Today, 21 February 2011, is four years since the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After hearing those words, ‘You have breast cancer,’ I will probably always remember the date. That day – the hours of waiting, the sense of disbelief, the colour of the carpet. This is a fragment of that day.
An extract from Being Sarah:
|22 February 2007
I think I have a reasonably instinctive feeling at this point that I have breast cancer. This is the point when things start to swim a bit. This is the point when I would like to have woken up and realised it was just a bad dream. I get dressed, leave the cubicle and the nurse is hovering in the corridor and I am shown into the ‘quiet room’, rather than the waiting room. It must be bad. A few minutes later Ronnie joins me. He looks worried. I can’t speak, so the nurse tells him.
‘Well, we’ve done some tests and we need to find out whether this is cancerous. We’re just waiting for the result back from the lab now. Then we’ll know.’
She leaves us alone. I can’t speak. Time stretches like elastic as we wait for the half hour to pass.
After 15 minutes there is a knock. The nurse comes back and apologises. The test was inconclusive. Would I mind if we did the needle test again? No friendly chit chat this time. I follow her back to the consultation room. Top off, needle in, then back to the room with Ronnie. More waiting. It’s a blue sky,almost spring-like day outside. We are in a bubble suspended in a quiet room looking out of the back of the hospital at the air vents and the traffic moving slowly. Ronnie says there’s always a traffic jam on Hall Lane. He is hopeful, thinks the repeat test might mean it’s negative. I so want it to be.
A knock on the door. A new nurse. She says the doctor wants to look at me again. Back to an examination room, with Ronnie this time. He hadn’t been allowed ‘in’ before so I suppose it is serious now. The doctor introduces herself as a surgeon and has a very thorough feel of my breast. I feel completely detached from my breast now. I have the sensation that I am drowning.
I go to the toilet. I want the floor to open up and swallow me. I throw some water on my face. I can’t believe this is happening to me, that this day has turned out so badly. Back out in the corridor I see the surgeon who has just examined me, and some other staff. They look tense. I go back to the quiet room and wait for the news. The world is spiralling off its axis as the surgeon bursts through the door and immediately says I have breast cancer and I need to have a mastectomy. She is accompanied by another nurse, who is not in uniform, a breast care nurse, who looks like she is wearing a mask as there is no expression on her face.
I am leaning forward, wringing my hands and I’m now fully immersed in the nightmare. But it can’t really be me. This isn’t happening to me. But, oh yes it is. I am looking down at the carpet now. Grey with flecks of maroon and blue. Ronnie asking sensible questions and I can only stare at the carpet, wondering if this is what it feels like before you faint.
A black diary is produced and pored over. The surgeon tells me I will have a mastectomy on Friday 16 March, just over three weeks away. I probably look like I haven’t heard her. She says again, ‘You have breast cancer and you need a mastectomy. This lump is six centimetres.’
Six centimetres? What? How did that happen.
Just to make sure I fully understand exactly what this means she draws a diagram of my right breast. Then she draws the lump, which is actually three lumps, and it takes up almost all of the lower part of my breast. I’m sort of getting the picture now. She carries on.
‘We don’t think it is in your lymph nodes.’
‘Is that good?’ I ask, I can barely hear my voice, it is a whisper. I am so ignorant. I know nothing about cancer. Well, apart from the fact that you definitely die. I don’t know that tumours outgrow their primary sites and start spreading to the rest of your body. I don’t know that with breast cancer they can start doing this by spreading to your lymph nodes.
‘Well, we can’t tell for sure, but we will remove all your lymph nodes to check.’
I think to myself, I wonder if they put them back in if they are OK? I’m being stupid aren’t I? I don’t know what I should be asking. I look blank. The surgeon, having delivered this news, leaves the room and we are alone with the breast care nurse, who tells me she will be my friend through this.
‘Any questions?’ she says.
Yes, thousands, millions. No, just one actually.
‘Will I die?’