Time seemed to be measured by the intervals between NHS letters.
The next letter arrived and we returned to the Primrose Clinic and checked in, it was a school day and I wore my armour i.e. school “uniform” suit, name badge, lanyards, school bag… I was determined to be seen as more than a cancerous breast. Soon enough Nick and I were called in and met a female surgeon and a different breast care nurse.
The dynamic of the office is interesting as the surgeon sat opposite me, with the breast care nurse to one side and Nick next to me. I think this is so the surgeon can talk to you directly whilst the breast care nurse makes notes and listens to your responses. I was all set to ask all my questions and the patient surgeon suggested it would be better if I listened whilst she explained what sort of cancer had presented.
This allowed me to tick off all my questions and breathe a sigh of relief. The cancer was oestrogen positive which was one of the “better” types of breast cancer as it was the least aggressive. ER+ and HR- became part of my new vocabulary. I was asked if I was interested in a reconstruction as the mastectomy was the option to get rid of Grade 2 Invasive Lobular Cancer. This is a particularly sneaky form of cancer which develops in the milk lobes and is tricky to see on a mammogram and often doesn’t present with a lump. The surgeon examined me.. no lumps, no evidence of breast cancer. This cancer now had a name and a grade, this made it easier to investigate online. Thank goodness for early screening, thank goodness for the radiographers doing a great job, thank goodness… I felt very fortunate in an unfortunate situation.
The breast care nurse explained more and gave me reading material including a practical guide to understanding breast cancer written by Mcmillan cancer support and a guide to breast reconstruction written by Breast Cancer Care. I was warned that “the internet is not your friend” but I felt knowledge was/is power and the more I knew the more I could prepare myself for any eventuality. My frustration was that no one could give me a time line. A hint of impatience again.
In teaching we measure time by hours with a class, by half terms, by assessment cycles – being treated for cancer doesn’t take account of this nor does it care if you teach all exam classes which I do. I didn’t feel I had time for this disease and more importantly neither did my GCSE and A Level students. I have a great job on the leadership team, worked as part of the teaching and learning team, had introduced coaching as a way of improving outcomes for students with fourteen trained coaches. Breast cancer was not on my “to do” list for the 2017-18 academic year. Unfortunately, it became a priority.
We visited my parents on the way back which was hard. My dear dad said something completely innocuous which I flew at and then started to cry, my lovely mum then said she wished it were her and not me. Even when you are in your 50s your parents want to make things better.
Tip: Do bring a list of questions, listen carefully, take a friend/husband/partner. Share your news with your friends, they want to know, and they want to know what to do to help. Keep working, keep things as normal as possible. It is okay to cry, even if everyone thinks you are a “strong woman” and a “fighter” you are only human. Apologise if you have been unreasonable and taken things the wrong way.