This time exactly 365 days ago, a couple of days after the above picture was taken, I heard the words no-one ever wants to hear.
After finding a small, gristly lump at the end of April I’d taken myself straight to my GP as I just ‘knew’ it was something – it felt very different from any of the other lumps (and there had been many) that I’d found before.
The kind doctor had checked my notes before examining me and probably sighed a bit after noting how many times I’d visited over the past few years.
‘It’s nothing to worry about’ she reassured me after poking and prodding my chest and armpit about a bit ‘I’ll bet you my wages it’s completely normal’.
(She still owes me actually)
Because it WAS something to worry about, as I found out on the 13th July 2016. A date that will stay with me for the rest of my life. A date that barged its way in between all the other memorable dates that reside in my memory – the kids birthdays, our wedding day, the day I found out I had cancer.
I don’t want to remember it, but I do. In crystal clear detail.
A receptionist had called my mobile earlier in the day to move my appointment from its planned time at 6pm to earlier in the day at 3pm. Alarm bells immediately rang.
‘Why are you moving it’? I asked
‘Oh it’s nothing to worry about’ (that phrase again) ‘We’ve had a cancellation and so can fit you in earlier’
I hung up and sat at my desk gnawing my nails. I consulted the only source I knew would give me the answers I craved.
*Reasons why hospital appointments are moved*
*Chances of an ‘inconclusive’ biopsy turning out to be cancer*
*Life expectancy after breast cancer*
*Top funeral songs*
The atmosphere in the waiting room at the Breast Unit did little to soothe my jangled nerves. Appointments usually run about 45 minutes late there. I knew this, but still arrived ridiculously early in the hope someone would take pity on me and see me early.
Stuart and I sat side by side in terrified silence for the best part of an hour, gripping each others cold clammy hands and jumping every time a nurse walked into the waiting area, hoping the next name she called out would be mine.
Most ladies were escorted to a small side room and deposited there. Shortly afterwards the allocated consultant would march in, clasping a fistful of sheets of A4 paper. A couple of minutes later the door would burst open, the consultant would bound out and briskly move onto the next side room, and the occupants of the room would stroll into the reception area looking happy and relieved, ready to head back into the sunshine and their life as they knew it.
However, a couple of the ladies were taken into a larger room by a kind looking nurse who stayed with them. The consultant would knock politely before sheepishly entering the room and then stay there for some time. The ladies would come out with tissues clamped to their red puffy eyes, faces crumpled like paper. Lives changed irreversibly.
Please God let me be taken into a small room. Please God let me be taken into a small room…
I jumped up and searched the nurses face for any sign of concern or sympathy. Nothing.
‘How are you today Joanne?’ she asked.
‘Ummm, you know’ I replied, somehow managing to put one foot in from of the other, moving away from the comfort of the waiting area…
…towards one of the big rooms.
My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. This couldn’t be happening.
Except it was.
The room was large, beige and very impersonal. Chairs were arranged around the room in a semi-circle and a vintage computer monitor was perched atop a mahogany MDF desk.
The nurse sat on one of the chairs opposite Stuart and I, avoiding eye contact and watching the door intently.
Luckily we weren’t kept waiting long, and the bearer of my bad news shuffled into the room pretty much as soon as we had sat down.
The consultant flicked through his sheets of A4 almost nervously.
‘I’m so sorry Mrs Price, unfortunately the area of tissue they removed was, in fact, a breast cancer’
If this was an EastEnders episode they’d play the ‘doof doofs’ now.
I’d like to tell you that at this moment the world tilted off its axis. That I passed out through fear. That I was sick all over the floor through the shock of it all. That I cried hysterically about the unfairness of it all.
But I was actually quite calm. Weirdly calm.
I managed to ask all the right questions and get the information I needed to fully process the news I’d be given.
‘What grade was it?’
‘Was it hormone positive?’
‘Did they get clear margins?’
Words I never thought I’d ever have to verbalise were flying out of my mouth. I was on autopilot. Something had switched inside my brain and I knew that taking complete control of my shit-uation was the only way I’d be able to cope, mentally and physically.
The obligatory Facebook ‘announcement’ came a few days later, after watching this inspirational video by Sophie Sabbage (author of ‘The Cancer Whisperer’). I knew I needed to let people know what was going on, but didn’t want to have to face people’s pity, or deal with anybody else’s emotions when I hadn’t quite got to grips with my own. Cancer is a pretty lonely adventure.
‘You’re so brave’ I was told over and over again. But I didn’t feel brave, in the slightest. In fact, I’m not quite sure what the word ‘brave’ means or how it applies to anyone going through an illness. Cancer is just something that was thrust upon me. It entered my life uninvited and unannounced. I didn’t selflessly volunteer to get it and wish more than anything that it hadn’t happened.
But it did, and this time a year ago I never, ever would have imagined I’d be where I am today.
Who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing this time next year?
It’s time to start making some new memorable dates.