Chapter 0: Surgery 8 March
Below is the message that I sent versions of to some people at the weekend. It's based on the letter I wrote to my mother a few days before.
Finally, I had forgotten to say in my message that I promise to ask for help if and when I need it.
I'm writing to let you know that I will have a lump removed from my breast on 8 March.
I was diagnosed on Wednesday with an early stage cancer. However, the lump is small, it hasn't spread and I will not die of cancer. I am fine. I feel fine. And I will be fine after the operation. Nothing bad is going to happen to me. Except for hospital visits and side-effects from therapy, I am going to continue my life as normal.
I found the lump two days before we moved, saw a GP at 7:30am on the day we moved. I got an appointment at a specialist breast clinic at Windsor hospital two weeks later, a week ago last Wednesday. They did an ultrasound, mammogram and took a biopsy (under local anaesthetic and using a special needle). Frank was with me. I then saw the surgeon who said that the lump looked ‘suspicious' but would know when the biopsy results came in a week later.
I have stage 2a (out of 4) breast cancer but a relatively small lump - just an inch. They've scanned the surrounding areas and there are no other lumps. People only die of cancer when it spreads throughout their body. Mine's small enough that they will only do a lumpectomy and remove some lymph nodes. If they thought it was worse, they'd have looked for cancer in the rest of my body and be giving me a mastectomy.
I'll have the lump removed on the 8th March at Ascot hospital and be back home the same day! I'll later have radiotherapy and maybe chemotherapy. I'll get regular checks for the rest of my life to make sure I remain cancer-free.
I realise that you will be shocked and worried but I am calm about it because I am pretty sure that I will be all right - I am only annoyed that it has interfered with work!
Cancer doesn't mean what it did 10, 20, 30 years ago. There's lots and lots of money going into cancer research and treatment and, if it's caught early enough, as it has been with me, the cancerous cells are removed and most people go on to live out full lives. Think of it as my having a temporary condition.
They gave me a couple of booklets at the clinic. I've found them very useful: Treating Primary Breast Cancer [PDF]
On telling friends and family
I had decided early on not to tell anyone (even my mum and brother) until I had no choice (through physical changes following therapy). I don't want to be defined by this: I am still Paola. Besides the inconvenience of surgery, therapy and tests, I intend not to let it invade my life.
I also feel that after surgery is when I will not have cancer any more and so it seemed unnecessary to worry people when it'll be dealt with soon.
But Frank said that I should give my friends more credit, that they'd be able to handle it and should be given the opportunity to support me. I also realised that, had I stuck to my original plan of not saying anything, I'd soon be having to cover it up and that would have done my head in.
So, I am sorry for laying this on you but I think it's better that you know.
On what I would like from you
I have taken the news pretty well and have felt calm, except for one bleak-thinking day. It hasn't really hit me - that I Have Cancer. I am happy for this state to continue as long as possible! I would like to minimise the impact on my life by not spending too much time talking or thinking about it.
However, please DO ask me questions if there's anything you want to know - and I am sure I'll want to talk about it sometimes - but please don't feel that you HAVE to ask me about it each time you see me.
Please don't call me when you receive this. I'm mailing about 30 people today. Generally, though, I am not really a phone person and feel more comfortable in writing.
Please don't send me a Get Well Soon card - I got one last week and it upset me. I don't feel unwell and certainly don't want to be unwell.
And, besides saying "me too", I don't yet know what to say when people say they're sorry.
Read my blog for news & updates
I started keeping a journal from the first GP visit and will likely transfer them to my blog.
This is where I plan to post my news and updates. You can subscribe to receive updates by mail.
I don't want to e-mail people updates as I'll then have replies turning up in my Inbox to deal with. By blogging news, I can read and respond to comments when I feel up to it.
My blog posts automatically get imported into Facebook and so, besides surprising those people I haven't informed personally (!), the imported notes will spawn a separate set of comments.
I have joined an online community at the Breast Cancer Care web site (publishers of the booklets) and I am getting support from people in similar positions or further along treatment.
I suspect that some of you have been through this or scares and didn't tell anyone.
I can't think of anything else to say.
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