“I’m afraid I haven’t got good news for you today. It is cancer.”
Hearing those words, a curtain seemed to close around me. The room darkened. I had no peripheral vision. All I could see was the doctor’s concerned face, leaning towards me and continuing to discuss my biopsy results in a strong Glaswegian accent. I barely heard anything else she said. My head was full of white noise. My heart raced and yet also seemed to thump slow and loud in my chest. I felt like I had been whacked with a plank of wood.
It was 1st April 2015. I could make a crass comment about it being the worst April Fool’s joke ever, but I won’t. Being told you have breast cancer is probably the furthest away from funny that it is possible to get.
My husband and I were ushered out of one consulting room and into another, accompanied by a breast care nurse, who talked us through what would happen next. I saw her lips moving. I registered occasional words like “Surgery”, “Radiotherapy”, “Chemotherapy”, “Drugs”. I nodded frequently and said “Uh huh” a lot but I wasn’t really taking anything in. I shed a few tears as I felt the knowledge of the diagnosis gradually seeping down through my body. The nurse passed me a box of tissues with a practised hand. She had been through this before, but I had not. There was no precedent in my life for dealing with this situation. None at all.
We drove home in near silence. Our only shared comment was how much the consultant reminded us of the Scottish antiques expert Anita Manning from the TV programme ‘Flog It!’. It’s odd what springs to mind in times of extreme crisis.
Like most middle-aged people, I know people with cancer, I have loved and lost people through cancer and I have close friends whose precious partners have been taken from them by this disease. Those experiences, and any empathy I had for how cancer affects people, were no preparation for my own diagnosis.
I will be having surgery in three weeks’ time to remove what needs to be removed. That is all I know at the moment. After the surgery, when the lump, surrounding tissues and lymph nodes have been analysed, we will know what’s what and what’s to be done in terms of treatment.
Until then, life goes on. I will go to work, walk my dog, potter in my lovely garden and enjoy the wonderful English landscape that surrounds our cottage. Living here has always brought me joy, and now that joy is intensified as never before.