Hearing the words “it’s cancer” was never something I worried about. Cancer has not affected my family at all and until this year I gave it little attention.
Yes, I did the odd charity walk and donated whenever anyone asked but it was never a concern. How my life was about to change.
As someone who has shied away from conventional medicine, suddenly I was in the thick of it. I run two complementary health centres and take full advantage of all they offer. I have been one of the healthiest people I know. I go years without a sick day. I sleep well, eat well, drink well (too much) and have plenty of energy, though I had noticed this did seem to be in a decline. But isn’t everybody tired this year?
“You have a 2.4cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma tumour”
I sat there, listened, probably smiled, I could tell the doctor was thinking I was handling this news too well but I had already decided how I was going to handle it. I hate crying in public, so there was little else for me to do really. Of course the tears flowed as soon as I got home.
Suddenly I needed to know everything. I am not the most trusting person so collecting this information was going to be tricky. The NHS is amazing, their ambition is to treat you as fast as possible, my ambition was to get the hell out of there. For many, the reality of a diagnosis and treatment within a week or so is ideal, for me this speed was terrifying and thankfully, I had the time to get my head around what was happening.
The best piece of advice I got was, “You do actually have time to work out what you want to do”. This was so hard to believe and it didn’t feel that way but it is true. The second best piece of advice was “Breathe”. This also came in handy and I needed to pause and breathe many times a day just to stop the tears and panic.
After that initial diagnosis I had 6 weeks of tests and results before a final decision was taken about action. While my family were beside themselves as to why this was taking so long, I breathed, cried and was thankful for the time. I was angry and scared. How can this be fair? How can my body be failing me again? What is the right thing to do? They want to remove my breast, are you fucking kidding me????
My cognitive function went out the window, I was extremely lucky to be able to stop work and take this time for myself, not something I was used to doing. The Internet was my saviour and my demon at the same time. I had complete information overload. Much of the information is of course hard to comprehend at best and possibly misleading and false. I learned which sources I trusted through a gradual process of simply feeling my way. ‘Things that are too good to be true, usually are’ has been one of my mottos my whole life. There are some pretty extraordinary claims out there about cancer cures on the one hand, and what felt like an old fashioned medical system on the other. I tried to find my truth somewhere in between.
For anybody reading this who is going through a cancer diagnosis right now, please know that you are in charge, please find the right medical support, collect all the information you need and then choose which way you want to handle this. There is nothing more important right now, than you. Easily written and I do fully appreciate that it is not easily done.
My battle was this: I do not believe our current medical system is very good at treating the person, only the disease, condition or symptom. I am a whole person and I want to treat and understand my body, illness and condition as a whole, not just the symptoms. In this case the symptom is cancer but how and why is she there? I needed to understand this somehow.
Little to no interest is given to why things have happened. This may not be of great importance in a life-threatening situation but for me it is part of the whole picture. Equally those in the alternative medicine world who suggest you need to clear past negative emotions can fuck right off too. Sorry dudes, some of the most supposedly enlightened people I have met are also the craziest. Again my way would be somewhere in the middle. I was on the hunt for a doctor who was interested in looking at the whole me.
A tool a therapist gave me years ago was to feel my way through difficult decisions. How could I do this when my emotions were out of control? Fear, anger and sadness were now a constant, and to top it off, anxiety (what a nasty piece of work she is) – not helpful at all.
Back to the facts:
I had not noticed a lump and in fact no doctor could feel what I could feel. I felt pain, what felt like a deep muscle pain, I was constantly trying to stretch my chest wall and whenever I had a massage, I wanted deep work across the front of my chest. I also often felt what seemed like a mobile phone vibrating in a pocket over my chest, when in fact there was no phone or pocket over my chest. The pain I am now sure was the cancer, the other sensations…who knows? The final straw and what drove me to the doctors was that every time my partner or friends went to give me a hug, I sunk my chest inwards to stop them hurting me, this cannot be good, I love giving and receiving a hug.
So off I went, the “good news” the doctor said was that “cancer is not painful, so it won’t be that”. I have been a body worker for 15 years, I am very bodily aware, I notice my pain and have a zero tolerance for it. I can’t believe anybody could miss this type of pain; it was not subtle or was it? Did my zero tolerance to discomfort save me in this scenario?
My advice to you all is to know your body, know what is normal for you. It is that simple. Then you have to pay attention to changes. For me, pain was new. I had never suffered with painful menstrual cycles. I haven’t a clue when I ovulate. My breasts were the same day in day out for years, until the beginning of 2016. What a shitty year 2016 has been. I am sure many of us toasted it’s farewell on the 31st.
The 2.4cm tumour turned out in fact to be a 10cm tumour, and not only was she infiltrating, she was also now invasive, worse news apparently. If you are wondering why I am referring to it as a she, I decided early on to accept my tumour as part of me, I created her somehow, but don’t get me wrong, I was also planning on killing her. But for me – she is a she.
The cancer had broken through the ductal walls and was now making her way through the breast tissue. This meant a mastectomy and reconstruction. My dreaded lumpectomy day surgery was turning into a 10hour surgery followed by 5 days in hospital and a minimum 3 months recovery period. But that is a whole other chapter.
There is so much more to share with you and I will continue to do this over the next few months. I will share things that helped me, things that didn’t help me – facts, fiction, and realities both good and bad. I am not an expert in any one field, I am super lucky to be surrounded by complementary health professionals and have the support of many loved ones who have helped me through the information overload. One website that I did refer back to again and again was Marni Clarke’s, a breast cancer coach who I found walked the line between complementary and allopathic care well. If like me, you are looking for ways of supporting yourself through breast cancer treatment, take a look at her website.
Much Love and Care