Back on the conveyor belt and another letter this time inviting me to attend the pre op assessment on Level 4 and could I arrive at 7.45am. Yes I could, and I would be taking some year 11 assessments to mark.
I left the house just before 7am and had the quickest journey ever to Derriford there were even spaces in the impossible car park. I took a seat in the waiting area of Fal Ward and took my marking out, end of unit assessments were on my mind not pre op assessments. I had marked 15 of them before I was called.
Stage 1: weight, height, blood pressure and heart rate.
Stage 2: in an office with a delightful nurse whose opening gambit was that she was sorry I had to go through this operation. She was very easy to talk to as she filled in the booklet about my medical history. She told me about one of her colleagues who’d had a bilateral mastectomy because of the Brca gene and who was back at work – all encouraging and constructive.
Stage 3: swabs and bloods taken by a tattooed lady with a short hair cut and filthy laugh who took no nonsense, apparently I was ok as for a posh bird I swore well. Swabs are taken from your nose, your mouth and groin which isn’t very ladylike.
Stage 4: back to the nurse for a final check. She was interesting as she asked if I had spoken to anyone at Macmillan Cancer/Mustard Tree and I responded no that I didn’t need that as it wasn’t for the likes of me but for really ill people.
I felt didn’t have time as I wanted to get back to school although I was covered for a couple of hours yet. However, there was something in the way the nurse spoke which convinced me to just check it out. I walked down the couple of flights of stairs and stood outside the Macmillan building. I was convinced that I didn’t need to have that sort of help but I resigned myself to just going in and having a quick cup of tea.
It is an extraordinary place, comfortable, warm, compassionate and caring. I tipped up at the reception desk and was virtually unable to speak and just pointed at my breast cancer folder. A counsellor just took me by the arm and found me a seat in a private part of the sitting area as a tsunami of tears swept over me. I was given a drink which I held until she removed it as I couldn’t even sip at it. She asked very gentle questions in an understanding fashion and all my fears spilled out between gulps, sniffs and steams. She listened attentively and told me that from how I was discussing this it was as if it were the first time I’d heard the diagnosis and understood what was going to happen. Big chinks had appeared in my school armour, I wasn’t in control and was finding it so difficult to hand over to others – both in a medical sense and in a school sense.
I was not only angry about having cancer I was furious that my body had let me down. How had the cells in my milk lobes had the temerity to become abnormal and form tumours? Before the diagnosis I’d tried to be a good human and taken responsibility for my health, I’d never smoked, didn’t drink much, yes had a stressful job but felt I managed it, did lots of exercise, breast fed three babies… was it being on the contraceptive pill as a younger woman, taking thyroxine to sort out a dodgy thyroid or taking HRT, which stopped me being a complete sweaty troll from hell, which had triggered it? Who knows – a combination of all of these and none and just bad luck?
I’d tried to be practical but the reality was I was wrung out and there was no answer. Eventually, I got myself together, washed my face and said I really did have to go. I was told there were complimentary therapies available and that I was welcome to attend any time, no booking required so the next time I had an appointment just drop in. I felt huge relief that I’d been able to get it all off my chest in a safe environment and strangely I felt lighter.
Tip: Go to the Mustard Tree even if you think it is not for you – you will lose nothing but gain much. Macmillan