I’d like to point out that the following entry is my recollection of events; the consultant involved might have a different view of how things went, but the fact remains that I left that room with no treatment plan and no hope of a future.
My mum had come down to London for the results. The smiling consultant called us in. The smile soon evaporated. “The scans show there is cancer in the pelvis.” The cancer was back and no one could ever take those words back or the consequences of what that meant. Tears pricked my eyes but I stayed calm, I knew that the spread of breast cancer to the bone wasn’t an immediate death sentence; I’d read of women living for twenty years with this type of disease. You can’t die of bone cancer, but it does mean it’s more likely to spread to organs in your body.
The consultant said it would be up to me if I wanted to try chemo and I’d need scans to see where else the cancer had spread. I looked over at Tom – it was as if someone had punched him in the gut. He was stunned, lost for words, before stuttering “What’s Ellie’s prognosis?”
I wasn’t even thinking about timescales until the consultant said, “We don’t like to give timescales.”
“Well what? Six months? Three months?” I blurted out; I opted for a severely conservative estimate so she could reply ‘more like five years’. Instead she replied in a low voice, “more than three months.”
She can’t even give me six months. Fuck. Our plans and hopes were being viciously wiped out – like paint being manically thrown over a mural – with each bit of news she gave our future together was disappearing, desecrated by cancer.
I wanted out of this room. I wanted to be held by Tom. There was a mixture of shock and in a strange way, relief. The fear of ‘will it come back’ had been realised. It was back, and according to the doctor the prognosis was bad. No more worrying about the ‘ifs’ and how it might feel, it was happening and in a perverse way I felt relief.
The consultant prescribed five days of palliative radiotherapy to my pelvis to help with the pain and hopefully the limp. I would also be given an IV of Zometa, a drug that would strengthen my bones.
I wanted to call people – I felt a need to let my loved ones know what was happening. No two people’s reactions were the same. Some didn’t believe it, automatically going into denial, “I know it’ll be fine, I just have a feeling – you’re going to be okay.” There was an, “I’m so sorry”, and many “I love yous.”
Tom and I decided to go away for the weekend, escape London and the confines of the flat. Tom couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. We’d be sitting across from each other at a restaurant and we’d start to break down. We walked along beautiful beaches in Suffolk and I made him promise he would be able to cope without me.
The idea of dying didn’t really scare me. I knew the process of becoming weaker and losing weight as the cancer takes over would be an horrific one but for that weekend, in the wake of the initial shock, it was the thought of Tom in the flat by himself. Coming home and sitting down to dinner alone, no one to meet him with a cuddle when he came through the door and to talk over the day with. Strangely, it was the thought of my clothes having to be cleared out that really got to me, an empty wardrobe that would taunt him. It was these visions in my mind that were breaking my heart and would lead to impromptu tears. I called friends to make them promise to me they’d look out for him when I was gone. I asked my mum to make sure she would clear out my belongings and not leave it up to Tom. I was planning for my death and the thought of leaving Tom was, and still is, utterly unbearable.
On the Sunday morning, waking up in a cosy Suffolk hotel I instinctively reached for my chest, just above the line where I’d had radiotherapy. I felt a lump and then another. Shit. Where did these come from? More cancer, the doctor must be right; this disease is fierce, it’s everywhere and it’s spreading fast. It felt like such an insult, how could I try to muster any resilience when the disease was mocking me all the way? It was reminding me of who was really in charge.