For my family, the first time I had cancer was total shock and awe, but for me, I’d simply followed self-examination instructions and hit the jackpot.
Sitting in the bath on Good Friday evening 1991, the lather parted on my left breast to reveal a marshmallow-sized lump. A strange calmness washed over me as I greeted my destiny
“Oh, so that’s it then”
I didn’t share my discovery with anyone until I saw the doctor four days later.
What followed were days and weeks of worry. Biopsy and lumpectomy surgeries, six weeks of radiotherapy, and all the sleep I could muster. I filled the freezer and labelled each bag with clear instructions.
I was thirty-six years old. I’d just miscarried a desperately wanted baby. My unsupportive marriage was crumbling around me, and in a set of circumstances worthy of Mills & Boon fiction, I’d begun the most unexpected love affair. There wasn’t much time to think about my cancer; so I didn’t.
My family were spared an immediate response to my second diagnosis five years later, because my dad was dead, my brother living abroad, and it was the eve of my wedding day.
When the consultant faltered reading the biopsy results, Mark and I knew our pre-nup was going to be more Sickness than Health.
After biopsy surgery the previous week, I’d modified the low neckline of my wedding outfit; the only thing now required was the ability to keep a secret, a large smile and a larger drink.
We did all three with aplomb, and even kept the smiles in place through our three-day Devon honeymoon. When we returned home to face the music, we drove very slowly.
What followed were days and weeks of worry, a mastectomy, six months chemotherapy, a second mastectomy with bi-lateral reconstruction, and all the sleep I could muster. I planted fast-growing flowers and wondered how many I would pick.
My dad had died suddenly within a week of my uncle (swiftly followed by my beloved cat), my mum needed all the support I could give. I’d just got married and there wasn’t much time to think about my cancer; so I didn’t
With a nine year interval, there was even less family to herald the arrival of cancer number three. After beating breast and bowel cancer, my lovely mum suffered a devastating heart attack and never recovered. I‘d just made the heart-wrenching decision to have my horse put down at the ripe old age of twenty-three. Comfortably numb, there was no emotion left when a routine check-up located a lump in my armpit.
Worry, two rounds of surgery, a massive allergic reaction to the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen, sleep. I gave up gardening and bought ready meals for the freezer.
Deeply mourning mum’s tragic death, desperately missing the magical bond of horsiness, reeling from my sister-in-law’s diagnosis of terminal liver cancer, and supporting a friend battling leukaemia- there REALLY wasn’t much time to think about my cancer. And I didn’t.
Not until the fourth diagnosis did all that not-thinking come back to bite me. . .