Breast Cancer at 29 – REALLY?! Chapter 3
You Can’t Ignore it Forever
Back to reality, a sense of relief set in that the wedding was over, we were married and I didn’t have to worry about it any more. We were on a high from it; despite a few cockups on the part of the venue we were generally satisfied. As our families dissipated back to their homes i Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and Scotland; friends went back to Rugby, Bedford, Swindon and to London, it was all systems go once more as we got everything into the car, dumped it off at home and sped off for Stansted airport ready for our 2pm flight.
We had arranged a family holiday rather than a honeymoon; my parents were members of this “not-a-timeshare” timeshare holiday club that took you off to a some fancy resorts in popular locations at a reduced price and they wanted to give us a reduced-price holiday. We’d tried to get Cyprus, then Rhodes, but with a 3 year waiting list we hadn’t been able to book them, so we went for this place in Turkey, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive north of Bodrum.
Honeymoon (well, kind of!)
Mum and Dad had offered to come along and we weren’t sure at first, but the deal was done when they kindly offered to care for Mollie the whole of the first week, giving Andy and I chance to relax and do what we wanted – followed by a family-style holiday for the second week. I won’t bore you with all the details of flying out there on Saturday 28th September, though Mollie exploring a white Porsche at Stansted airport and not being able to figure out why the door wouldn’t open was pretty cute.
It was a massively uncomfortable, long and winding 90 minute minibus ride through the mountains from Bodrum airport to the resort. We got to our apartment, fell into bed, spent the next day exploring, swimming and playing water polo and finally started to relax. It had been a busy year so we were all looking forward to the holiday.
When it all kicked off…
It is worth mentioning that since my discussion with Mum the previous week, there had been no further mention of the lump; it was completely overshadowed by the wedding. I had been constantly checking it since the previous Saturday; this was because I wanted again to check that I wasn’t going mad – that there really was a lump there – but also because I was monitoring its size. I had thought by the Wednesday before the wedding that there was little point in getting to the GP now; I didn’t have time, but I’d keep an eye out to see if it grew. If it had grown I would take myself off to the GP as soon as we got back from Turkey. This ended up being my unstable justification for not going, when Mum asked me about it on the Monday morning while we were making breakfast in the holiday apartment.
Mum got a bit concerned when I told her the lump felt bigger and had started to hurt if I pressed it. As we were discussing it, my dad and Andy came into the kitchen area and overhead the conversation, then wanted to know what we were on about. I told them both that I’d found a lump the week before but that it was probably nothing. Andy, in encouragement, added that he knew lots of young women who had had lumps that turned out to be nothing. He didn’t bat an eyelid or ask why I hadn’t mentioned it before. Dad looked a bit worried – as did Mum – I of course (typically) trying to ease the tension reassured the parents that there wasn’t anything I could do it about it right there and then, so promised to go to the doctors when I got home. The conversation ended, I felt relieved that we could just carry on with our holiday. But later on my dad came up to give me a cuddle and say he was worried about me – when I said “Don’t be.” he said “Well I could be losing my little girl, and Mollie needs her mum.”. I remember shrugging that off, as if it were completely ridiculous that this lump could be anything more than benign.
They knew better
Mum and dad took Mollie for a walk around the resort to the on-site shop; there was a tiny complex there with a few shops and other facilities. They had quite a lot there, since the resort was very remote and the nearest town was about 30 mins drive away. You needed to hire a car to really do anything except laze at the resort. Andy and I had the flat to ourselves, talking about the wedding and how much we had enjoyed it, what our plans were for the rest of the week and so on. Andy had taken a laptop out to Turkey so he was playing some offline game or other – his preferred way to relax, while I read a book and sunbathed outside.
When my mum got back, she told me she had been to see the on-site doctor, discussed my lump with him and that he wanted to see me. Would I please go just to put her mind at ease? Yes, of course. So I walked round to see him and took my mum with me. The doctor there spoke pretty good English, asked me how long I had known about the lump, asked to examine me. When he examined me he then told me he could feel the lump and went off for a few minutes. When he came back he said that he wanted me to go to a medical centre in Didim, the next town. He would arrange for a taxi to come and take me there (it would take about 45 minutes to get there); I would need to use my travel insurance but he had phoned ahead to the medical centre and they were expecting me. Mum asked him if he was worried about the lump and he looked gravely at her and said “Yes”. Maybe that was the kick up the arse I needed, because as soon as I heard him say that and saw the look on my mother’s face, the Fear came, along with an acceptance that it was out of my hands now and I had to do as I was told and hope it really was the nothing I thought it must be.
Maybe it wasn’t nothing – who could be sure though? I had visions of having to cut the holiday short if I was ill, flying home, losing all the money I’d paid. I’d’ve got it back, but it was the inconvenience to everyone else I was with. How trivial all those things are in the face of failing health! Reading back, maybe the long and short of it is that I was in denial and I have always struggled to put myself and my own needs first. It’s making me feel a little strange writing a detailed description of what happened; it’s like I’m replaying it, seeing it again and it makes me feel quite emotional. After chatting to my mum she was of the opinion that Andy should go with me to the medical centre, so, arranging to meet the taxi at the entrance within 5 minutes, we trudged back to the apartment to collect some things – passport, money, wallet – and to tell Andy and my dad what the doctor had said.
Thus began our 120-mile round trip. It started at the medical centre in Didim which was about a 40 minute drive – in a battered yellow taxi driven by a lovely Turkish man who couldn’t speak a word of English, bless him. When we got there we were met by an ops manager who told us he was expecting us, gave us instructions on exactly what to do, so we went across the road to the bank to withdraw the excess for the travel insurance and waited for a little while to be seen by a doctor. When I was called in, I was asked to lay down and he then examined both breasts and armpits. I remember thinking “Why on earth is he checking my armpits?”. I knew nothing about breast cancer; I didn’t have the slightest clue what lymph nodes were – or their significance. He finished checking me out then told me to wait outside, so I went to sit next to Andy. We waited there for a good 10 minutes or so, didn’t talk about anything particularly serious, but there was a weird vibe between us while we waited.
The next thing i knew, Ops Manager was back, shuffling some papers. He told me that I would need to go to the hospital for an ultrasound scan and that I couldn’t go back to the resort until I’d had it. The only thing is, he said, the hospital is in Kusadasi, a 90 minute drive away, and he didn’t have any ambulances spare to take me. He had spoken to the taxi driver who brought us and had been loyally waiting outside the clinic for us. He was going to have to put on the paperwork that it was acting as an ambulance. I looked at Andy and I probably looked quite scared, because he put his arm around me at that point. We agreed, so outside we went to meet our driver and prepare for the next leg of our journey up to Kusadasi.
White Knuckle Taxi Ride
We went quite a long way round – if any of you have ever driven in Scotland you’ll know that what looks like a short journey as the crow flies is actually an illusion because of the mountains. The west coast of Turkey is similar; flat, dry roads, mountains and very few motorways, so it felt like an age getting from Didim up to the motorway.
About halfway up the road it started to rain, straight down, in large volumes. The taxi driver was really excited and laughing a lot – we just watched the windscreen mist up more and more as we realised his demisters were underneath this old bit of carpet he had spread over the dash. I guess it doesn’t rain that much there. Then Andy spotted the windscreen wasn’t actually sealed in place either! Our driver was using an old rag to wipe the mist off – we giggled that at least that was something, and for this journey in a car fit for the scrap heap, it’d better be something worth risking our lives for at the other end!
He didn’t slow down for a moment; we nearly slammed into the back of a parked lorry as there was so much water flying in the air (the roads in Turkey have no drainage because they just don’t have the same level of rainfall we are used to) and he took a couple of phone calls while driving, but eventually, intact, we got to place called Söke. The rain absolutely tipped down – and it had nowhere to go. We had no coats either. When we stopped at Söke this young girl the driver seemed to know got into the car, hitched a ride with us for about 30 mins and then he dropped her off at another town on the way to Kusadasi. So by the time we got to the hospital, we were both pretty bored, cold and fed up of being in a car.
Özel Ku?adasi Hastanesi
When we arrived in Kusadasi, it looked like many of the other Turkish towns we had been through, just bigger and filthier. The driver got lost and had to stop for directions; what I loved about the Turks during the whole visit is their kindness. We saw that from day 1. Instead of directing the driver, the man he stopped went into his house for a second, locked up, then came out with his keys and got into the car to direct us to the hospital. He spoke English, so he introduced himself and said he hoped we would be alright.
When we got out of the car it was hard to believe this place was a hospital. It looked like a 2 star hotel on the outside. On the inside it was clean, bustling, there was a charming cafe, information desks and it was very welcoming. We were seen by a consultant within 10 minutes of waiting. He had a lovely manner. He asked me when I had found the lump, asked me questions about size, had it grown, had I felt any pain etc. I told him I could now feel the edges of the sausage shape, that it hurt if I pressed it hard enough and I hadn’t noticed any swelling in my armpits. I said I felt fine within myself. He asked me to lay down and he examined me, checked both breasts and armpits and then confirmed that he could feel something so he would like me to have an ultrasound. So off I went to do that, then came back quite quickly afterwards.
I apparently had a couple of things going on in there; he got his pen out and drew the shapes of the lumps on my breast as he explained he could feel a couple of small round, pea-sized growths under the skin around the bigger one, which could be anything, including something called fibroadenoma which is fairly common in women in their twenties. He also didn’t rule out fat necrosis – which can come as a result of some trauma. He then said he could feel something else in there and they had measured in in the ultrasound; it was 44mm across and it would need to be looked at more closely. He then went on to recommend that I enjoy the rest of my holiday and get a biopsy as soon as I got home; he could see no need to cut the holiday short because “even if it is something to be concerned about, it’s treatable, it’s early and the success rates are very high in your country”. He arranged for the ultrasound report to be translated so I could pass it on to the doctors in England then sent me on my way to get the insurance stuff sorted out.
20:20 hindsight again: of course he knew what it was – the ultrasound reported a suspicious area – and quite rightly, a foreign country wouldn’t be the best place to progress this to a diagnosis. I was better off doing that at home. The report is full of medical jargon, so I don’t understand much of it, but even from reading this you can tell they were suspicious.
I, on the other hand, having never been acquainted with cancer in any way or form, clung to the hope that it was something benign and tried to put it out of my mind. Andy was of the view “Well, there’s not much we can do about it until we get home.” and left it at that. I could at least rest assured that I knew what I needed to do when I got home, so we got back into that taxi, went back to the resort and tried to enjoy our holidays for the remaining 2 weeks. Mum blamed herself – thought she had hurt me when she was getting me into my dress and caused damage. I told her I was sure it wasn’t that, but we’d find out when we got home.
Despite the attempt to stay positive and put it out of my mind, I did bust myself thinking about it a few times. I tend to drift off – deep in thought – with no idea what’s going on around me and it’s hard to get me back. I was thinking about what it could mean and then stopping myself for being so daft, scolding myself in my own head for blowing it out of proportion. I did notice that despite caring less about what I was eating whilst on holiday, and drinking wine, I was losing more weight, but I just enjoyed being able to wear a bikini for a change (even though Andy said he could tell I’d had a baby while I was wearing it) and had a wonderful time playing with my baby girl. She was 18 months old and I had to get every last bit of fun with her that I could. That whole experience was the starting point for a realisation that this could be a lot bigger than I expected; that it could mean being separated from Mollie forever.