To say 2016 was a stressful year would be a definite understatement, so as it came to an end and 2017 was within touching distance, I promised myself that this would be ‘my year’. I was going to join the gym close to work and make sure that at least three times per week I swam at least 20 lengths before the working day began. I went to the gym on Saturday 28th December, not realising that it was closing early at 1pm and then had to do everything I could to more or less force the young man working there to enrol me that very day… I’m slightly ashamed to say that I even used the fact that I’d worked in Newham for over 20 years as leverage to make him sign me up – shame on me! But, I’d gone there with a plan and couldn’t leave until I was a fully fledged ‘Gym Member’ – tah dah!
January in a school environment is always fairly difficult, nothing much to look forward to for staff or pupils and the huge anti-climax of another Christmas fading into the distance. However, I had my 50th birthday to look forward to and having married someone in my school year, who I shared a winter birthday with, a double 50th was in the offing and we planned it for 18th February, after his and before mine.
So there I was on 13th January, getting fit ‘TICK’, big birthday bash planned ‘TICK’ and the godawful stress of 2016 put firmly behind me ‘TICK, TICK, TICK’. Sitting at work talking to my Head of School about where I should take my other half the following evening for a nice meal as his ‘actual’ birthday (you know, the official one) was on 16th Jan, but even with a joint party afoot, I couldn’t let the nearest Saturday night go unnoticed could I? I was looking at our local Harvester, perhaps take our kids along and their partners… ‘Oh no!’ cried the Head of School, ‘absolutely not! Try the Boisdale Club or whatever it’s called at Canary Wharf, it’ll be much nicer!’ It was, as it turned out, much more expensive too, but we went – just the two of us – and enjoyed a lovely meal and some stomping live music to boot, it was wonderful.
The following Friday after an exhausting week at work, I was undressing into my ‘comfy clothes’ (something that is compulsory for professionals at the end of a hard day after the age of 45) when I brushed against my right breast and felt something ever so slightly sticking out. I touched it and felt what I described later as a sort of ‘limpet’ on my breast, right at the top and sort of stuck to my chest wall. Once I’d put the dinner on, I did what any self respecting inquisitive person does nowadays when they want to find out more about something – turned on my iPad and googled it. Saying nothing to anyone at this point, I learned that hard lumps that don’t move can be problematic, but as I was due on and still having regular periods, I left it for a couple of days before phoning for a GP appointment, just in case it was imaginary. 31st January came and I popped into the doctors on my way to work – not unduly worried – and he did a proper breast examination and said ‘I’m referring you to the Breast Care Centre’ – which the kind lady out on the reception explained to me in more detail.
Work was good over the next week or so, and the party preparations were in full swing. Lots of people said they were coming – don’t they always? – and we decided that if there were just a few people there, we’d foot the bar bill but if all the buggers we’d invited came they’d have to pay for their own drinks! On Friday 10th February I received a phone call from the Breast Care Centre (BCC) asking me to go in for the various tests on Friday 17th Feb. I explained that I was having a bash on the Saturday and if possible, could I please defer my breast exploratory day to the 20th, which they agreed to.
The party was amazing – around 160 friends and family came – and we had the very best time. Our friends and family get on like a house on fire with each other, never mind us, and I was very good and did as my 18-year-old daughter said and didn’t get drunk. That way I can still remember it all now, which as you’ll see, is a huge bonus.
The BCC is a one-stop-shop where you fill in some forms, meet with ‘your’ consultant and then go off for some tests before coming back to your consultant at the end of them all. As it happened, while examining my breasts, the consultant said he felt that I had another lump on my left breast that concerned him, so my woes doubled within my first hour there. The mammogram was first on the list and this was far less intrusive and painful than I had expected. My mum used to call it a ‘tit mangle’ but in fairness, it was fine and the nice lady talked to me about my birthday celebrations all the way through it.
Ten minutes in the waiting room again and then into the radiographer for an ultrasound of my breasts and this was when things took a slightly sinister turn. ‘I’m interested in this one,’ said the doctor, as she pointed to my lump that I’d found, rather than the one the consultant had felt an hour before. ‘I’m going to do a biopsy on this one,’ she said and I foolishly imagined a needle going in and coming out, but she meant a ‘core biopsy’ and this involved an anaesthetic followed by a sort of mechanical tweezer going into the lump and pinching a small piece of it out, which she went on to do five times.
When I returned to the consulting room some hours later, I just knew that it was bad news. ‘It looks suspicious,’ said my consultant and then proceeded to start at least 3 sentences with ‘If it is breast cancer…’ before introducing me to the breast cancer specialist nurse and asking if I had any questions. One obvious one I could think of was ‘Well do I have it or not?’ but it seemed out of place to pull the elephant that was wandering around the room right up on to my lap, so I asked if I could just have a quick cry before rejoining my husband, who had gone out of the room at my request while the second lump on my other breast had some biopsy tissue removed at the request of the concerned consultant who just wanted to ‘rule it out’ even though it hadn’t shown up as ‘suspicious’ on the other tests.
‘We’ll see you in two weeks with the results,’ said the quietly spoken breast cancer nurse and off home we went.