This week is Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week and the 27th September (today!) is Previvor Day so it seems the prefect time for me to add to my blog seeing as this is my first year of embracing being a ‘Previvor. Coincidentally, it’s also my beautiful daughter’s first birthday. And ultimately, my three babies are the reason I’m so determined to face my BRCA diagnosis and halt cancer in its tracks.
Shit got real for this Previvor over the past few months.
I experienced my first breast screening in the form of an MRI scan in June. Mammograms are not especially effective in younger women so MRIs are the screening method of choice. As a BRCA positive woman, yearly MRI screening is offered which is fantastic and incredibly reassuring – knowing that anything sinister wouldn’t be left undetected for too long. But along with this reassurance is the fact that screening forces you to consider the ‘what ifs’. What if they find something? What if it’s malignant? What if the worst that could happen is already happening without me even knowing?
That ‘what if’ plagued me throughout my wait for the MRI and the subsequent wait for my results.
I convinced myself there was something wrong. There was no basis for this conviction other than the familiar sense of dread I have whenever I’m forced to confront the reality of BRCA. I was fortunate that I had the very very best distraction whilst waiting for the results, in the form of a trip to Canada for my best friend’s wedding. A whole week of celebrations with people I love in a country that I love – what could have been better?
Here we are on her big day. What an honour it was to be by her side! This was also one of the final formal occasions my boobs will be attending so how lovely they got to wear a lush dress!
Amidst all the celebrating though, I found a lump. It’s the first time I’ve found a lump. I’ve thought about it, panicked about it, had nightmares about it. I’ve planned how I would react, what I would do, what I would think. But the reality of actually finding a lump is nothing like I imagined it would be.
I expressed milk the whole time I was away in an effort to continue feeding Chloe after I got home and so the rational part of my mind firmly wanted to pin the lump down as being a blocked duct. The less rational, panic prone part of my mind wandered off to pastures far less green though. Optimism deserted me. My glass wasn’t half empty – it was bone dry. I was so sure it was cancer. No reassuring words or mindfulness could sway me from that assertion.
When I landed back in the UK, I had a clear plan in mind for visiting the doctor as soon as possible to have the offending lump investigated. As it turned out, my plan was unnecessary. Turning my phone on whilst still standing on the plane , I had a voicemail from my breast care clinic telling me the MRI had shown a problematic area. It was the same area I’d found thd lump. I was being invited in for a follow up ultrasound.
I can’t put into words how hard I took this news. Any rational thoughts that tried to surface were silenced as absolute panic took over. I truly believed that cancer had got me before I got it. The week wait for my ultrasound was hideous – the longest week of my life. A week of thinking about the will I hadn’t written. If we would financially cope with me having to go through cancer treatment. How I would tell the children. What family gatherings would look like if I wasn’t there. How my family would look without me in the picture. How my children would grow up without their mother.
Because these are the thoughts that invade when you’re truly facing the prospect of cancer. And nothing, nothing can prepare you for that.
I began making pacts with myself. Looking for signs that everything was going to be ok. Finding a lost ring meant that the scan would be ok. Jack being shat on by a bird on the way to the clinic meant the scan was going to be ok. It was also bloody funny and provided a little light relief I desperately needed. I promised myself that if everything was ok, I would do something I had always wanted to do but that I had been too scared of. I lay awake at night telling myself that I needed to make more of an effort to appreciate everything and embrace each day. Days which aren’t guaranteed.
The scan was over quickly and the doctor was confident that there was nothing of concern in my breast tissue. “Lactational changes only”. He recommended another MRI after finishing feeding Chloe just to ensure there was a ‘baseline’ scan on record of my boobs before interference.
Walking away from the clinic I felt like a different person to the one who had walked in. A lighter, freer one. But it was tinged by a vague sense of guilt. I was walking away with an all clear which many women wouldn’t be lucky enough to recieve.
Cancer is a bastard. Even without it’s invasive presence, it is still present in my thoughts daily. The moment’s before I fall asleep. In my subconscious. And that is the exact reason that I HAVE to do every single thing I can to not allow cancer to take root any further than my thoughts. Never have I been more sure about the steps I am about to take or about the huge benefits they will bring to myself and my family.
I know its the best thing to do, the right thing. The safest thing. But I’ve finally found the fear of what’s to come as well. My surgeon suggested that I should join as many BRCA support groups as I possibly could to prepare myself for the physical and emotional effects of the surgery. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. And in many ways I wish that I hadn’t because I’m not even sure I want to know the intricacies of the surgery, the recovery. The scarring. The complications. The additional surgeries. The myriad of choices I’ll have to make. But I do feel far more prepared and prepared to ask all the questions I need to ask at my next appointment with my surgical team this Friday.
I appreciate how ‘big’ this all is and how real it’s all becoming. But no matter what the path ahead of me looks like, it is a brighter path than I would be facing if I hadn’t been tested, if I hadn’t found the mutation and if I hadn’t been offered potentially life saving surgical options. I’m a Previvor and proud.
So what did I do to celebrate my all clear? I got my nose pierced! Here’s Claire and I rocking our new nose piercings. Because life is too short and sometimes you need to just grab it my the balls and do something you’ve always wanted to do. And let’s face it. Surgery is going to leave me covered in scars, lacking sensation and quite possibly with life long pain. But at least my nose will be pretty and it will always be a reminder not to sink into the what ifs and despair of what might be. Because sometimes it’s not the awful news you convince yourself of.