Stories of Cancer
Giving Voice to Real Experiences

Bleak Midwinter

I lay there on the brown plastic examining couch. It was covered with one of those paper rolls, everything disposable these days. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. The doctor was holding my hand and a nurse hovered nearby. Later that day, I tried to remember exactly what the doctor had said. Something about the lump giving cause for concern. I can still remember the feel and smell of the room – a typical NHS consulting room with its beige, easy-wash walls and floors, but not the words the doctor had spoken. I didn’t even know I was crying.

The date is etched in my memory: Friday, the 3rd December, and now I know that diagnosis day is the date everyone with cancer remembers. I don’t think any of the medics I saw that day, or at subsequent consultations, used the word cancer. Someone asked if I had anyone with me. Thank god Terry came after all. They fetched him from the waiting room.

He came through the door weighed down with our coats and newspapers, looking worried. He turned pale when he looked at me and saw my tears. Seeing his reaction was the first step in me starting to absorb the fact that I’d just had some really bad news. There was no time for talking about it then as the medical protocol took over. This was mildly reassuring. At least somebody knew what to do. As we reeled from the shock we tried to catch some of the doctor’s words: tissue sample, test results, probably surgery.

The syringe didn’t hurt at all when they took the cells from my breast, which I remember commenting on – was I expecting the pain to start immediately? Then, somehow, we were leaving the clinic to find the hospital café to wait for the results of the test. We walked back through the waiting room, past all those other women waiting for their mammograms. Only an hour ago we’d been sitting there, scared and worried, yet optimistic. I’d thought I was going to be leaving with good news, one of the ‘majority of women’ who are told it was something benign.

It was seven days since I’d gone to the doctor’s. Ten days since I first felt the lump in my breast. Sitting in the bath, soaping my breast and underarms, thinking about the work I had on that day. That feels strange, I thought, kind of bumpy, but it’s probably pre-menstrual or menopausal or some sort of hormonal thing. I was too busy to pay any real attention, thought it would probably go away.

A few days later it hadn’t gone away and I began to worry. I didn’t want to tell Terry. Didn’t want to tell anyone, speaking it out loud would make it real. I stood in the shower feeling the hard knuckle shaped lump again. This can’t be happening to me, not now, I’m too busy, too stressed already. I haven’t got time to go to the doctors. Been awake most of the night feeling pissed off with a colleague, worrying about what to do.

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