The two lumps that had appeared on my chest would need to be tested. Professor Hope wanted to see if the cancer was still hormone receptive or if it had ‘flipped’ and was now triple negative. We were told this occurs in less than 15% of cases and I pushed the team at my current hospital to check the receptor status.
As I lay on the bed being injected with local anaesthetic I heard a snap. Something in the needle had broken and my breast care nurse and I were sprayed with the numbing fluid. I couldn’t feel my cheek. Laid on my side, naked from the waist up with a face like a stroke victim, Jeez Louise, can I not just get a fucking break here?
After four attempts the trainee doctor managed to clip enough of the tumours out to be tested. I wanted those little lumps cut out of me altogether, but what was the point when the cancer had spread so far in my body? It would be like plugging a small hole in a boat full of leaks, and the doctors had made it clear they believed my ship was sinking.
As the nurse bandaged me up I couldn’t stop the tears. Not full-on shoulder shakers, just small drops streaking slowly down my face. I felt so bloody unlucky; there’s only so much prodding and poking and scanning and drug-taking a girl can take. I often find myself trying to rationalise my illness. Was this supposed to happen to me or was it entirely arbitrary? Is it egotistical to think cancer happened to me for a reason? Maybe, but for me it’s easier to deal with something if you can find a logic to it.
When I take my seat in the chemo ward I very rarely see anyone in my age range. When I spot old women with bald heads I feel sorry for them like anyone else, to have to go through this torture when you’re not at your fittest, when you’re already tired and sapped of energy. And yet part of me can’t help thinking, ‘you’ve made it to this point, you’ve reached your 70s’. Of course I have no idea what hardships they may have suffered and what their stories are. There are many subplots within the genre of ‘tragedy’ and cancer is merely one of them.
You could argue I’m luckier than some. What about babies born with cancer? Or the teenagers struck down with the disease who haven’t had the chance to move out of home or go to university? Then there is my group, young adults; careers are stolen, the chance of having children wiped out.
Three weeks later we got the results of the biopsy; the cancer had indeed flipped. Surprise, surprise! With less than a 15% chance of it now being triple negative I was once more defying the odds; to get breast cancer in my 20s, for it to spread, for it to turn from one cancer to another. What are the chances? But as I type these words I realise that this is exactly what I want to continue to do, to defy the odds.
In a perverse way the emergence of those lumps had been a blessing. If they hadn’t appeared then we would never have found out that the cancer had changed. We now really know what we are up against. Something that at the time had appeared so awful and frightening had actually turned into a positive. Without those little tumours the doctors would be treating a disease I didn’t have. Thank God for those cancerous tumours, right?!
The discovery that the cancer had ‘flipped’ got me thinking about what appears unlucky and a challenge but turns out to be a nudge in the right direction. If the cancer hadn’t spread to my pelvis and made it difficult for me to walk I would never have been scanned and the small tumours in my lungs and liver would have been allowed to go unnoticed like a silent assassin. If Current Consultant hadn’t been so off her game on the day she gave us the secondary diagnosis I would never have sought out Professor Hope. If she had been less fatalistic and had suggested a treatment plan I wouldn’t have put in the research that led us to a man who opened up a whole new world of research and possibility. A world that ultimatley may offer me a longer life.