Friday, 4 July 2014

30 June. Discovery.


Cancercancercancer.  I am like Harry Potter defiantly using Voldemort's name in the hope that it will lose some of its power.  And it begins to work, already I have moved from that first whispered realisation that I have breast cancer and the tears that followed.  I can am heading towards being quite blasé, perhaps I can just drop it into conversation - oh yes, because I have breast cancer you know...

I wasn't supposed to end up here.  I was only mildly concerned about the lump I found three weeks ago and the doctor was infinitely reassuring.  No dimply skin, no lumps under the armpit, no...well, whatever the other signs are supposed to be.  No need to worry, but I should have a mammogram anyway, after all, here in Belgium, women have them annually once they are forty anyway.

Really?  To me, regular mammograms came around the big five-oh along with thoughts of menopause, not just a couple of years after forty and the should-we-try-for-a-last-baby discussions.  So with a sense of going through the motions to keep my doctor happy, I went along to my very first mammogram.

In the spirit of this new adventure, when the receptionist greeted me in French I responded in kind.  After all those lessons I can manage to register in French, I thought cheerfully.  I was a little less cheerful when she showed me into a small cubical and told me to strip to the waist and wait to be called.  As I sat, looking at the rack of magazines I couldn't understand, with my naked breasts reflected in the mirror and not the tiniest towel available to cover my modesty, I ran frantically over what she had said in my head in the hope that I had understood correctly.  Had I made one of those awful linguistic errors that would result in me being called into a waiting room full of people wondering why I had no clothes on?

 Fortunately, no-one looked shocked when I emerged into a treatment room and I meekly followed instructions to put my breasts between glass plates where there were squished flat like burgers ready for the BBQ and I wondered how to say, that's beginning to feel rather uncomfortable in French, but then it was all over.

Except it wasn't all over.  Next came an ultrasound with squishy, cold gel all over my breasts (seems only yesterday they were doing that a bit further down to get a good look at baby...).  And then I had to make a plea for some English because things were getting complicated.  The lump was definitely a cyst (big sigh of relief).  But apparently both of my breasts were just full of cysts (charming).  And so it was a bit difficult to see and they would have to stick in a needle in my breast to make sure it was okay (what?).  No need to worry, no need to worry.  So they stuck the needle in, took some samples out and I gritted my teeth and looked the other way.  Fifteen minutes later I emerged out into the street, a little shaken and very glad that it was all over.  

That Friday night, I went out, regaled my friends with tales of my mammogram, and sat back to wait a week for the results without any concern.

On Monday night I got the call, not enough material to be analysed.  With the first flickers of concern, I went back for a biopsy.  The doctor gently explained that they would 'put my breast to sleep' and then take more samples and it wouldn't hurt at all.  It sounded like a staple gun and felt like someone had punched my breast.  Ow.  

Then she looked at my armpit with the ultrasound, clicked her tongue and asked for permission to take a fine needle biopsy of the lymph node.  She had to ask permission, she said, because this was a little more painful...  Yeah, great.  Flickers of concern now fanning into flames, I left the building for the second time and settled down to wait.

This time the wait felt like forever. I kept my phone handy and jumped when it rang.  But of course, then the call came at 8.30am when the phone was on charge downstairs and by the time I got there, it had gone through to messages.  I listened, praying for the all clear.  

The results were 'not good' the message said.  I should call the hospital to make an appointment for an operation.

Shaking, I called back...and got an answering machine telling me that my doctor was now on holiday and would be back in a month.  Usually I love the Belgium system where GPs work independently and privately and everyone is covered by insurance.  But unlike the good-old-NHS, when your doc goes on holiday for the summer - you're on your own.

I called the hospital, hoping to get more information, and was told flatly by the woman who answered that she didn't speak English.   So I muddled my way through making an appointment in French.  It will be a miracle if I have given my date of birth and phone number correctly.

Is it crazy to feel homesick for the NHS?  Rather rose-tinted perhaps.  In any case, by the time I got through to my husband, I was a bit of a mess.  He told me he was coming home and hung up when I protested.

In the end, we resorted to hanging around the doctor's surgery, leaving the kids sitting on her driveway reading books in the sun while we went round to the waiting room and knocked on the door and repeatedly tried all the numbers we had for her.  Then I heard her voice and ran back to the front and found her getting into her car.

So that's where I found out, standing on a driveway in the sunshine, the kids with their noses in their books by my feet, various people in the doctor's car looking at us curiously as the tears began to flow.
Yes, she told us.  They found cancer.  

And so the journey begins.

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