“Here we go again!” Four little tablets laid out on the table ready to be taken with my breakfast in the morning – steroids signalling the beginning of Cycle Five of six chemotherapy cycles.
I’ve been on this chemotherapy roundabout since the beginning of September, but as I sit here feeling almost my normal self again it’s hard to comprehend – and very hard to accept that yet again I have to put myself through another round of steroids, anti-sickness medication, chemotherapy drugs (Docetaxel and Carboplatin in my case) and a Herceptin injection.
Fortunately, over the three weeks since the last cycle, the memory of my body’s immediate reaction has faded. Part of me still wants to rebel and refuse to submit myself to another round, but the logical part of my brain points out that after this there will only be one more! OK, yes, it happens to be only a few days before Christmas so I’m likely to sleep through the entire festivities, but that means greeting the New Year knowing that chemo is behind me. That part of the journey will be over with only radiotherapy to go!
But it’s a journey that has been very hard to come to terms with, if indeed I really have.
I used to feel almost smug about breast cancer. It was not something I would ever have to deal with: there was no history in the family; I have never smoked; I didn’t drink much alcohol; I ate healthy food; and I exercised and kept myself fairly fit and slim. In my mind I was “safe” from breast cancer. I went along for my routine mammogram seeing it as just a formality, a test to confirm that yes, all was fine and I could come back again in three years.
When I opened the letter and read that there was something that needed further checking I kept looking at the name at the top to see if it was a mistake. It couldn’t really be for me! Still, it did say that four out of five cases are found to be fine, so I would be one of those four – surely I would.
“This is your previous mammogram .... and this is your most recent one. This is the area of concern.” As I stared at the mammograms I knew I was in trouble. I have no medical background but you would have had to be blind not to see a big difference, and the serious tone in the surgeon’s voice left me in no doubt. But a little voice kept saying, “It must be a mistake. These must be someone else’s mammograms. They can’t be yours!”
Before I left the room an ultrasound had detected an issue with a lymph node as well, so a biopsy was taken of that. Then more biopsies of breast tissue to check the findings beyond any doubt. I returned home in a daze. This couldn’t be happening to me!
Two weeks of trying to tell myself it would all be fine, then I headed back to the breast clinic for the diagnosis – not what I wanted to hear: breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. I sat there, tears rolling down my cheeks, listening to the surgeon telling me I needed a mastectomy and lymph node clearance, followed by chemotherapy, but it was so hard to take in. There was only one question in my head, but no one could tell me the answer – why?
When I told my friends it was as if I was talking about someone else. I had the mastectomy – and developed a haematoma so ended up back in surgery and spending a week in hospital – then had various scans, which luckily showed that the cancer hadn’t spread any further, but all the time I felt I was a fake. I felt like I was pretending, that I didn’t really have cancer but I was just going along with it because I was told that’s what I had to do.
Even now it’s hard to believe. I had no outward signs of breast cancer before it was detected and I didn’t feel ill. I am extremely grateful for the routine mammogram checks or I would still be totally oblivious to what could be considered a time bomb that was growing inside me. It was detected and defused before irreversible damage could be done, but will I ever fully accept that I was a cancer patient?
Only time will tell.