Cancer second time around

Just as Even the eyebrows? was being published in 2009 I had my five-year check-up with my oncologist, Phil Murray. I was delighted, happy to have reached this milestone that was basically confirming I was in remission, safe. I’d already had my mammogram which was clear, so I wasn’t in the least concerned. And then I was; Phil seemed to be spending a little too long in one particular area on my left breast. “Is there a problem?” Not sure, he said. He told me he could feel a very small lump and needed to get it checked out with an ultrasound scan.

My heart sank but this time I shared my fears with my sister Merlyn, and she came with me to the scan. On the monitor I could see this little pebble shape in my breast, and I asked “Is that my cancer?” no one replied, but I already knew the answer. Long story short, it was a new primary, a grade three, like the last time, so I was going to have a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, all over again. I was devastated, especially as the mammogram indicated I was cancer-free and, even as I was being wheeled into the operating theatre, I couldn’t feel that lump, so self-examination wouldn’t have helped. Thank the Lord for Phil, the fact that he was examining around 50 pairs of boobs a week and had supersensitive fingers!

I really need to write Even the eyebrows 2?, because as part of this particular journey, I also discovered that I have the BRCA1 gene mutation, which means I’m more likely to get breast cancer than someone who doesn’t. But, in so many respects, although some of the statistics have changed, the book I wrote still holds true. For example, second time around, I had the ‘opportunity’ to handle my cancer treatment differently, so I took life easier, didn’t work all the time and used the cold cap to try and hang on to my hair. I’m delighted to tell you, that I definitely got it right first time around. Why? I was so busy I didn’t have time to dwell on how rubbish I felt but, by having more time to myself, I dwelled on my feelings, which seemed to amplify the rubbishness! The cold cap gave me an additional month with no hair loss, but the way it went left me looking like Friar Tuck initially, then Gollum. It was a little scary and I should have shaved it off like before, but I was quite protective of what little hair I had. I did however exercise more and was able to walk and then jog during chemo, and only gained around 1lb in weight.

If you’d like to know more about my BRCA1 journey, please read my blog