Friday, 5 September 2014

It's really happening

I'm delighted to have had a post published on the Why I Relay Blog site, where you can find many inspiring stories about people's experiences of cancer.

I wrote about my journey so far and the sense of unreality that accompanied the early weeks after my diagnosis.  This is what I wrote.

Sometimes I still can't believe this is happening.  I wake up in the morning and, just for a moment, I think it isn't real.

Perhaps that's because having breast cancer seemed so unlikely.  I'm only 43, in good health, with no history of cancer in the family.  My mammogram was entirely clear.  Anyway, my miniscule breasts couldn't possibly be big enough to harbour anything malign!

Or perhaps it's because my diagnosis, just two months ago, came on the first day of the school holidays.  That unreal part of the year when everyday routines abruptly stop and everyone heads out of town on holiday.  Everyone except me, left behind in a nightmare world of tests and uncertainty.
Or perhaps everyone feels as if it's happening to someone else?

In any case, I stumbled through July like a sleepwalker. 

An initial diagnosis of Lobular Breast Cancer (in which the lump mimics the breast tissue - hence the clear mammogram), led to a bewildering series of tests, including the terrifying day they found something on my liver.  I  seesawed back to relief when that turned out to be benign, but was already blundering on to the next thing.  A mastectomy, performed almost before I had time to figure out what was going on. 

They found a 5cm lump and three infected lymph nodes.  No sign of cancer anywhere else, but they told me I'd need chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Tamoxifen to protect against its return.
One week later, we escaped on our postponed summer holiday, my head still spinning.  I was nursing stitches across my chest and an arm that was about as useful as a bird's broken wing. 

Slowly, in the sunshine, it all sank in.  It wasn't a mistake.  It wasn't something that would be fixed with an operation over the summer break.  It wasn't someone else's story.

It's like that pivotal moment when an alcoholic finally stands up in an AA meeting.  My name is Chloe and I've got breast cancer... Yes, that's me.  I'm the one who will be going through chemo and radiotherapy, not someone else in a magazine I'm reading.

Oddly enough, emerging from the twilight dream state to face up to hard reality has made it seem more manageable.  Still horrible.  But now I finally know what I'm dealing with and even though that scares me, it's better than the terrors of that first month when we seemed to slide further and further into the chasm.  I wish I hadn't ended up in this place, but in the cold of light of dawn I can see the way to climb back up.  And I remain deeply grateful that there is a way up - thanks to the strides made in treating breast cancer in recent times.  Not all cancer victims are so lucky.

Now if that moment of unreality strikes between sleep and wakefulness, I slide my hand over my flat chest and feel the scar where my breast used to be.  It's shockingly real. 

But it's also healing up nicely.

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