Stories of Cancer
Giving Voice to Real Experiences

Bleak Midwinter

Once I’d told Terry what was going to happen next, I wanted information. The doctor had told me not to look on the internet. Instead I got my old battered copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” out, to see what else it could be.

Fibroadenomas, cysts, I told Terry, 80% of women who go to clinics have something benign. I didn’t read the section on cancer. I didn’t tell him that fibroadenomas are rare in women over 40.

“But what if it is cancer?” he persists in asking

“We’ll deal with that when it happens, just stop worrying”

“It will change our lives for ever, in future we’ll look back and talk about the days before cancer”

“BC will never mean the same again” me trying to make a joke, not realising that in future not only will it mean Before Cancer, but that it also stands for Breast Cancer

“What if the referral takes ages – we’ll have to get stroppy with the doctor”

“I’ve got a number to ring, STOP WORRYING!”

Terry’s always been better at facing worst-case scenarios. I’m much better at stoic denial, so I kept telling him not to be negative. I wished he wouldn’t worry so much, we don’t know yet what this is. This time, though, his worry was justified. The NHS clearly took it seriously too and within a few days I had the appointment at the clinic.

Neither my stoicism, nor his anxiety, were issues as we left the clinic to find the café to wait in for the test results. We were both frozen, shaken into silence, by what we’d heard. We walked along the path past a neglected garden with broken benches and a few sad shrubs. One of the trees had a few red autumn leaves left. The hospital, an old Victorian workhouse, was in the process of being demolished, to make way for a new housing development. All that was left was the old chapel housing the breast clinic and a few semi-occupied office buildings. It was a cold, damp December day, the worst sort of winter day when it doesn’t really get light and the clouds come right down to the ground.

We crossed what had been the main hospital corridor, now a potholed road leading nowhere, past the unmanned security gate, to get to the coffee area. This used to be a crowded and chaotic place, where you had to fight for space in the reception area. Now it was empty and cold, the redundant volunteers competing with each other to serve the few remaining punters.

We sat shivering over our paper cups trying to take in what had happened and wondering what would happen next. I told Terry about Pat, a friend who’d recently been diagnosed. Pat had done some research about treatment options and had found out about a new procedure that entailed removing only one lymph node under the arm, instead of the usual procedure that meant removing all or most of the nodes. I was glad to have heard about this, it gave me something practical to hold on to, something to ask for when we went back. I seemed to have gone into some sort of altered state where I thought I should be feeling something but didn’t know what. Terry looked equally strange, pale and shaky.

I decided that my main aim would be to have as minimal an intervention as was safe for me. Terry and I shared a mistrust and fear of hospitals, because of our own experiences and those of others close to us. The less time I have to spend in one the better.

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