No, I still have cancer. Didn’t lie about that. But, I haven’t written in the last few weeks for good reason. I emotionally couldn’t write, I couldn’t bear to share anything. I want to come across as a strong, superwoman who everyone will go “wow she’s handling this so well, she should be a beacon of hope and inspiration to all!”. The reality is quite different.
**warning – grab a coffee, this may be a long post. I’ve got mine with me**
My surgeon, Dr H, warned me about the internet. He said “Don’t go there girlfriend”. Okay he obviously didn’t say girlfriend, but in my imagination he did and snapped his fingers three times. I did however, go there. Oh bloody hell. I wish I hadn’t. The internet is a vortex of information. Most of it scary for a person who was facing at the time, so many unanswered questions. I learnt there were 4 types of cancer, and 3/4 of them required chemo. I learnt the effects of radiation. I learnt how if the lymph nodes were affected, that’s when the doctors would have their fake smiles on their faces but you knew it meant Bad News.
I obviously imagined the worst. The next morning, I was wide awake at 5 am, with a sleeping Bimble beside me, and my heart broke. It broke for the times in her and Monkey’s life that I would miss. I grew up from the age of 8 motherless. I knew all too well how that void and ache in your heart could never, ever be replaced. Nothing would make it feel better apart from time. In my case, that time took about 25 years, until I myself became a mum.
That morning, at 6 am, I crept out of bed, got into the car and drove to Labrador Park. I needed to be by the sea. I found a lonely bench, away from the early fishermen, and cried my heart out. I sat there, trying to figure out a plan. I was going to buy birthday cards for both girls to last them till they turned 21, I was going to write “Things your mummy needs you to know about Life” (and that would include nuggets of information like “always check your teeth for food, and make sure the zipper of your jeans are always zipped up. Oh, and check shoes for toilet paper!”).
In my mind I was mentally preparing a list of friends who could take turns doing things with my girls on their birthdays. Special things that I was planning. Buying that special Tiffany Silver necklace when they turned 13. I was looking for a florist who could send them flowers every year of their teens. Oh, and I was going to get home and teach Monkey how to use a sanitary pad, even though she would not need one for another 2-3 years (Monkey, if you’re reading this as a teenager I’m so sorry that you are feeling mortified right now. Get over it.).
When I got home, some 2 hours later, The Rock held me and let me cry. Shy of slapping me out of my shock, he gently shook me to an emotional state that was manageable. While waiting for my surgery to happen, I oscillated between happy and bereft. I tried not to let the girls see me sad and crying though. They needed Positive Mummy, not sad blubbering Mummy.
My surgery for a lumpectomy was on 28th October 2015. I decided on a lumpectomy, because Dr H said I really didn’t need a mastectomy. It was small, stage 1, and a lumpectomy would be enough. I met with a plastic surgeon, Dr W, and got a bit queasy at the thought of the reconstruction part. In the end, I reasoned that a mastectomy was irreversible. I could always get one at a later date. The thing that was most worrying though, were the lypmh nodes.
The lypmh nodes are the first line of the station. If the cancer cells get to the Sentinel Node, then it will travel through the other nodes and happily make it’s way out to the rest of the body to kill, kill, kill. They would need to take out the sentinel node, to check for cancer. They injected a radioactive substance in me on the morning of the surgery, and it took 2 hours, and a lot of massaging of the area around my breast, to finally get to a stage where my Sentinel Node was lit up like a christmas tree. So that Dr H could see it and pluck it out of me for testing. Oh, and to make sure that they get the first 1 or 2 nodes, in the surgery they also inject a blue dye in me, to see if any other nodes turn blue, and if not, the radioactive Sentinel Node would be blue AND glowing. It was only one node in the end. My lone, strong, Sentinel Node. I imagine him to be the Idris Elba of Nodes. You know, like in Thor? He’s the gatekeeper? Yeah. That’s my sentinel Node. Idris Elba. Strong, stoic, and hopefully doing his fucking job and not letting any bad guys in!
In the operating room, my anesthetist, Dr T, gave me the best cocktail to put me to sleep. How many of you have been in an operating room and needed a general anaesthetic? We’ve all read those stories where “woman feels everything in operation – anesthetic didn’t work!” yes? So there I was, lying with 5 faces peering over me, and they said “okay you’re going to sleep now. See you later”. Well, I popped my eyes open as widely as I could. Basically indicating that I was wide awake, very much awake. Almost defying that anesthetic to get me to sleep. Of course, it worked, I went to sleep and they did their job. (Question to surgeons – do you guys drop your patients on the floor or something?? I woke up with a sore neck, head and back!).
Back to the lymph nodes. Dr H said, if during the surgery, the sentinel lymph node (Idris) tests positive for cancer (this is all done concurrently in the surgery), then they would clear all the lymph nodes out of my axilla and when I woke up there would be a tube poking out of my armpit. The Rock was under strict instruction to make sure he was there when I woke up, because if there was a tube, then I would need him more than ever. It would mean of course, that the cancer had spread.
Fast forward 3-4 hours, and I woke up with no tube. CAN I GET A WOOP WOOP???????????? Paaaaaaar-taaaaay!!! Pop the champers! Relieved to say the least. I was in hospital for one night, and went home the next day feeling quite sore.
It would be a week until I knew the results of the tests. More tests? Yes. So, all those cells that they take out, they test for cancer. And then they will know what type of cancer I have (they test the hormone receptors which take 2-3 weeks) which would indicate the type of treatment needed, and they would know the stage of the cancer. So, I had one week, of waiting. Just waiting. Waiting to hear if the news was good or bad.
So, I waited.