“You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple.
You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down.
The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.”
The 29th April 2018 will go down as one of those perfect days that you wish you could relive over and over like Groundhog Day. It started with pancakes and much chatting at the breakfast table about the previous day’s events: go karting – which had provided a lot of fun for our teenagers and their friends; the unseasonably hot wall-to-wall sunshine which had reduced us all to shorts and strappy tops in an effort to cool down; walking the dog – her nose constantly burrowed in the hedgerows sniffing out rabbits; ending the day with a family meal at one of our favourite restaurants before coming home and my dad chasing the children around the garden with the hosepipe to squeals of delight and just when they thought they had escaped him and the water to be met on the other side of the garden by my husband with buckets of water thrown over them! I had sat in a chair chatting with my brother, surveying the scene, watching it all unfold in slow motion and I remember thinking, ‘If this is the last day of my life, I will die happy.’
Fast forward twenty four hours and my secure world felt very different. I could have never foreseen how just one day could have turned my world upside down. Looking back now, from the 30th April, the day I had the diagnostic tests – the mammogram, ultrasound and then vacuum-assisted biopsy until two weeks later, when I received my diagnosis, were the most anxious time of the last four months. Every day was filled with turmoil because in reality, based on the research I had done, I knew what I was facing.
Before my surgery I had expected that following the surgery I would endure the same levels of concern, that I would be fearful of the biopsy results and what they would bring, what the future would hold but, surprisingly, I gave it little thought. I knew it was coming up but whenever it came to mind, I let it go, more concerned with ‘the now’ than then. Maybe that sounds simplistic but you have to remember, there is nothing to control in this situation, no research to be done because at this point, what is there to be researched? So where does the worry come from…from the desperate desire to know – but there’s a possibility this only leads to more worry. For me, it was easier to compartmentalise the appointment and deal with it on the day and that’s exactly what I did though I must confess, I didn’t sleep too well the night before my visit!
My appointment was at 3pm. We waited until a little after 4pm, it was interminable. Finally, the nurse called my name and I looked at Mark in disbelief. “Please God, I will get good news and this will be the end of it” I said. My surgeon was confident the surgery would be the final part of my breast cancer journey. We walked down the long, brightly lit corridor and I saw my consultant sat at her desk looking at my mammogram. I turned to Mark and said, “It’s bad news”. He was dismissive but I knew in my heart there was no reason for her to be looking at my mammogram if she was delivering good news. She was going to show me something and that only meant one thing and it wasn’t good.
And so it was. The pathologist found a small amount of invasive cancer. I saw it on the path report – malignant. It was a sobering moment and unexpected. I cried. I became the child again to my mum in this suitcase of cancer baggage, my mind working overtime at what this now meant, for me, for my children, for all the plans Mark and I had made together.
My surgeons have collectively told me on numerous occasions, to my frustration, that because I had DCIS everything was going to be ok. I did feel they were being condescending but I liked them and overlooked it knowing my emotions were probably playing a part in how I was feeling. Please, I am an intelligent woman – don’t dumb me down! In this moment, their approach was making me very angry.
The consultant asked why I was so upset and I had to say it was in part because if my surgery had been carried out in line with the cancer waiting targets, I should have been operated on by 30th May – who knows whether that would have made a difference.
I quickly pulled myself together knowing that anger and frustration would not help, I needed to have a therapeutic relationship with my clinical team after all. Now, I need to focus on what is next, not revisit the past and what could have been. In reality, we will never know and it will not help heal me by building up bitterness and resentment.
What does it all mean? Well, I want to list out some positives in this situation because I think in spite of my diagnosis, I have many blessings to count and I would like to share them with you:
- To the consultant oncoplast and her team for removing all of the DCIS and what we believe is all of the cancer
- To the plastic surgeon and her team for creating my bionic boob and giving my other boob a ‘boob lift!’
- To the pathologists for finding the small amount of cancerous cells in the first place which as a lay person seems like finding a needle in a haystack – thank you
- I have Stage 1 primary breast cancer not Stage 2, 3 or 4 so someone was watching over me there
- I do need radiotherapy but have escaped the need for chemotherapy
- The breast cancer is oestrogen-receptor positive so will hopefully respond well to hormonal treatment
There was some news which will delay my recovery somewhat. I have thought about it over the last few days and I feel the same today as I felt on the day I was given the diagnosis. I’m disappointed, it isn’t the news I had hoped for but it is part of my journey, part of the rocky road of life.
The key factor is the malignant cells were close to the remaining breast tissue. In other words: the margins were not clear. So for this reason, I will be having radiotherapy. I am meeting my oncologist at the end of September to discuss a treatment plan. I am also starting tamoxifen to reduce the risk of the cancer returning in my bionic boob and the contralateral breast.
Given my strong family history and the fact that mum was a BRCA2 carrier, (though I am not a BRCA2 carrier), I have now been referred to a gynaecologist with a view to having a prophylactic hysterectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy. Whilst I appreciate I need to have the radiotherapy first, I really want to get on with things and I am very keen to have the surgery before Christmas if at all possible – that said, given how long it took to have my first operation, I am not sure that will happen.
Lastly, the oncoplast has written to the genetics team once again for further clarification about the risk of breast cancer to the contralateral breast now there is a diagnosis of breast cancer. She feels in light of the diagnosis, there may be a need to undergo a left total mastectomy, i.e. the side which has just undergone a mastopexy.
Well my friends, you may be wondering what on earth there is to be positive about but there is. If I have to have a left mastectomy now, it will almost certainly be skin sparing and nipple sparing…there is a slight issue over where on earth they are going to get the fat from to fill the bugger so more cakes and biscuits could be on the menu! Currently, my options are an inner thigh or TUG reconstruction or I could consider implants.
If I am fortunate enough to have this surgery soon, I will have two bionic boobs and hopefully, no further problems. There is also a possibility that if I have my uterus and ovaries removed and the second mastectomy, I may not need to have tamoxifen. This may seem like a poor swap but at the end of the day, I need to take tamoxifen for 5, possibly 10, years so it is preferable to me as it will reduce the overall side effects I would have to go through.
Having this radical surgery now will hopefully drastically reduce my risk of cancer returning and who wouldn’t want to increase their time here; doing stuff that really matters; spending time with family and friends; walking and talking; making memories rather than filling that old tattered suitcase of cancer baggage that I’ve been carrying around with me for far too long.
Thank you for your love and continued support – Tootsie xxx