Moments in life you won’t forget – feeling a lump in your left boob one sunny, Saturday morning.
How does it feel? Surprising that there’s a proper hard lump, but not the end of the world. I am not a worrier. With great optimism comes some crushing disappointment, but on the way, being positive mostly feels good. The year I’ve had, “it is just not going to be cancer,” is the prevailing thought…
Bit of background – my amazing Daddy died in January; I had complications from minor hip surgery so couldn’t walk without crutches as the world locked down for Covid19; and am now the proud owner of a fabulous new titanium hip (hip replacement 10 weeks ago). I am loving getting back to being active – walking, swimming and generally enjoying not being on pain medication (no limp, plenty of physio)…
So, I am thinking this year isn’t going to get worse… Universe? Really?
Anyway, I put things in motion – call to health insurance, telephone call with on-call Doctor, receive details of gynaecologists to contact on Monday morning. And crack on with a nice, normal weekend.
I get an appointment for Tuesday and the first week is a blur of appointments and optimistic comments “I wouldn’t worry – looks good – that’s a good sign”. I have the biopsy, after an ultrasound and mammogram, and wait. Each medical person tells me they aren’t concerned. So, Mark and I genuinely aren’t worried.
I did not expect bad news, at all. I had even almost forgotten that I was going to get results after a weekend celebrating Swiss National Day, hiking in the mountains and drinking too much Veuve Cliquot.
On Monday morning, I see I already missed a call, so return Dr Behren’s (the gynaecologist) call. He says what you never want or expect to hear. “I am sorry, it is bad news, it’s malignant.” So, from one sentence to the next I face a sentence. Not a death sentence – he emphasized (hmm thanks), but suddenly, Lynette Angela Jackson, aged 48, resident of Meilen, Zurich, mother of two teenagers, can add ‘has breast cancer in left boob’ to her CV.
Our friends Kevin and Natasha are visiting, so I have my first experience of sharing this shit news. They are of course brilliantly supportive. And we start as we mean to go on: out for the lovely lunch we’d booked and make the most of a day where I feel 100% healthy. And I already know that I have totally got this. I will be ok.
Dealing with it
Things that went through my mind:
- It’s not the big drama you’d expect (after all you’ve had all the tests and the cancer seed has been sewn in your mind)
- I really like being in control and know I won’t be with this
- Who the hell do I want to tell? And how?
- No woman looks better without hair
- I utterly hate being sick
- Sometimes life does just keep throwing shit at you
- My life is fantastic
- I like my boobs
- I like “normal” even the “new normal”
- I am completely, utterly, no-questions-asked going to be alright and grow old disgracefully
The not so positive negative
The appointment with Dr Behrens after the diagnosis involved taking in a lot of information… so ‘triple negative’… sounds good right? Wrong! It is rare and quite aggressive and doesn’t respond to some forms of treatment… I expected that I would need a lumpectomy and to have lymph nodes checked and this will happen on Friday. Now the main thing is to learn if it is just the 2cm tumour or if it has spread. I won’t know until the middle of next week.
And perhaps the worst bit is then having to tell people you love, family, friends and colleagues… I hate being the bearer of bad news and feel like the flipping proverbial bad penny this year.
I knew my Mum might kill me herself if I didn’t tell her quickly. Write a list of the top 100 calls you don’t want to make. And the worst has to be telling your children and trying to convince them not to worry. And one thing I have been told adamantly already is that you can’t stop people from worrying when they love you. But you can ask them to be as positive as possible
Silver linings (a term my Mum and I came up with in the days after my Daddy died) – reasons to be thankful.
- My Mum’s sister, Auntie Angela, is a strong, “take control”, fantastic Aunt and great Aunt and she has got through breast cancer, therefore, my children believe me when I say I am going to be fine – more than fine.
- My Mum is an incredibly strong woman – yes she is devastated, but she knows that I’ve got this.
- I am surrounded by incredible people, at home, at work and from a distance.
- The speed of the process here: from finding the lump to removal in less than two weeks. I cannot fault the Swiss medical system.
I AM NOT GOING TO BE BEATEN BY THIS. I am not naïve, I know that there will be days and weeks, even months of feeling bad. But in the in between, I plan to carry on with my life. I do not want to be defined by this.
I am positive. I know that I will be ok. I have to be. I have my “babies”, my fabulous husband, fantastic family and friends and a job that I absolutely love.
I am positive, but that does not mean that I am not bloody terrified. I hate being sick, eurrghh (vomit sound)*. I am rarely ill and am rubbish at it. And I will likely lose my hair. I will have a fabulous wig (or two). But, I am used to being in control. So, don’t judge me: I am convinced I will be ok, so my biggest concern is managing work. I like to always be on my A game and I won’t be. My number 1 priority is my health, but I want to keep on contributing at work at the level I normally do… I know I’ll need to plan carefully so it is seamless when I need to step back, but I have a great team and the most caring leaders you could hope for.
Having had two people in my team dealing with cancer in the last year, I believe wholeheartedly that everyone must choose their way. One person chose to focus 100% on their health and the other we had to convince to not focus 100% on their work (exaggeration, but you see my point). And I believe both of these are spot on. Each of us has to work out their path. And mine will likely involve sneaking off to check email and make sure the show goes on at work.
I’ve got this
I know that I am loved in my private life and respected and supported in work. I will do this by being ready with a plan b whenever I need it. I know I will be supported by family, friends, colleagues. I don’t plan to be (too) pig headed about ignoring this nasty disease. But in the in between, my plan a is to live my life to the full. And be grateful for everything to be grateful for… That does not mean that I am really, really cross. Well furious actually… But death and illness are part of life.
In conclusion to the start of this cancery tale, I want to say a massive thank you for the response from the senior leaders at work I’ve told so far, my fantastic team, my family and my close friends (only told them so far) who always know the right GIF to share. And to Mark – words can’t say enough there.
And particular thank you to Vicky Connerty, who I told about the lump straight away having read her incredibly crafted ‘cancery tale’ more than 5 years ago. Being able to ask dumb questions to someone who has got through this process with true style was a lifeline.
*Everyone who hasn’t gone through it thinks that chemo involves a lot of vomiting, apparently (big fat phew) the anti-sickness drugs are very effective, so hopefully my fear of days of vomming are hopefully unfounded