It feels like it has taken a long time to get to what now looks like a new chapter, or the start of a new journey.
10 days ago, on the 20th October 2015, I went to an NHS appointment in Lewisham Hospital to have a (more or less) routine check-up of my breasts. Since then, I feel like I have been on a rollercoaster of events, tests and an overload of information.
Two weeks prior, I had seen a nurse at my local GP Walk-in centre as my left breast felt sore for three or so weeks and somehow felt like it was changing in size. The nurse checked both breasts, checked under both arms and said that she couldn’t feel anything abnormal. However, she referred me to the NHS breast unit in Lewisham ‘just in case’.
I met the breast specialist in Lewisham, who after examining my breasts ordered a mammogram, an ultra-sound and a biopsy. I started getting scared then, thinking why I would have to have these tests and surely he felt something worrying. I had assumed my appointment would simply be a chat.
The radiologist performing the ultrasound told me she could see a lump. The breast specialist who asked for these tests told me that he was concerned. He sat me back down in his room for a chat. He asked whether I had any friends I could spend time with (what a question?!) or things I could do to distract myself over the course of a week, since the biopsy results would take that long. I didn’t like the language he was using. As he walked me out into the corridor, I asked him whether I should be worried. He said ‘it looks highly suspicious’. Having muttered these words, he sent me away and asked me to try and ‘have a good week for now’. Highly suspicious? A good week? Thank you. How very kind of you.
I left the hospital in shock and deeply worried. I was to wait one week for biopsy results? I called Vic, cried my eyes out, did the same with my mum and dad. That night I met Lucy and Mirela and got very drunk.
I spent the following day researching specialists in London to see if I could get a second opinion at least of the area – even without any results or images from the tests done in Lewisham.
On Thursday, 22nd October, I first met Katie Hogben, breast surgeon and consultant at Princess Grace Hospital. Vic came with me. All very scary but what a difference to my last session in Lewisham. Although the signs were once again pointing to something concerning, the way Ms Hogben explained, communicated and listened, it felt that I was potentially in a better place to be cared for.
With a number of signs pointing towards the possibility of a breast cancer, I had another ultrasound test done and was asked to attend an MRI scan for my breasts the following morning with results expected the following week Monday, 26th October.
I spent Friday and the weekend worried and tried to keep busy. Meeting friends, an aromatherapy massage, spending time in nature and meditation. Looking back, my mood probably shifted from denial to fear to sadness to anger and back again.
On Monday, my dad arrived from Germany to accompany me to my next meeting with Ms Hogben. At this stage, I had hoped that we had received the biopsy results but it wasn’t to be. We got to Charing Cross Hospital and the diagnosis was now pointing more and more towards breast cancer in my left breast with a couple of lymph nodes affected on the same side. Apparently the MRI scan confirmed previous suspicions with images of a lump (or two connecting ones) at a size of 3.7cm and two further ‘dots’ showing. My other breast looked healthy.
Conversations already moved towards a mastectomy and it was extremely tough to see my dad cry and look so concerned. Very tough. Monday was probably the very first day I properly cried for the first time, together with my dad. In light of the MRI result, I was asked to attend a PET scan the following day (Tuesday 27th October).
For some reason, an impending diagnosis of breast cancer suddenly seemed less scary than the upcoming PET scan, which basically scans the entire body (organs, blood, bones, skins) for cancer cells. I can honestly say that I’ve not yet been so scared in my whole life. I’m not a confident flyer and often get scared during turbulence in the air but this was an entirely different fear. I made sure I meditated (thank you Deepak Chopra for the series on ‘perfect health’) and tried to keep my spirit high. It was very difficult to do though and I found my mind switching from darkest thoughts about my life ending so abruptly, planning my ‘leaving party’ to trying to stay positive and confident that, aside from my breast, the rest of my body was actually fine.
I listened to Deepak’s meditation, the PET scan came and went on Tuesday afternoon, my dad left for Germany and the waiting game returned. 48 hours until I would hear the results of the PET. The longest hours.
Two days later, on Thursday, 29th October, I went back to Princess Grace to see Ms Hogben. Thanks to her sensitivity and good communication skills, she immediately told me that the good news was that the cancer hadn’t spread. I can’t express the relief I felt. Yes, the diagnosis of breast cancer is a hard one to accept (and I reckon I’m still in the process of acceptance) but it was so very important to me that the rest of me is strong and healthy. I feel very grateful for that.
Ms Hogben also finally had the biopsy results which point towards an invasive ductal cancer with hormone receptors. My lymph nodes also tested positive.
This was all yesterday. I think I felt so elated by the thought that everything else was fine that the actual diagnosis didn’t quite sink in. We had a long conversation about the inevitability of a mastectomy, of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy. I walked away with the options in my head – information overload.
In the afternoon that day, my friend Mati had booked us an appointment with a Nutritionist to see how I could ensure that my diet included things that would boost my immune system and slow cancer growth rates. This was very informative and whilst quite radical in places, I think I will take some time to think these things over. It is a no-brainer to me that nutrition plays a huge role in all this and aids recovery, healing etc. and so does a strong mind.
My day today began with yet another appointment – this time at the London Oncology Centre and Doc Cleator, who pretty much confirmed similar options to me. With a mastectomy part of both options, my instinct is to want to remove the affected tissue asap and then focus on treatment to ensure everything is cleared post-op. Another option might be to undergo chemo for a series of weeks and then move onto surgery. I tend to trust my instincts and my body and since I feel strong and healthy at the moment, I am opting to undergo a left-side mastectomy which includes a re-build of the affected breast next week Wednesday, 4th November. My lymph nodes will also be cleared during this procedure.
For now and with this first post, I wanted to list all that has happened to date so that I can keep a record. I have been overwhelmed with the Love and support from loved ones and friends around me over the last 10 days which has made a huge difference. I suppose it is now the beginning of a new journey for me into the unknown, the uncertain, the scary, the recovery and the healing. I’m passionate about my life, about people in my life, about my work, about London, about travel about so many things and I will endeavour to do whatever it takes to come out of this – no doubt with a set of new lessons learnt and experiences gained.