read a post today about a woman told to consider palliative care and is still here some years later after going ahead with chemo, etc.

Honestly, this disease comes from out of nowhere. Never listen to people who say breast cancer doesn’t hurt. Although my type is very rare, it is the one that does hurt. Not everyone gets the much-publicised rash with it, either. I haven’t got it – yet.

I have closed my copywriting business, cancelled all unnecessary direct debits and am, generally, lying around a lot feeling sorry for myself. In between, I am popping two Valium a day, watching all my favourite crime programmes and drinking lots of water.

I ‘celebrated’ my diagnosis with Prosecco but regretted that the next day. (In case my doctor reads this, I did not take any Valium that day!) Water is just fine. I am off my food, so it is little and often. One chunk of chocolate every two or three hours! Although, the lemon cake Pascoe has just wafted under my nose looks very tempting.

It is honestly true that you never know what is around the corner. That’s why tomorrow I will be getting off the sofa, washed, dressed and dolled up to the nines for a walk in the fresh air.

During my treatment, it is very unlikely that I will be contributing to, which I co-own with Becca Gliddon. However, I will be an avid reader and hope my contacts in Honiton and the surrounding area will keep Becca informed of what’s going on. After all, I won’t want to miss a thing!

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