I was cocky as hell when I went for the latest annual mammogram; laughing and joking with the receptionist that I couldn’t wait to squish my boobs in a fridge door again. I was even a little blase and lighthearted – “oh, here we go again, another mammogram. Tut. I can’t wait to be off the Tamoxifen.”
Then, one day in April when I was in a meeting at work, there were three missed calls on my phone. They were from the hospital. I left the meeting, dove into another room and called them back. The person who answered was a very lovely receptionist who had been calling … to ask me back for another mammogram and an ultrasound. All the blood drained from my face. It was exactly the call I had been dreading for the last four years.
Ever since I was given the “all-clear” in 2014 (they never say that, by the way), I’ve had annual mammograms to check my breasts. Each year has brought the same annual anxiety – will they find anything? What if they do? Then the same annual relief as the results came back just fine. A few lumps, but those are just fat necrosis – dead tissue – from the radiotherapy.
So being asked back for more tests was like a slap in the face. So many feelings raced through me.
WHAT THE ACTUAL F**K?!
Then just horror and despair
I’d got so used to the idea that I was home and dry; that my life was coming back together, that I couldn’t stop the tears. I cried on the phone as I spoke to Hazel, the receptionist. I could hear the anguish in her voice as she had to deal with this wreck of a person; she arranged for the radiographer to call me back to explain because I was so upset.
After I hung up, I was still crying. Loud tears, the kind that wracked my body. Before I knew it, my colleague, Sophie, was in the room with her arm around me as I cried and told her why. She was amazing; she told me to go home and even contacted Andrew, my manager, to tell him what was up.
This felt like such a private thing that I was unbelievably embarrassed that I’d been overheard.
Finally, beating myself up
What an idiot I’d been for crying so loudly – bringing other people into it. How must that poor girl have felt, with me crying on the phone?! How weak did I look, bursting into tears at work? Being sent home early? Urgh.
From this sense of abject horror was born a week of plotting, as I waited to go for the appointment. I found myself going over in my head how my new will was going to be, what would happen with Mollie and work and how I’d still carry on with my Salesforce commitments. The hardest part was not telling my parents about it. The last thing I wanted was my mum and dad getting upset and worrying for a week when it could be nothing.
The day of the scan
I was fine until we got to the hospital; I was frustrated with my husband Chris when we got there because he wasn’t happy with the way I’d parked the car. I stomped off to sit and wait for him out the front of the hospital and took a moment. Big mistake; in that 2 mins, when I was already wound up, my sour mood turned to fear. I apologised to him for being such a massive bitch and he put his arm around me, kissed my forehead and told me it’d be all right.
By the time we got to the breast unit, I was in a bit of a state but managed to keep it together as I gave my name. I looked around the room; this time, for once, I wasn’t the youngest person there. There was another lady there who looked about my age. Thank God for that, I thought. Being the youngest only makes it feel worse.
As I chatted with the receptionist it transpired that she was the lady who I’d spoken to on the phone. I held her hand for a moment when she told me that, apologising for how I must have made her feel after that phone call. Chris, unfortunately, couldn’t come in with me because of the mammogram radiation, so I went into the waiting room where there were three other women there.
I took a moment but I overthought it. Before I could stop it, the silent tears came, as every ounce of worry from the last week came to a head. Having not captured much last time, because I was so angry, I decided to take a photo. I wanted to show Chris the truth of how the helplessness I felt.
A long wait
Helplessness gave way to boredom, then ignorance as I waited to be called in. My moods fluctuate at the best of times, and in my bored state I started WhatsApp-ing everyone and getting into silly conversations. They cheered me up, especially my friend Melinda. Eventually, I was invited to get changed into the familiar and oh-so-flattering purple and I went in for my mammogram.
By that point, I’d reconciled myself to it all so I went into curious mode, asking the radiographer questions and taking a look at the picture. She said there was a “density” in the original 2D mammogram, but they couldn’t tell if this density was a smudge on the picture. She explained that they’d just taken a 3D mammogram which took pictures of the inside of my breast in slices, meaning that the doctor could analyse it more closely. If the density was on one slide, it was probably the picture. If it went deeper, we’d need to do an ultrasound. Either way, by the end of the visit, we’d know what the next steps were. I felt reassured.
It went deeper. Of course it did.
I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like ages as they went through the images. There were a few more women there, including the lady who had looked about my age. This uncomfortable silence was there – like we all knew we were there because there was a problem. At least, anyone in a gown was. Eventually after cracking some dark jokes about how “we just have more fun than the others”, we got chatting and it turned out she was there for a biopsy. She asked about me and I told her briefly that I’d had cancer before but they’d found something weird on my latest scan. We wished each other well.
After about 45 minutes I was called into another room where an ultrasound machine was waiting. I looked at the nurse and said “it went deeper than one slide, didn’t it?” and she said, “Yes, we just want to take a closer look.” I laid down and did my best “Titanic” portrait pose with a cheeky cackle and then Dr Peters came in, a really pleasant lady of around forty.
She got the ultrasound out, put the jelly on and away we went. I asked her to be really straight with me – that I could handle it – that I was genuinely interested in looking at the scan. I asked her what she’d seen and how big it was. After measuring it, she said it was 5mm and she wanted to take a biopsy. After I mentioned that Chris was in the waiting room, the nurse went off to get him.
He came in, nervous (he said he assumed he’d not won the lottery) and sat at the top of my bed while they put the anaesthetic in, then as they used the ultrasound to guide a very large needle into the “thing” they could see. I looked up at the screen and saw a round, black lesion there. I had to admit, it looked just like the tumour I’d had before, only a LOT smaller. There was a huge click as they took the sample (Chris said this disturbed him the most). We asked Dr Peters to tell us if she thought it was suspicious and she very professionally replied that it would need to go to the lab, but that it didn’t look normal.
Such Fantastic Timing
“Here we go again!” I said. And what amazing timing – right before Salesforce World Tour, London, when I’m about to get very busy. And right before I’m due to go in front of the Review Board at the end of May. I couldn’t stop the tears when we left the hospital. So angry to be back in this position.
The results were due the day before World Tour; they didn’t come, but I was optimistic that we’d smash it. I accepted that it’s probably a return of my “squatter” but having made Dr Peters scan my lymph nodes (they were clear) and knowing it’s so early is what kept me smiling. I texted Melinda to talk about it and she gave the best answer EVER: “OK, friend. Not in the lymph nodes is good. LET’S GET NEW BOOBIES!”. Thus began the boob window shopping.
I got the results the first Monday after World Tour; Chris and I sat anxiously looking at the door when Mr Wood called us in. I said “So I guess there’s a return of our little friend.” and he said, “yes, there is a recurrence.”
So I have cancer, again. I just got my life back together.
I’ve had radiotherapy, so I can’t have that again. We discussed a mastectomy and the potential for more chemotherapy. I’ll know if I need more chemo when I get the results of the HER2 test back. They’re a bit slow in coming.
What I do know is that I’ll be having a double mastectomy with a reconstruction at the same time.
So we roll on
Now we wait for all the doctors to talk to each other. I’m taking each day as it comes and I know there are more tears ahead. Right now, I need Business As Usual. I don’t want anything to change until it has to. The one thing we do know, however, is that I have to put my CTA off until October. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s a relief, as I have more time to prepare now. Today I’ve been through the entire spectrum of emotions, but right now, I’m staying optimistic – and going to the Pardot user group tonight to learn something new.