Being me, I fucked up even attending the appointment. Got the time wrong (thought it was at 10:40; it was 10:20) then spent ten minutes in a queue I didn’t expect to be there.
We’ll see if we can squeeze you in, they said, and squeeze me in they did. I expect there is going to be a lot of squeezing in – and some squeezing out – over the next few months.
Because when I met the doctor, she confirmed that I have breast cancer. Not good, right? Sure, but I felt quite matter-of-fact about it.
It’s better knowing, and being able to crack on with the treatment, than the last three weeks of not knowing but strongly suspecting. In any case, something like this comes along, you do what you need to do, the outcome is whatever it is.
So, here are the facts that matter.
The lump is 2.5cm. I responded to this information by bending my thumb and declaring this as the distance from the bend to the tip. I learned this as a child, although I suspect that my thumb may have been smaller then. Still, it’s about right.
It could have been there a couple of months or a couple of years (the lump not my thumb): there is no way of knowing. I speculated as to whether it might have been found earlier if women under 50 got regular mammograms as women aged 50+ do, but the doc explained that breast tissue is thicker and less scannable at younger ages, so it might not have found it.
Yeah, but it might. I feel rather unlucky, as I am turning fifty in a fortnight. And there is currently a trial giving mammograms to women from age 47. I wish I’d been in that trial.
The good news is that it has (probably) not spread to my lymph nodes. I say ‘probably’, because that will only be definitely confirmed by next week’s MRI scan, about which more below.
It’s ductal cancer, meaning that it is in the milk ducts, another stroke of bad luck, as having breastfed three babies, I was supposed to be less likely to get that. There is another type of breast cancer, known as nodular, or something like that. To be honest, my mind concentrated pretty well on information about what I have got, but drifted somewhat when it came to what I haven’t got.
I got the basic information from the doctor and was then led away by the cancer nurse for a pep talk. That’s unfair, actually. Prem, said nurse, was very informative and supportive, running through the basics and giving me a book and her phone number.
It turns out that 2.5cm is big enough to not be small, if you get my drift. Together with it not having spread to the lymph nodes, it means that the cancer is at Stage 2a. This nearly shares a name with a committee in the London Underground Health and Safety negotiation and consultation structure, providing a moment of light relief for me and my rep/partner.
It also turns out that as well as having a Stage, my cancer also has a Grade. That’s to do with what the cells are like, which we will find out on further investigation.
Prem’s best quote was: ‘If you’re going to get cancer, breast cancer is the one to get’. Decent survival rates, you see. Phew.
The next step is an MRI scan next Tuesday. That’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and it gets a much more detailed view of the lump than the mammogram and ultrasound I have had so far.
A quick question brings reassurance that the metal clip in my right eye socket will not prevent me having the MRI. I had a fearful flash of the machine sucking the titanium plate out of my socket and spinning it round like a pound coin you accidentally left in your trouser pocket when you put it in the washing machine.
The scan result will be next Friday, which will determine what the course of treament will be. It is likely to be surgery (lumpectomy) within four weeks, followed by none, one or more of the following: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and a homoney-type tablet that you take for five years.
And with that, diagnosis is done, and the fightback begins. Farewell, Homerton Hospital – see you next week.
A tip: it can be a good idea to take your other ‘arf with you. Mainly for moral support, but also so they can buy you a nice lunch after. On the other hand, having said lunch at the cafe next to the local graveyard may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Lovely veggieburgers, though.