October is breast cancer awareness month. I had become very aware of breast cancer and although I had told friends and family I decided to announce to my virtual friends on Facebook that I had managed to get this wretched disease. This is what I posted:
“This month is national breast cancer awareness month. Unfortunately, I have been diagnosed with this disease so life has been a bit of a tail spin since 29th August. However, family, friends, colleagues, my school and the NHS have been fabulous at helping Nick and I through a turbulent time and what is likely to be tough few months after surgery. All and any offers of help and support gratefully received. LADIES – I have been very fortunate in an unfortunate way in that the sort of breast cancer I have (invasive lobular carcinoma) was picked up early by a routine mammogram as there are no lumps or bumps – if you have an appointment, MAKE SURE YOU GO! Look out for my book – it won’t be called “Dear Cancer, Love Victoria” a la Victoria Derbyshire but…”F**k Off Cancer, I don’t have time for this sh*t, so s*d right off, how very dare you, get lost…. Mrs O” This will be my one and only post about this – just wait for my book at Waterstones!”
The response was overwhelming and supportive. Facebook and social media do come in for a hard time but I found it easier to tell people in this way. That idea of kindness as a recurring theme comes back as people were sympathetic and thoughtful.
At the beginning of October I received a copy of the letter Mr X had sent my GP. It was a very well written letter and it brought the issue into sharp relief. I’d been fooling myself as I thought that if I turned up at the various meetings in my suit, name badge, school bag and looked professional then really the cancer didn’t belong to me. The letter with the diagnosis and plan laid everything out in black and white. It came as a shock which sounds naïve. Although I’d been listening in the appointment I don’t think I really heard or understood. The communication recognised that I’d requested a bilateral mastectomy, despite the disease only being on the left side, the potential problems with mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy, the dreaded radiotherapy word and how that could make a hostile environment for reconstruction, risks with implant based techniques and how surgery would be arranged after meeting again.
This letter was a real wake up call, the positivity I’d felt after meeting Mr X had dissipated. The only silver lining was that I thought I had a degree of control about what sort of surgery would happen… geographers don’t carry out surgery as a general rule. Dear Nick didn’t understand why I was sobbing uncontrollably in the kitchen as I read and reread the letter. He thought I was “over it” and said so as I seemed so together…… “over it.. I sobbed, it’s hardly started”.
Tip: don’t be hard on yourself, cancer diagnosis is a roller coaster – seek someone to talk to e.g. in Plymouth we have the Mustard Tree.… someone who you can tell everything to without worrying about them worrying about what you are saying.