Tuesday, 22 September 2015

New Start, Same Old Cancer

Moving house is never easy.  Endless boxes to unpack and all those practicalities to sort out: schools, furniture, utilities and the all important internet access...  And cancer adds a whole new dimension.

Luckily I'd finished my active treatment by the time we moved back from Brussels to our old London home this summer.  I'd even had time to squeeze in my three month check up with my Belgian oncologist and, despite a scary mammogram experience, he gave me the all clear in July.

So when we arrived home after seven years overseas, sorting out my cancer treatment was just another thing to do on a long list that started with settling the kids in their new life.  Once school started, I had time for the necessary GP visits to get re-registered and find out how to get top ups of Tamoxifen, and then I was referred to St George's in Tooting which has a reputation as one of the best cancer hospitals in the country.  My appointment came through quickly and I left the half-unpacked boxes in our chaotic house to find my way to the charmingly named Rose Centre, negotiating unfamiliar public transport and following Google Maps from the station. 

I found my way with only a flash of nostalgia for my old journey to St Luc's which I could have done in my sleep by the time I'd finished treatment.  I even felt a little smug as I signed in.  The waiting room was full of ladies with full heads of hair and anxious expressions - there for a first mammo.  Not me.  I was glad that I wasn't at the beginning of my journey with mammograms, dodgy results and months of chemo ahead of me.  All I needed was to meet my new oncologist to find out how he wanted to keep an eye on me.  Easy.

But things never run smoothly where cancer is concerned, do they?

I wasn't worried when my he decided that I'd better have another mammo on my remaining breast, just to be safe.  But I wasn't at all prepared for the news that the radiologist was concerned by calcification and that she recommended a biopsy.  Biopsy?  You've got to be kidding!

So there I was, in a crowded waiting room, desperately attempting to translate the medical French used in my last Belgian mammo report to see if that offered reassurance.  Sure enough, it did refer to calcifications which my Belgian radiologist had dismissed once they'd done an ultrasound and that was enough to persuade my new oncologist to wait until the images of my earlier mammo arrive from Brussels before deciding whether I need a biopsy.

Meanwhile, I'm back in that waiting game.   It's not exactly the new start I was anticipating.

New starts can be exciting, especially if they let you leave your old, sick self behind and re-invent yourself.  But they can also be unsettling if you discover that the old, sick self has followed you to your new home and your old networks have not.  The wonderful circle of ladies who supported me through the last round are now on the other side of the channel.  I'm meeting new people who seem very nice but we haven't exactly progressed beyond the 'My name's Chloe and I've got two children' stage of things.  It seems a bit soon to dump a 'I've just finished chemo and radiotherapy for cancer and now I'm scared that I've got another lump, can I cry on your shoulder if I need to and will you bring me and my family lasagna when I can't get out bed??'

It is, in any case, weird meeting new people with my new, short, curly black hair.  Don't get me wrong: any hair is good after all those bald months.  But short, black and curly?  I've always been longish, blond and straight... I guess it looks okay (once I've done what I can to flatten the curls so it doesn't look like a granny perm) but it doesn't really feel like Me.  But this is the new Me that my new friends will know from now on.  After everything that's happened, I'm not sure how well even I know this new Me yet.  I guess she's changed a bit from the pre-Cancer Me but she hasn't really had time to work out where she lives yet, so figuring out her head is still on the To Do List. 

So here she is, the new Me, unpacking, sorting and supporting the family through the early days of resettling, working through To Do Lists, sticking down her wilder curls and plastering on a smile, meeting new people at coffee mornings and chit-chatting without ever admitting to the fear that lurks beneath the surface. 

And waiting.

Moving house is never easy... And can we ever really leave our shadows behind?

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