I find myself yawning as I reluctantly peel myself from my bed, ready for another stressful day running my arts education business. As I pass the mirror on the way to the bathroom, something makes me turn back. What was that I just saw on my nightdress? It’s blood, not much, about a pea size, on my left side, midway between my stomach and my breast. “How strange!”, I think as I lift my clothing for further inspection. There’s no visible wound anywhere. “Oh well, it’s just one of those things I guess.” That was my first warning and little did I know that if I didn’t get another 4 weeks later, I probably would be dying from breast cancer a year later (as later told to me by my surgeon).
The second time it happened, my eyes shot out of my head like bread from a toaster upon passing my reflection, because unlike the first time, I could see where the blood had come from. My left nipple was oozing a brown tinged blood droplet. Immediately I booked an urgent appointment with my GP. I had to bring my 3-year-old daughter with me as I couldn’t get anyone to watch her last minute, so the doctor was very selective with her words. However, her eyes said it all – she couldn’t hide the distress she felt as she smiled and pointed to the wording on the pamphlet: 70% of people who are sent for a 2-week urgent care appointments do not have cancer.
Cancer? Who said anything about cancer? As I impatiently waited for the appointment I went mad on the internet searching for hope in between crying and fearing for my daughter’s future. She can’t live without me, that’s not even an option. I don’t want to die, there’s so much more that I want to achieve, so many more memories to be made. What the hell is this?
Google held me in its embrace as it told me “It’s nothing to worry about, it’s probably just intraductal papilloma which are non-cancerous growths in the milk ducts. You’ll be fine hun.” YouTube slashed me in the face whilst dashing acid on the wound as it cried: “Face it, you have breast cancer. Spontaneous bleeding from one nipple is breast cancer bitch. Your days are numbered!”
Each day would bring a new range of emotions and conflicting stories and facts. After a week I decided enough was enough, I had to stop searching for answers or else I would drive myself crazy. So I banned myself from searching further and spent a lovely few days in a gorgeous Air B & B townhouse near Brighton beach with my daughter, family and a few friends. It did the job. I left there feeling positive and renewed with a fresh sense of hope and putting aside my fears as over-thinking. “Remember: 70% of people who are referred for two-week urgent appointments do not have cancer.” I exhaled as I looked at my daughter playing with the other children on the train journey back. I smiled and placed my earphones in my ears as Mint Condition crooned me into a blissful state of ignorance.
The next Monday 24th April 2017, I was jolted out of my Utopian bliss as I heard the radiographer say the word: micro-calcification. I knew from my days on the net that ‘calcification’ can be benign but can also be an early sign of breast cancer. Then I could hear her telling me about having to put two titanium clips inside my breast so that they could see where they would need to do a biopsy. Apparently they wouldn’t go off at airports. I latched onto this as I couldn’t deal with the bomb that had just been dropped on me. “Well do I have a choice as to whether they will stay in me or not?” To which the radiographer replied basically “No”, showing signs of irritability at my ignorance of the magnitude of my situation. In hindsight, I imagine she was thinking “The titanium clips are the least of your worries. You possibly won’t have this breast in the next few weeks”. If she had said it, she would have been right.
After two very painful biopsies, I was told I would have to wait another four excruciating days for the results to be returned. However, it was quite likely that I had a type of breast cancer called DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma Insitu), this is the presence of abnormal cells within the milk ducts. I knew from my reading that if I was going to have breast cancer, this was like the one I preferred as it offered the best chances in terms of prognosis. However, when I returned to get my results, I was told that I also had small invasive cancer. This meant that pockets of the DCIS had escaped the milk ducts and was now starting to spread.
My treatment choices: have a large part of my breast cut off in a procedure known as a mastoplasty followed by radiation treatments – this would leave me with a tiny breast, or remove the entire mound in a mastectomy procedure. I chose the latter. I made preparations to say goodbye to my homegirl.