looking forward to the reconstruction, she milled in about a woman she knew, who ‘went through the same as you’, one breast lost to mastectomy and all the rest. BUT this lady’s perspective was that the people who loved her loved her for herself, the way she was, so why bother with reconstruction? ‘But she’s a bit of a maverick,’ the woman concluded, spikily. Wow, well what could you say to that? ‘Maverick, is it? What, you mean she’s a bit of a runaway calf in a cowboy film; what are you implying, ya ould boot?’ The lesson: some people you’re just better off never talking to, ever.
I was also offered the test for the BRCA 1 and 2
‘You’re not choosing
this operation because you want a tummy tuck?’ the surgeon asked me. ‘Of course not!’ I lied
gene mutations. Again, not everyone offered the test goes for it. I took it because the outcome could have implications for the level of not just my but my sister’s future check-ups. ‘Funny, I feel totally sure I don’t have it,’ I said to my sister before we got the result on Wednesday. ‘Me too,’ she said. ‘Then fast-forward, and there’s not a breast between us,’ she laughed darkly.
Some women with the gene — as Angelina Jolie revealed this week — opt to have preventive mastectomies. I recall, in my case, the surgeon saying that she didn’t believe in excising healthy tissue, but there was a suggestion that ovary removal might be indicated. In any event, as we suspected, and hoped, it turns out I don’t have the gene. Phew! Though, honestly, I wasn’t ever that worried because all of the above is happening under the auspices of such an excellent hospital.
Boy, am I, and so many people in this country, grateful to those in that hospital, St James’s, who’ve made it their life’s work to be experts in the field of oncology. I mention all this because, as I write, I’ve just that heard one of those medics, the oncologist who oversaw my radiotherapy, has passed away. In my brief knowledge of him, he was a quiet-voiced, very approachable man. Never intimidating, he allowed the space and time to answer any question you might have. I last saw him in January, in the corridor of the outpatients’ cancer clinic. The place was packed; I was waiting to see the registrar of the medical oncologist and had been thinking about the stress and weight of responsibility the oncology consultants must be under in that clinic, overseeing so many patients — those diagnosed and starting treatment or going for cancer follow-ups, people often subsumed in the vulnerabilities such serious illness throws up.
Yet he had time for a friendly ‘hello’ and ‘I almost didn’t recognise you with the hair!’, then mention of a silly card I’d sent him for Christmas. I was chuffed he’d made the effort of that exchange. Some time after, I heard that he’d been diagnosed with a serious cancer; now, in just a few short months, he’s no longer with us, taken by the disease he aided so many in overcoming.
He was Professor Donal Hollywood, only 53 years of age. Commiserations to those to whom he was beloved. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘To leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to hasve succeeded.’ And this you did in spades, kind man. Rest in peace.