Breast Cancer at 29 – REALLY?! Chapter 6
CT Scan, Board Games and Cancer Face
The next morning I think I woke up with a sense of disbelief. I had my appointment at 11am to have my CT scan and I had a number of things I had to do to prepare for it.
The leaflet said I was going to be injected with something that would make the image clearer – I think it was an iodine-based solution known as a contrast medium. I had to drink a shitload of water before I got there, then I also had to drink a litre of water mixed with barium sulphate when I arrived. This was going to allow the doctor to examine my stomach and intestines more clearly. Apparently the CT also looks at your bones and they decided to also take a look at the abdomen. They were looking to see if any of the tumour had broken off and gone off to live elsewhere in my tired and stressed body.
To this day, since my friend has had secondary breast cancers in her brain, I get this niggle that they never checked my brain. It’s like a nagging doubt – mental note to discuss that at my annual checkup.
I was fine when I drank that shitty solution. I was fine when I got into my hospital gown, and I was fine walking out to the mobile scanner out in the hospital car park. I left Andy inside the hospital and when I got to the scanner, I didn’t panic per se, but the radiologist took me through what would happen during the procedure.
I laid on the pull-out bed attached to the machine and he asked me to raise my arms above my head. He put a cannula into the vein in my left arm, just where they normally take blood from. He told me I would receive the injection and I would feel a warm sensation in my groin; it would feel like I’d wet myself. He left me for what felt like an age to go and get the stuff ready. Then I was not fine any more; I broke. The tears came flowing; I kept asking myself WHY am I here on this bed, in this lorry, doing this right now? I should be at home, faffing about, enjoying my garden leave. What the hell am I doing here?
The radiologist came back and saw I was upset. I told him what the diagnosis had been and that was my first experience of Cancer Face. Cancer Face changes whether someone works in the medical profession or not. There’s this brief, crestfallen look that passes over the other person’s face, then straight into reassurance mode, as if by magic. You can tell when someone has experience working with people in difficult situations.
Cancer Face is different with your average member of the public who’s not experienced cancer in their lives or families. The eyebrows furrow and they look all sorrowful. I think this face is one of the things many cancer patients want to avoid seeing, so it contributes to sufferers and survivors not wanting to talk about it. They don’t want pity. Everybody deals with it in different ways, but cancer has this effect on people, which I think can lead to it being under-discussed. It’s just too depressing. “Oh, you’re alright now though, aren’t you.” is the reaction people often give, now they know I am clear. I actually want to scream “No, I’m fucking not always alright”, but, not wanting to seem like a massive drama queen I go “Oh yeah, fine now. Back to normal.” More of that later.
Cancer Face can’t be avoided; it’s human nature to sympathise (excepting the psychopath community of course – you live how you like, guys!). I draw strength from people who don’t make any kind of Cancer Face. People who aren’t uncomfortable or afraid to talk about it, because it’s important. Our kids need to understand it; our families need to understand it. Society needs to know how it affects people. I talk about it – I’m comfortable talking about it – for that very reason.
Back to the CT…
Anyway, as he injected me with the contrast medium, this radiologist tried to reassure me. I was young, he said, so that meant I had a great chance, since my body would be able to cope better with the treatment. Imagine if I was 75, or 80 and in this situation? I had to admit he was right. All I had to do was to wait and see what the results said. The doctor would know exactly what to do with it. He also said, after we discussed it, that if you were to have any kind of cancer, breast cancer is the one to have. It’s the most common among women, so a lot of research has gone into treating it. I stood a good chance. I wiped my tears then laid back quietly while they injected me then put me in the scanner.
Every now and again a recorded voice on the scanner told me to take a deep breath, hold it, breathe normally. Then I was all done, getting changed and being told the report would be put together and sent to the doctor straight away. Andy took me home; suggested we played a computer game together to take my mind off it. At that point we were playing World of Warcraft together; for me it was a “can’t beat them, joint them” thing. So I think we did that all day before collecting Mollie from nursery. My mother-in-law called again that day to ask how my CT went and repeated her sentiment that she had such mixed feelings, since she was gutted for me, but ecstatic for her. I was like “OK thanks”. I remember wondering why someone would repeat that to someone newly diagnosed out of the blue, but she seemed oblivious so decided to keep my counsel.
That evening a load of friends arrived from Hitchin. I think Jason had told them the news, so they wanted to rally round and help me take my mind of things. They brought board games; this game called Settlers of Catan, Cluedo and this weird zombie game that seemed just a bit overcomplicated. There was wine, vodka and beer. The first people to arrive were Andy’s two friends from primary school and their girlfriends, with Jason. The conversations were nice enough; it was clear they had all come round to show some support and solidarity with us and we were very grateful. it was nice to have a distraction. After a while, James and Stefi arrived. That was the point when everyone went quiet and waited for them to sit down.
James has no line; he’s quite happy to break ice, so he said “Why’s it so quiet, has someone died?” – at which point he got the elbow from Stefi and a pretty angry look from Andy. I think everyone else was just like “arrrghhhhh James!!”, so he followed it up with “Too soon?” and I kinda said “Maybe, yeah.”, chuckling. I wasn’t offended; I knew he was trying to lighten the uncomfortable atmosphere. I wasn’t grateful to him for that until much later, but I knew there was no malice intended whatsoever. I have quite a dark sense of humour, and sometimes you need a mate on that level to cheer you up a bit.
We sat on the floor to play the board games James and Stefi had brought over. Andy became progressively more drunk and to my surprise, started mixing vodka into his pint of Stella. It was only then that I heard him say to James :”This just keeps happening to my family, my family is cursed with bloody cancer”. Andy’s dad had sadly died of lung cancer in 2006; this had always made me sad because I know he was always very close to his dad. Then a few years later his mother had endometrial cancer, which she was signed off from the same week I was diagnosed.
Weekend From Hell
Eventually after a few drinks and rounds of Settlers, everyone went home and we started the weekend from hell. I think what made it so bad was that we were waiting for the results of that CT scan, but also still reeling from the news itself and waiting for Monday to arrive, so that we could meet this doctor. I think I went through every emotion possible between the Saturday morning and the Monday night that we were due to see the doctor. On the Saturday I woke up feeling determined that this was going to get sorted. By the afternoon, I was despondent and quiet. Even though I hadn’t made my news known on Facebook; a few people knew because I sent a private message or spoke to them on the phone.
On the Sunday I held Mollie in my arms and watched “Tangled” for the first time ever and I sobbed and sobbed my way through the scene with the boat and the lanterns. I watched that scene twice, I loved it so much. Mollie slept on my chest and I treasured every second with her.
On the Monday (4th November), I was nicely distracted by a large workload – I was doing a bit of cheeky work for a client in Wales, watching the clock, building 150 workflow rules for a skiing chalet company (fellow salesforcers – I TRIED to talk them out of it, but they absolutely insisted and were willing to pay for it!). My mum had asked if she could come to the doctors with me that evening so around 6pm my parents turned up and Dad looked after Mollie while we drove over to Hitchin to meet the doctor. At that point I had absolutely no idea that I was going to see an oncologist. I didn’t really know what an oncologist truly did, just that they worked with cancer patients. I was only nervous because that evening we would find out how bad the cancer was.