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27 October 2021

My Journey through breast cancer : In the beginning...

My journey started almost nine years ago. Almost eight years ago to the day I was given the all-clear. I’m still here to tell the story. It’s taken me a while to revisit the diary that I kept all those years ago. I was, and am a survivor, and I like to think a more considerate, empathetic, and positive person as a result of my experience.

I’m going to write this story bit by bit and, as I go, post it on my blog. I’m not going to make it a literary work of art. That’s not what you to read. I’m just going to write from the heart.

If at any time you read something that worries you, then drop me a line (through Contact Me) and we can talk.

It came from nowhere, no symptoms. I was well, active, and just living my busy life. Each year I followed NHS advice and turned up at Morrisons car park in time for my breast screening appointment. And I went home. Another job done.

A week later, it may have been two, I can’t remember now, a letter dropped through my door. I had received a recall. Nothing to worry about it said, just routine. Only about twenty percent of recalls, they said, ever resulted in anything sinister being found. Uncomfortable thoughts wormed their way into my head and stayed with me night and day. I told myself that I would be one of the eighty percent, that it was a mistake. But it did little to reassure me. I spoke to friends about it and they all said the same. I’m worrying unnecessarily.

I attended my recall appointment at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwick. A huge complex, a parking nightmare. Bad enough when the gremlins aren’t stampeding around in your head, hammering at your brain cells.

I recall a long wait to be seen, scans, and then being asked to step inside another room where my results would be reviewed. All I wanted was to be told that everything was okay, and I could get back in my car and go home. Instead, they asked me if I had friends or family with me. That said it all. They broke the news. Not only did I have a shadow on my left breast, but I had one on my right breast as well. (I’ve never done things by half!) The good news they said was that they had caught it, most probably early-stage cancer. No lumps, there had never been any lumps. Now there were shadows. I recall one of the nurses asking me if I would like a cup of tea. I replied that a gin and tonic would be far more appropriate. I wasn’t smiling or laughing at the time. Probably numb.

I’d be contacted by Warwick hospital, they told me, for a follow-up appointment with an oncologist.

I was no stranger to cancer. My husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer nine years earlier and had survived for five years. Having lived with it for five years, it still didn’t prepare me for being visited by the big C myself. Instead, I remembered visits to Warwick Hospital Cancer Unit. The hours spent sitting and chatting to my husband and others who were sitting and receiving their chemo and/or blood transfusions. If I had been thinking more positively, I would have remembered that all the treatment he received kept him fairly strong and able to live a good life right up until the end. But when we receive shocking news, we don’t think positively. It’s normal.

I remember the drive home. The gremlins were having a field day. Would I tell my family or would I try to protect them from the knowledge? Would they be able to handle the news? Sharing the caring of an elderly parent with my sister, they both needed me to be fit and well. I was the strong link in the family. Always had been. At least that was what they always told me. Suddenly I might not be that person. A control freak by my own admission, I was suddenly being controlled by something inside of me and persons outside of me. I consoled myself with the fact that I had already made a will!

Ironically, I had just had a hugely busy six months with another hugely busy nine months ahead of me. As Chairman of a club, I had undertaken to plan and implement an international fiftieth anniversary event. I didn’t have time for cancer!

It was time to open up to a few close friends and my sister. Much as I would have preferred to keep the whole sorry episode to myself, I had the common sense to realise that I couldn’t do this entirely on my own. There were plans to be made.

If there’s one message I will leave you with in this blog, it is do not ignore your invitation to attend for your mammogram scan. If I had done so, then I would not be writing this story today.

To be continued…