“Are you looking forward to Christmas then,” the receptionist asks me.
AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO CHRISTMAS? Is she for real? I’m standing at the reception desk of the breast clinic on Christmas Eve. Oddly, I’d not really had much head space to even think about the joys of Christmas with the biggest lump known to man festering away inside my boob.
“No,” I replied in an incredulous tone. I’ve always been truthful but when you’re faced with the scary prospect of the dreaded C you somehow seem to care even less about what you say or how you deliver it.
The waiting area was overcrowded, to say the least, and we had struggled to find somewhere to sit. Men and women of all ages, faces with all different states of expression; all of them probably really looking forward to Christmas too!
I’d found the lump about two weeks previously.
I don’t think I’ve EVER checked my breasts and I lay in bed one night, no doubt prompted subconsciously by something I’d seen or heard, I decided to have a feel. My left one had this huge lump thing which wasn’t mirrored on the other breast. I booked in at the doctors and she confirmed I did indeed have a lump and that she’d refer me to the hospital. I asked her what she thought it was, she was understandably vague but said it could be one of a number of things not necessarily the big C. I have to be honest, I wasn’t really too concerned. I’d decided I had a cysts – nice bit of self-diagnosis.
So the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy process starts as do my tears.
It’s so bad the nurse performing the mammogram asks me four times if I want to stop. NO, I just want it done, I want to be told I’ve got a cyst and I want to go home and look forward to Christmas. It’s for this reason I’d asked my friend Catherine to come with me, not because I thought I had cancer but because I knew I’d be on meltdown due to the procedures. The ultrasound is no different to that uber-happy experience when they show your baby moving and wriggling, except this one isn’t quite so happy. I’m still crying; pathetic I know but the floodgates have been removed and so I lay sniffling and breathing my garlic breath all over John the technician.
The biopsy, well, it wasn’t nice but to be perfectly honest it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d expected it to be. John was really considerate and explained what was going to happen. He numbed the area and then let me hear the noise the instrument would make, I guess so as not to scare me. It sounded a bit like a quiet gun. I didn’t look. I think sometimes when you can’t see what’s happening it’s easier to cope with and bizarrely hurts less.
I’m not built for waiting. I’m one of these that just need to know. Ignorance in my world is NOT bliss – so I asked him if it was a cyst.
It’s definitely not a cyst,
And it is definitely not benign.
But there’s some good news. It doesn’t appear to be in your lymph nodes.
It’s incredible how your once quick brain malfunctions and grinds to a halt. It flatlines and turns to spaghetti.
My brain exploded. What do I tell my kids? I haven’t got time for this shit; I’ve too much to pack in before I die. It’s taken me ages to grow my hair. I don’t want to lose my eyebrows. God, how do I tell people?
I’m the practical sort, so I need time to process this cancer bombshell.
My boys had been waiting for a text from me so too had a couple of friends. I sent them all a version of the truth by text:
Mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy done get the results in 2 weeks.
I hate negativity and sympathy. For me they are pointless, hold no positive outcome and just make people like me feel worse. I do NOT want people to feel sorry for me or to behave differently towards me.
Making the decision to only tell my favourite people early on helped me enormously.
I felt like I’ve some control and it also enabled me to ensure I can’t throw myself a pity party. Possibly not the right way for everyone but hell it made me feel great and in control of how others behave towards of me.
On 13th January I returned to the hospital to find out what type of cancer I was packing. We got to the hospital for about 3.40, purchased one of their extortionate and pretty shit coffees before we walked round to the temple of doom. We got ushered into one of the “crying” rooms and sat around a knee-high round table with four chairs and a box of tissues. A doctor and two nurses (wearing black uniforms) were there. Not exactly boding well, is it?
“Vicki, we have some news for you, sadly you do have cancer…” Before he could continue, I interrupted.
“Okay, can I stop you there? So is it fixable?”
“Oh yes, of course it is.” It was his incredulous tone that sealed it for me.
“Brilliant. Right, okay, that’s great, carry on, what do we have to do?” I settled back in my chair and all I could think about what that I was going to survive. Fucking yippee. I think the word is euphoric – that’s how I felt.
“You have grade two invasive ducal carcinoma and…”
I honestly can’t tell you the rest of the conversation because in my head I’m doing cartwheels. Yes! I’m going to survive… excellent! The rest of this horror story I could tackle, it’s just a process. So the plan; chemo first to help reduce the size of the cancer, then an operation to remove it, then radio. Yup, I can do this. It’s fine! Sure, it’s going to be horrific and I’ll be bald but I’m not going to die. HURRAH!!
I’m not sure my reaction was what they’d expected.
In fact, I know it wasn’t but the bit they all failed to realise was that I already knew, and I’d spent two weeks papping myself that I was going to die. So this is great news. It was fixable, and I would get to spend the critical illness money I would be getting. Not quite the attitude, I know, but you’ve no idea how relieved was.
We left the hospital, me with my arm around a crying Catherine, telling her it’s going to be just fine and after parting with yet another bloody £2.60, drove home to tell my boys.
“Okay. So there’s good news and not so good news.”
They stare at me as I say those familiar three little words. “I’ve got cancer… but it’s treatable so it doesn’t really matter.”
Cath struggled with this I think, and I appreciate it’s not exactly the best delivery but you have to remember my kids have known me all their life and the way I tackle things and handle situations. It may be a little unique, but it’s honest. And I was genuinely thrilled that I was not going to die – the rest of it right then was nothing more than a battle I was going to win.
I did later speak to both the boys individually to reassure them, but honestly, I just didn’t see what the big deal was. I explained to them if I’d said I’ve got mutating cells and I need some treatment to fix it, no one would bat an eyelid – but because we say CANCER and CHEMO – everyone just shits themselves. Hey, I won’t die (well, I will at some point but not from this).
It’s funny when I look back on my diagnosis now.
Oh, how I’ve changed from the impatient, rude, sweary and dismissive individual from Christmas past to where I am today.
Luckily for me, the treatment I received was swift and successful and I’ve been rid of the Big C for nearly three years. The journey delivered changes to me that I think I very much needed and, other than being bald and feeling poorly, the positives I got out of the experience have been utterly huge. I haven’t really changed personality-wise but my behaviour and perspective on life have, which I think is a good thing. I’ve mellowed, calmed down and realised so much about my behaviour and I have been able to make changes that I believe this cancer came to teach me.
I feel like I’ve become a better person and a kinder person to be around. I’m not as angry. I take each day as an absolute blessing. I don’t get cross when things don’t go my way. I embrace the hiccups and make sure I find the positive. I love doing nothing – not something I’d ever done before but it has changed my life and made me feel at peace with my world.
I’ve realised I don’t need to be in control of everything and that not everything happens to my timescales. I’ve learnt to rely on others and literally put my life in their hands. Oh, and I’ve got a lovely new pair of boobs too.
Top tip for getting through cancer treatment
- Stay Positive
- Eat healthy although the odd takeaway won’t kill you
- Make yourself eat no matter how sick you feel it WILL make you feel better
- Get a good night’s sleep – sleeping tablets help to give your body the rest it needs, a 7-day dose should be plenty
- Go with it – this isn’t a quick win, take each moment and day as it comes
- Enjoy sitting in bed watching shit TV – it’s cathartic
- Encourage visitors….they make the day pass quicker and distract you from the longest dullest days – it doesn’t matter if you can’t recall what they said to you
- Take time to reflect and work out what this really about for you
- Take time to enjoy doing nothing
- Water. Drink lots of water
Vicki Culverhouse had been on the planet for 46 years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the owner of Straightahead UK, a successful B2B relationship building business, and a single parent of two fabulous boys, she didn’t have time to be ill. What she didn’t expect was the significant positive impact that cancer would have on her life. Vicki published her cancer diary and the story of how she turned a bad experience into a life affirming event at www.threelittleword.co.uk.