impinged on my consciousness. It seemed like the kind of thing that happened to other people — until I was suddenly shaking hands with someone who was introducing themselves as my oncologist.
Rest assured, just like the Lotto, IT COULD BE YOU. Unlike a Lotto win, the odds of you getting cancer are much higher. So. I thought ‘breast cancer’ equals ‘lump in breast’. Which is why I ignored the sudden odd swelling (not-lump!) on my left breast that I was sure would go away of its own accord (my usual attitude to medical issues). Then my sister insisted that I see a doctor. And, I discovered, almost too late: don’t mess around
To me, cancer was
something that happened to other
people – until I was shaking hands with my oncologist
when it comes to the chest — ANY unusual chest changes could indicate cancer — not just that which might be categorised as ‘definite lump’.
Also, I say ‘chest’ and not ‘breasts’ because men can get it too. So, if you notice ANYTHING strange, get it checked out. And at the same time, try not to go into conniptions of worry. My experience of the health system here is that they really know what they are doing; breast cancer can be highly treatable and is common enough that, if need be, you’ll find yourself starting on a welltrod path of best treatment. Having said that, don’t let anyone seek to diminish the undeniable whammy of the experience. Treatment is full-on: the poisoning of chemo, the amputation of mastectomy, the fatigue and other side- effects of radiation. Mentally and physically, cancer puts you through the wringer, not to mention all those occasions between tests when you wonder if you’re perhaps going to be told, ‘Go home and get your affairs in order,’ when you get the next set of results. In the middle of all of that, you will have people saying the likes of, ‘Ah, it’s so common now, it’s like having acute appendicitis!’ That was said to me, along with many things that took my breath away with their insensitivity. But hey, just ‘forgive and remember’, as they say in showbiz. Simply close your chakras to those types, and if you don’t believe in that New Age stuff, maybe just punch the speaker in the face and say ‘get lost’ instead. Whatever dings your bell... Hey, you’ve got cancer, it’s a great excuse (as I express in my book — plug). Boundaries: that’s what I learned to have big time with cancer. It’s one of the many gifts the experience bestowed; I was always concerned about appearing to be Missy-NiceyPants before. Now I’m girl who can say ‘no’, and does so all the time since my Big C. Gifts? Cancer? Yes, at this end, I cannot but see the positive things that came of it. Other people have expressed similar attitudes to me, post- cancer. Still, I’m also mindful of people I know whose breast cancers are now stage four, having meta-stasised to other parts of their bodies. I see the toll it takes, the ongoing medical intervention required to stay alive, the fear and stress that are now permanently part of their life stories.
I think of them and other cancer sufferers as I end this piece, and of the arduous, committed and serious work done by the wonderful oncology medics in our health system. And finally of two words I say constantly since it all ended: thank you.