Terror

I read an article the other day about a lady who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that when she and her husband were told, they did not cry but were filled with ‘unspeakable terror’. When I read this, I felt very sorry for them. I mean, terror? Why? I felt sad and shocked when I found out about my cancer, but that was about the worst of it. I did then start to worry for how my family would take the news, especially my son. But there was no terror involved.
I know that having chemo and then surgery will make me feel ill and very tired and mean that I won’t be able to carry on my life as normal for months. I know that I will feel sorry for myself and be grumpy and teary sometimes. I hate being ill and dependent on others. But – it is only for a few months, hopefully not longer than a year. And I can get through a year of pretty much anything, knowing that I should be better at the end of it.
We have the brilliant NHS in this country, and I know that the doctors and nurses will all do the best job that they can do, while remaining professional and kind. I have amazing family and friends who are already supporting me so well (thank you for all the messages, cards, gifts, prayers and practical help.) I know that God loves me and is looking after me and my family.
So I am certainly not terrified. I’m not really even afraid, just a little anxious sometimes at the thought of possibly dying young. But this is not anxiety for myself – I know that when I die I will be in Heaven, chilling out with Jesus and my grandparents and little baby. I really don’t want my children to lose their mother when they are still young; or Mike to be widowed any time soon; or for my parents and brother and sister to have to say goodbye just yet.
If that does happen, I know that friends and family will offer love, friendship, and practical support for my family. Please continue to be their friends; to make time to chat to them; to offer help like meals and housework. Take the kids to the park, and tell them about their Mummy.
It is better to live a short, full, happy life than a long, miserable, empty one. And my life is full and happy – I am so blessed to have wonderful friends and family; a home; good food to eat every day; education; to be able to look out of the window and see trees and hear birds singing; to live in a politically stable country where I don’t fear for my life. So many people around the world can never take even one of these for granted.
I could recover from this cancer and then live for 30 more years, but you may be hit by a bus tomorrow. I mean, you do know that none of us is immortal, right? I have always known that I will die one day, so my body’s illness comes as no massive surprise.

It’s no use worrying what might or might not happen. Just live, and be grateful for the life that you have been given. Don’t be afraid of dying, and if you are, ask God to give you his peace that passes understanding.
If you need to forgive someone, do it. If you need to say sorry, do it. If you need to tell someone that you love them, do it. Don’t wait until you are ill or lose a loved one to be the person that you always wanted to be – start now.

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Headwear

So, having cancer isn’t just an excuse for a new haircut but for some new hats and headwear.

I don’t usually wear anything on my head, except for in extreme weather, but thought I should get used to the idea – not only because I will be bald soon but because I will be photosensitive too. And this Summer is bound to be the hottest and sunniest yet.

I have looked online, but it’s better to try them on. So far, I have found a headscarf from Matalan that I could picture myself wearing (in theory) and a fab hat from Accessorize (and it was on sale.) 🙂

New hat
Cool hat from Accessorize.
Flamingo scarf from Matalan.

The diagnosis

We had to wait one week for the official diagnosis. That was not a nice week. The worst thing was the ‘What ifs’.

My worst fear was that the cancer had already spread to other organs or bones, which would be picked up in the CT or bone scans.

Whenever I started to think ‘What if they tell me that it has spread to another organ and I have 6 months to live?’ I began to ask myself better ‘What ifs’ instead. Like ‘What if God is in control?’ ‘What if God loves me and has a plan for my life?’ ‘What if when I die I will spend eternity in Heaven with him?’ And the answers to these questions are ‘He is’; ‘He does’. and ‘I will’.

Of course I don’t want to die young and of course I want to see my children grow up. But – I am not afraid of dying because I know where I am going. And everybody’s body lets them down in the end – some earlier than others. However, God still loves me and God still holds me and my family in his hands. God is not punishing me as some people may think – we live in a fallen world and everyone gets sick and eventually dies. My body in this world is weak, but my spirit will live forever.

Philippians 1:20-21 came to mind:

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

So, I had the CT and bone scans the same day that I saw the consultant and had the diagnosis.

I was anxious about both scans beforehand. For the bone scan, I had to be injected with some radiation three hours before. I couldn’t be in close contact with kids for 24 hours afterwards, so my children spent the night at their grandparents’ house.

That morning, I prayed for peace from God. The CT scan was over quickly but the bone scan took 25 minutes, and the first few involved the machine being very close to my face for a few minutes. The radiographers were all kind and put on some background music- I remember that one of the songs was ‘Locomotion’ by Kylie, which I had loved as a little kid.

During both scans, I clearly felt Jesus standing next to me. During the bone scan I felt his hand on my arm. My sister told me later that she had been praying the night before that I would feel Jesus’ presence with me at the hospital. 🙂

Straight after the bone scan we went to the consultant appointment, more than half an hour early. He saw us almost right away. My breast cancer nurse was there, as well as a student doctor.

The consultant (who I found out will be my surgeon) explained that I did have breast cancer and it had spread to my lymph nodes. Everyone was staring at me, waiting for me to cry I suppose. I didn’t, instead felt calm and not at all surprised. I had got my head around the idea that I had cancer and was only concerned that it may have spread.

The surgeon then said that they usually do body scans to check that the cancer had not spread: he had forgotten that he had ordered them the previous week!

Mike said that I had just had both that day and the surgeon checked the system. I was surprised that they were already there to see, as had been told that the results usually take a week to come through. He checked the CT scan first and said that was fine. Then he looked at the bone scan and said ‘I will just check with a colleague as sometimes these aren’t clear…’ and I thought oh dear.

We were ushered out of the room and spoke to the nurse while he was talking to another consultant.

A few minutes later, he and his student came into the room.

He asked if I had broked a rib recently, and I replied no I hadn’t. He said that I had. It took me a little while to remember that I had a very bad cough for 6 months of last year, and at one point had pulled a muscle in my back. Aha – that must’ve been when I had actually broken a rib! Surely it would have hurt more? I hadn’t even been to see the GP as it wasn’t that bad and I just used some deep heat.

So that was the source of the confusion over my scan. What a massive relief!

Mike and I both left the hospital that day tired but so relieved. I actually felt quite positive that at last I had a firm diagnosis.

We updated our family and friends soon afterwards. We have been blessed with a great support network and I know that will will get through the treatments and illness and fatigue and all the horrible side effects, with their help and of course God’s.

I was supposed to see the oncologist at the end of April, but there was a last minute cancellation so treatment has been brought forward by two weeks. I am grateful for this as would rather get it started soon and over and done with as soon as possible.

I will be having 6 cycles of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, radiotherapy and then hormone treatments. In total, I will hopefully be better in about a year. There will be lots of ups and downs but we’ll get there. I value your thoughts and prayers.

I have had a haircut – shorter than I’ve ever had it. I really like it and am grateful to the hairdresser at OMG in town for doing such a great job.

The start

I found a lump and thought that I had better make a GP appointment – I wasn’t worried at all. When I saw the GP, a lady, she examined me and I was surprised to see that she had a concerned face. The lump was pea sized and I thought it was a harmless cyst. I had read that 9/10 breast lumps are harmless. She referred me to the breast centre at the hospital, which she said was procedure. There was a 2 week wait.

I wasn’t anxious, but I did have a voice in my head telling me that I should enjoy the family times that we were having, as I didn’t know when I would have them again. I lived in the moment and took the time to stop and look and just enjoy, rather than being busy busy like I usually am. Thankfully this time coincided with the Easter holidays and some unseasonably sunny and warm weather.

I was not looking forward to the two-hour hospital appointment, as knew I would have a biopsy as well as other tests, but was still not anxious.

When I got to the breast centre, a doctor examined me and then I went to a different waiting room. There were three other ladies sitting there – all at least 20 years older than me.

Then I was called to have an ultrasound. The doctor was very nice, and had even been to my old home town of Pietermaritzburg, which he said was lovely. He said I should have a mammogram and then come back to him for the biospy. The mammogram was fine, not sore. The radiographer was chatty and put me at ease.

Then I went back for the biopsy. My husband Mike arrived – he had had to work first thing. The doctor ended up taking three biospies of the two lumps (a second lump had appeared in the two week wait), and he said that he thought the lymph nodes were normal, but just in case, he would take a sample of them. I did think that that was unusual but still didn’t feel worried.

There were a few other people in the room too – all radiographers I think, including a student.

I found watching the ultrasound quite interesting and didn’t mind the biopsies- they weren’t painful. A nice radiographer kept asking if I was ok.

Then Mike and I were ushered into a tiny side room for a few minutes. We were brought cups of tea and coffee in nice (non-disposable) mugs, which is when I realised that something must be wrong.

Soon we saw a consultant who examined me again and asked about Mike’s business.

Then he sat us down and said that he was concerned. In fact he was very concerned. He said that the biopsy results would take one week, and I would see him then; but he did think that I had cancer.

That was a weird moment because although I had had little alarm bells ringing for a while, I had thought that I was such low risk that I would probably be ok. Also I felt perfectly healthy.

Mike asked if I would need to stop breastfeeding, and the consultant said I should. That is when I cried, because I knew that my daughter (22 months) would be upset. I had only kept feeding for the past several months because she really wanted to and found it such a comfort. I did stop that day, and actually it has been a lot easier than I thought, except at night when she wakes up and then can’t settle again. That’s not so good.

The doctor said that he would order a CT and bone scan right away, to make sure that the cancer had not spread. Usually they would only order them after getting the biopsy results.

We then spoke to the breast cancer nurse and asked lots of questions. We went home both in shock and told our families first, and later our close friends. We just came out with it – no use trying to sugar coat anything.