Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Once upon a time, last year

I'm not sure I want to do this: go to this place, but I also feel like I do: like I have to.
A year ago today I woke up and in great trepidation, with wobbly legs and shaking hands I made my way to the hospital to the breast clinic. Just the name of the clinic frightened me - and sitting in that waiting area before my appointment. I can't capture or share with you the fear I felt. I think some part of me knew that it was bad; that it was cancer.
I felt like I couldn't breathe, like my hands were going to shake themselves off my wrists; although when I looked at them I couldn't see them trembling at all. And I sat there outwardly calm, next to my father who had come down to London to be with me. What he was feeling, I have no idea but he must have been frightened too.
In the weeks leading up to the appointment I was knowing, I was sure, it was going to be bad - I don't think I thought the word 'cancer' but I knew it was something bad.
So they examined me and explained they needed to do some other things to be able to tell what the lump was. The other things being an ultrasound and a fine needle aspiration (using a needle to take a sample of cells from the lump to see what it is). I was pretty close to panic now - I asked him what it *could* be, I asked him this question several times but he wouldn't answer it - he just kept repeating what they were going to do. As if I were some sort of imbecile. I just wanted him to give me some hope that there were things that it could be that weren't cancer. But in retrospect I think that he thought it was cancer and couldn't say that and couldn't tell me it was something else. By this point my father had come into the room to hear what the doctor had to say. After the doctor wouldn't/couldn't answer my question
I lost it,
I screamed at him.
And what I screamed wasn't the best thing I could have said: "I feel like I'm speaking a foreign language!". This wasn't the most tactful given that the doctor was Sri Lankan........ but I didn't say it to be unkind or make some comment about his race - I simply felt like there was no communication going on.

As if I was saying words that made no sense.
I burst into hysterical tears in my fathers arms at this point. Things seemed bad, but I didn't know how bad, I didn't know how to cope because there was nothing concrete to cope with yet. (Later, things were bad, but not as bad as that because at least I knew.)

Just fear.

Everything was so out of my control, I had no idea where things could go, I was completely out of my depth in a place I didn't understand. I didn't know how hospitals worked (not in a practical sense) - people in medicine seem to think in a very specific way. And it's different to the way I think...and feel.
One of the nurses rescued the doctor off at this point and took us off to another room - she tried to answer the question the doctor wouldn't but not very convincingly. Or, not enough to convince me who somehow knew; even if I couldn't admit it.

So, I was sent to have an ultrasound done - bits of paper, forms, go to this department on this floor. Change into this gown, sit and shiver with anxiety and wait, wait, wait. Wait to see if you're sick with a potentially fatal illness. And while you're here, you get to be surrounded by happy women with swollen bellies and I'm wondering what they're thinking I'm there for because it's not my belly that swollen; it's my breast. What I'm growing won't be born into the world in six months, three months, any months.
The ultrasound turned into having a biopsy done. The doctor doing the ultrasound looked and said he wanted to do it while he could see what was going on. I was trying so hard to be calm at this point but I was lying there crying while he did the ultrasound. Tears rolling down my cheeks and, when he announced his desire for the biopsy, the hysterical sobbing(?), wailing, keening began. I was sitting there naked on my top half and my father holding me (like the child I had been) while I cried and, meanwhile, the doctor compulsively asks me if I'm OK, over and over again; and every time he asks, I cry harder, and still he kept asking: like it were some kind of tic. My adrenaline levels were so high that I was bouncing from one fit of panic to another. The world was out of control.
Apparently, the doctor claimed, they gave me a local area anaesthetic before he took the biopsy sample. I didn't notice too much anaesthetic effect myself - whichever bit of me he anaesthetised was not the bit he took the sample from because I *screamed* and practically hit the ceiling when he did it. At this point he announced that he wasn't going to try and take the second biopsy sample: the man finally got wise.
I couldn't tell you how painful it was: my adrenaline was so high that my every nerve was jangling like a hundred bells. I think a bug could have bit me and I would have screamed. (It was more painful than that.)
We got to go home after that - walking wounded. I felt like I'd been run over, squashed flat, jumped on, assaulted. With instructions to return the following week. I went home and huddled under a blanket on the sofa and tried to blot out the world. My dad rang my mum in the States and suggested she be here for the appointment the following week. And so, bruised and scarred and scared I waited.
And so, that was the start, a start. The start of my journey through the last twelve months. Not the start of the cancer because that had been there, sneakily corrupting me for an unknowable amount of time - and that's why cancer is scary.

2 comments:

Jenn said...

Holy cow, Em! What a year -- please know I'm rooting for you from across the pond.

Where are you in London? I was a Shepherd's Bush kind of a gal. That sounds terribly dirty somehow.

Sepha said...

Thank you Jenn - props for being the first person to still have the courage/heart to respond after reading my spew.

I'm a Camden Town girl - all the potential of [a] Shepherds Bush without the fun name!