The day they wrote me off

Tom and I at the Baftas

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.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 19:00:27

    I’ve read your story Ellie and just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for sharing your experience. I had breast ca. in 2007 (grade 3), left mastectomy and lymph nodes removed – hence nasty lymphodaema. I couldn’t have chemo as, after only 1 dose caught infection and by time I recovered it was too late. I sincerely hope you cheat your diagnosis – it happens all the time and wish you all the luck in the world.

    Reply

    • Ellie Jeffery
      Aug 14, 2011 @ 20:32:43

      Thank you for reading Ann. The blog is a bit behind ‘real’ time but in a few more entries I’ll be up to date and as a hint of things to come in the blog I’m feeling so much more positive at the moment. I’m sorry to read about your lymphdaema, I’ve read about how nasty that can be, thanks again for reading and your kind words, Ellie

      Reply

  2. Jaide Dorrian
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 00:48:29

    HI Ellie,
    I have started to read your blogs and like Ann said above, i do hope you cheat your diagnosis. I hope you beat it and I wish you all the best.
    I am an 18 year old student whose mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer grade 3c. She had a mastectomy and again some of her lymph nodes were removed. She has recently started chemotherapy and is due to have a second dose in a few weeks.
    I think i am in denial at the moment – the doctors have not given her a “set time to live” – i don’t know if that’s a bad thing. I go onto Google and survival rates are not great for stage 3c.
    It is hard seeing my mother so sick and she keeps telling me it will only get worse. I wish I knew what to say, but the truth is no words can change the fact that she has cancer.
    I am going to show her your blog and I hope you can be an inspiration to her.
    All the best,
    Jaide
    x

    Reply

    • Ellie Jeffery
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 07:50:33

      Hi Jaide,
      I’m no cancer expert but I think as long as your mum isn’t at stage 4 then there is every chance she will make a full recovery. You’re right in that no words can change cancer but you can try and instill as much hope in her as possible. If you insist in googling (I’d be a hypocrite to tell you not to as I used to do it all the time) google positive stories. Look at people like Olivia Newton John, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 90s, had chemo and is still cancer free to this day. Also, I found that sometimes it’s not what people say it’s what they do. When she’s too ill to get out of bed make sure she’s comfortable and do some housework for her or get some shopping in.
      There’s no way getting away from the fact that chemo is sh#t but she won’t be there forever, time has to march on and it will come to an end. For me personally I bounced back from my initial chemo fairly quickly; I hope she will too.
      Don’t underestimate the impact that this must be having on you either. You will need support and I hope you are getting it from friends and family. I’m not sure you’re from the UK but Macmillan and Breast Cancer Care have been fantastic for when I needed advice on anything from finances to getting second opinions.
      I will keep you and your mum in my thoughts, try to say positive, it will rub off on your mum,
      Best Wishes,
      Ellie x

      Reply

  3. Mike
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 21:13:04

    I’m back and reading again tonight. Wiping away tears but just wanted to say what a wonderfully talented writer you are.

    Reply

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