What lies within

Yesterday I received the results of my breast cancer biopsy.  I sat in the same room with the same consultant and the same breast cancer nurse. My husband was with me, and he sat where my friend sat 3 weeks ago when I got the cancer diagnosis.

I was different though. I was well prepared. I had my questions written down. I had good understanding of all the medical terms used to describe the results. I did not cry, and was able to detach myself from the fact that this is happening to me. This allowed me to process the information with clarity and that is really important.

In summary, I have invasive ductal cancer, the most common kind. The cells are grade 3, described as aggressive (a bit insensitive, I thought!). I am triple negative which means hormone therapy will not help me. I won’t know what stage the cancer is at until the lump is examined after removal, the nurse told me that stage descriptions are not that accurate for breast cancer in any case, they can act in unpredictable ways. I still don’t know if the cancer has spread because the lymph nodes will also be examined during the lumpectomy and the results of that will take about 2 weeks.

I am getting a lumpectomy in 2 days time.

I was shocked to get the lumpectomy so soon but very happy. I thought I would have to wait much longer so I am delighted about that. The consultant told me that because the cells are aggressive it makes sense to move quickly and both medically and psychologically that is going to make a significant difference to me.

The meeting was positive for me and I felt huge relief about getting a date for the lumpectomy. Because the cancer cells are aggressive I will very likely get chemotherapy and radiotherapy but I was expecting that, it’s a necessary evil and when the time comes I will just have to endure it, or here’s a good Scots phrase, thole it, and I will.

The last 2 weeks I have managed to see friends and talk about what is happening to me and that has been immensely helpful. I have got a bit of appetite back and I am sleeping really quite well again. I have not been crying much since the first dark days of the diagnosis. Crying would be ok but I just wasn’t doing it. Perhaps in part it was because I had detached myself from it, separated it from my emotions so I could make sense of it.

I found it unbearable to make the people I love cry so I stripped out the feelings and I boxed them up, just for a little while, and it really helped. A couple of days ago I went into my local CLAN centre and introduced myself to the very kind ladies that work there. I found myself opening up that box again and crying, and crying, and crying.

I think that experience made the biopsy results easier to handle, I felt calm again and happy. I am excited about the lumpectomy, I have no fear of that, both my babies were born by emergency c-section so the medical side does not concern me.

But cancer, my personal wolf, is still lurking in these dark woods. This type of aggressive cancer is associated with women who carry the breast cancer gene so I will be a candidate for genetic testing. I have absolutely no breast cancer family history. To my knowledge, not one of the 12 females in my mother and fathers generation had breast or ovarian cancer.

The only negative aspect of the biopsy results relates to the extent of the cancer. My lymph nodes do not look swollen, and that would be the natural route for the cancer to spread, however, the position of the tumour may have interrupted that pathway resulting in unpredictable outcomes.

Unpredictable outcomes are a euphemism for secondary cancer. Loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting and fatigue are all signs of secondary cancer because primary breast cancer does not have symptoms. These are the symptoms that I started experiencing about 3 weeks before discovering the lump. They might not be cancer symptoms but I still worry that they are.

So, what lies within? I don’t know what factors have resulted in cancer growing inside me and I will be reading about that in the months that follow. It would be out with my usual coping mechanisms not to worry about that but I also have to take care not to feed that wolf.

I must manage these fears and take care of myself because the truth is I don’t know what the outcome of this will be. It is a difficult path but I won’t be alone on it. The time that any of us have is precious because it is always running out.

Perhaps we move through life constantly distracted by events and experiences to avoid this one truth; we all die.

A cancer diagnosis forces to you face up to your mortality. We all die, but fear of that fact must not paralyse us from living. I will spend the next months living and be ready for what happens next.

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