Where to start. I didn’t understand. How had this been missed? I had preventative surgery pre- mastectomies to check that my lymphatic system was clear. It turns out I am unique. Who knew
Apparently very occasionally, the cancer cells can skip nodes. My multiple tumours were so spread out that one of them bypassed the primary gatekeepers and went straight to the head honcho nodes. So when my primary gatekeepers were interrogated, they weren’t lying. They hadn’t seen any cancer sneak by. Some of my crafty and cunning cancer cells had found a back route straight to the main gates and had penetrated those. Trust me to have the clever cells.
I will say this now. Our intuition is on another level compared to those physical monsters. I could have carried on as I was, in a fluffy bubble of survivorship without giving it another thought. But for some reason, I didnt.
On initial investigation my GP said it was likely scar tissue, as did my breast nurse, radiologist, consultant and surgeon. The core biopsy nearly didn’t happen because it was so unlikely statistically that it could be anything else. But it did happen and it was something else.
I’m trying to write a clean sentence but fuck it. Thank fuck. Thank fuck I checked my armpit. Thank fuck I went to the GP immediately. Thank fuck I called my breast nurse and asked it be fast tracked because I was worried. And thank fuck my consultant made the borderline decision to biopsy the ‘scar tissue’.
I have had CT and bone scans and I am awaiting results. These results will confirm whether or not I have metastatic cancer. Metastatic means my badass team of gatekeepers or lymph nodes weren’t strong enough to stop them penetrating the palace. It means that there is cancer is other places in my body now. So the last 7 days have taken me to some very dark places in case this is what I’m now dealing with.
You see every step of the way, I have been floored. I’ve been delivered news that I was not expecting. News that I wasn’t prepared for. You deal with it as you go as it’s too big to digest in one hit and you can’t see the bottom as it keeps getting deeper. Or maybe you just don’t look down. I just kept holding on to the hope that I wouldn’t need to have chemotherapy.
Of course I didn’t want to have to go through such a sledgehammer of a treatment. I didn’t want to lose my hair. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want to be brought to my knees trying to kill every growing cell in my body. But psychologically, the idea of chemotherapy goes against every belief I have around healing. The latter is probably the larger area of personal conflict.
Except now, the alternative is that I am not here to see my children grow up.
So let me share a little of my darkness with you. Not for sympathy but to share my new found and rather fascinating perspective.
Emotions aren’t fixed. We move through them. Ups and downs, ins and outs. I couldn’t stay in shock. Shock turned quickly to fear. Bastard fear. My fear before was of having the effects of chemotherapy to deal with.
My fear now is that I have metastatic cancer and that I will likely be engulfed and die before my kids hit double digits.
Everyone is different and we don’t necessarily know how we will deal with situations until we are faced with them. But for me, I have to explore the worst case outcome. Not because I am a pessimist. I'm a realist. My worst case scenario is a reality for many people. But I have to frame things so I can anchor myself and find the light above and around me. I needed to look down and see the bottom.
The best case scenario is that I receive the results that there is no evidence of cancer anywhere else other than my lymph nodes. The surgery to remove all lymph nodes happens, minimal nodes are affected and I start chemotherapy to rid the residual rogues. The best case scenario is I have time in this life. That I watch my children get married, maybe have their own families and embarrass generations to come with my increasingly inappropriate cartwheeling. I travel the world as an old lady with the same adventurous spirit I was born with. Maybe with an equally free spirited sexy old man.
But really none of us know what is around the corner. Tomorrow isn’t promised for any of us, young or old. We live this life with the information that one day we will die. But I’m not sure how many people have really explored the possibility that today is all we have. I am paralysed with fear about leaving my children motherless. But I could get knocked over tomorrow by a bus. I could be in a war torn country and watch my children being ripped from my arms.
I watched my son’s primary school leavers assembly this week and it crossed my mind that that might be the last leavers assembly I get the honour to watch. That I may not see my daughter’s one in two years time.
The truth is that could be the last leaver’s assembly any of the other fifty nine parents get to watch. We just don’t consider the preciousness of these moments as we assume there will be hundreds more.
So many people wake up not knowing that that morning would be the last one they see. The last coffee they drink. The last time they kiss their partner on the lips. Some people just don’t wake up. They maybe didn’t have the chance to tell the people around them how they felt. Maybe they didn’t get the opportunity to hear it back. We spend our minutes, hours, days, weeks, months on a conveyer belt of surviving and sometimes that speeds up into overwhelm mode. We don’t realise that we can get off at any time and reframe the game. We were born onto the belt so sometimes we are afraid of what would happen if we were to look up and step sideways.
I have spent the last week in emotional limbo. But this limbo comes with a real understanding of my personal worst case scenario and that’s not a bad thing. Chemotherapy is now what I hope is an option because some people wouldn’t even have that as a choice. For those who know me, it goes without saying that I am already seeing my acupuncturist, herbalist, counsellor and dietician. I may be compromised but I have a choice in how I play my next move and I am thankful for my mind and spirit for allowing me to hone this coping strategy.
I’m a week in and a week out of knowing anything for certain but whatever the outcome if nothing else, this week has blown the chaos of life out of the water and provided a huge wave of clarity around my priorities. My worst day might be someone else's most hopeful day. Priorities and perspective.