I felt the lump again. ‘It’s probably nothing,’ I said out loud. It wasn’t a hard lump but a knot of soft tissue under my arm. A wave of overwhelming doom made my knees buckle, I sat back on the bed.
I rang the doctors’ surgery. ‘Is it an emergency?’ the receptionist asked.
I thought for a moment. Is it?
‘Well … yes,’ I replied. She gave me an appointment for later that day. I wandered about the house, kept looking at the clock, didn’t get anything done.
‘I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,’ the doctor smiled. ‘But I’ll send you for a mammogram.’
My husband, Tony, came with me for the mammogram. We sat in a comfortable pink waiting room and read the newspapers. He made a cappuccino from the machine. The nurse’s hands were round and warm as she squeezed my breasts into the X-ray machine. ‘I’ll show these to Dr Wainwright,’ she said. I got dressed and returned to my newspaper – I didn’t want to look at the frightened faces of the other patients.
‘Doctor wants to do an ultrasound,’ the nurse with the warm hands said.
I lay on a narrow bed while Dr Wainwright squeezed cool gel on my chest and ran the ultrasound probe over it. The room was dark apart from the faint glow from her computer. Shadows fell on the walls like ghosts in the night.
‘There,’ she pointed to a haze of white on the screen. ‘I’ll do a biopsy, then we’ll organise a taxi to take it to the lab.’
Tony stayed home with me until the hospital rang. ‘Very sorry, but you have breast cancer.’ The words sounded so trivial and yet so profound and life changing. I tried to stay positive. Anyway, what could I do? Break down? Scream? I had to hold on tight to the belief that I was going to be alright.
The morning of my operation, Dr Wainwright and the surgeon gathered around my bed. ‘We’re going to do a larger operation than we originally planned,’ Dr Wainwright said. ‘We’ve decided to take the lymph nodes from under your arm, in addition to the lumpectomy. The lymph nodes are used to diagnose whether the cancer has spread outside the lump.’
I signed the form, leaving it to them to do whatever they thought might save me.
The next day my surgeon came to see me. He smoothed out the starched sheet and sat on my bed. ‘I’ve got the results of the lymph node biopsy. I’m afraid it’s bad news,’ he said. ‘Of the twelve lymph nodes I removed, six have cancer. I’ll arrange for you to see an oncologist. I expect he’ll recommend chemotherapy.’
I turned over and stared at the wall, waiting for Tony to arrive. My life was slipping away, like grains of sand falling through my fingers. The thought that I had cancer spreading through my body was terrifying. What if I died leaving my children without a mother? They were so young that there would come a time when they wouldn’t even remember me. I would be that photograph smiling back from the mantelpiece, a sad remnant of a woman who died long ago, never moved or put away since she left.
The oncologist talked in percentages and statistics, about improvements in life expectancy of five or ten years, his voice set in a monotone devoid of hope or compassion. What bloody good was five or ten years? I wanted to live, not wait it out. I wasn’t going to take on his fear or negativity.
The chemotherapy made me feel sick. I tasted its bitterness in the delicate lining of my nose and at the back of my throat. It made me feel like every cell in my body had been poisoned and that I had the most dreadful hangover, yet I hadn’t even had a glass of wine.
Mentally I had to pace myself. Six times, once every three weeks. I could manage that. I counted them off. Still, it was hard for me when all the hair on the top of my head fell out despite the torture of the cold caps. I always did care too much about my appearance.
‘Do you love me?’ I asked Tony whilst having the pinky-red chemotherapy dripped into my veins. The anti-sickness medication made me constipated for days and I became frail and weak. The more ill I became, the more I thought that if I died he might find a new wife; someone younger, thinner, better than me.
When my treatment finished, I was cast adrift. All the time I had been having hospital appointments, chemotherapy or radiotherapy I had been doing something positive to fight the disease. Now I floated about, waiting to see whether I would sink or swim.
I got myself a wig and went back to work. The boss came in to speak to me – a rare man who emanated kindness. ‘I had cancer some years ago,’ he said. ‘It changed me, made me a better person. I know it’s hard but you’ll be glad one day you’ve been through this, it’ll change you too.’
I smiled and I looked away. What good could ever come from thinking you might die?
Sitting in my office in the late afternoon, I noticed the rain trickling down the window. The sky was grey and the darkness came on earlier than usual
I thought about what he had said, and realised that cancer had changed me. The whole experience had made me stronger inside, as if I could cope with anything. The money and possessions I had, all the stuff, it meant nothing to me. The only thing that mattered was the people I loved.
I had a feeling that some destiny awaited me; that my life was mapped out in some way, and maybe when that destiny caught up with me, I’d remember about the cancer and things wouldn’t seem so bad.
Christine Lewry Bio:
Christine Lewry lives in Hampshire, England, with her husband and two youngest children. She worked in the defence industry as a finance director for twenty years before leaving to write full-time. Thin Wire: A mother’s journey through her daughter’s heroin addiction (Amazon Kindle US) or (Amazon UK) (memoir) is her first book. She now hopes to write a novel.
Please visit Christine’s website, follow her on Twitter@christinelewry, and on Facebook, and on Goodreads.
Sonia Marsh Says: Christine, what an honest and open account of what it’s like to go through the various stages of cancer from detecting a lump, waiting for biopsy results, then surgery and chemotherapy. I connected with you describing all the emotions you went through during the various stages. Your writing is open and honest and your positive message, made me realize that there are always lessons to be learned from every situation in life, even the ones we fear the most.
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Sonia Marsh says
I know your story will inspire so many readers. We all know someone who has had cancer, and some may be going through their own treatments right now.
Thank you. For me to inspire just one other person would be amazing. I have been free of cancer for 12 years now and having a positive attitude helped me to cope and, I believe, helped my body to heal. We don’t always ask for tough times to come our way, but when they do we have to find our inner strength and carry on, after all we are Gutsy women, mums, wives, sisters and daughters – others rely on us x
Richard Lawry says
Because of my work with the American Cancer society and Relay For Life, this story really made an impact on me.
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Richard Lawry recently posted..A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall
Sounds like you do some great work, keep it up! There are lots of people whose lives are affected by cancer. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my story 🙂
Liz B says
What an inspiring story 1 I, too, have had family and friends go through the chemo and radiation process, and have watched the changes in their life’s priorities. Thank you for sharing your story.
Liz B recently posted..He’s Got The Whole World…
Sometimes it’s as hard to watch someone suffer as it is to go through something yourself. I felt this when I watched my daughter give birth to her son in November 2012. This too was a life changing event in her life, and with it came another shift in her priorities. So glad you were inspired by my story x
My husband will be cancer free 10 years this year. He will tell you he’s grateful he went through it. It changed both our lives. Thank you for sharing your brave story.
Barbara recently posted..Can We Afford to Live 100 Years?
Without the fear of death and the pain of treatment most people probably wouldn’t change their lives- I know I wouldn’t have. Yet now, I would choose the pain again – I have come to view it as a struggle that made me stronger, more conscious and ultimately more alive. I have done things I’d never have dreamed of before cancer. I hope your husband has too x
Mary Gottschalk says
Christine .. I found you story very moving … I have recently returned from trekking in Nepal with Above and Beyond Cancer … 19 cancer survivors who’ve all fought — or are still fighting– the same battle you have gone through. Our trek relied o two metaphors for living with cancer … one climbing the mountain and the other the “journey” through a different world. I applaud your courage
Mary Gottschalk recently posted..Letting Go
The metaphor of a mountain to climb is very apt – it certainly seems that way when you’re trying to beat cancer. Also – a journey through a different world – I love that, for you can make a long, difficult journey with friends to show you the way x
Amy Hagerup says
Amazing story, Christine. thanks for sharing that. Very poignant. I’m so glad you came through all of that a stronger person.
Amy Hagerup recently posted..Desperate to Lose Weight? 5 Techniques to Strengthen Your Resolve
Thanks Amy – it definitely was the start of a journey to a stronger, more spiritual me 🙂
Paige Strickland says
Wow! Great story! Your boss had an interesting perspective. Hope all is better or you now. P.
I have been well for twelve years! Beating cancer made me more able to cope with other challenges I faced – my daughter’s drug addiction – very scary and out of my control. She has now been well for ten years x
C.S. Severe says
I too have recently discovered a lump and think that it’s probably nothing. Although I tend to lean toward a positive mind-frame, fear creeps in now and then. Your story inspires hope and a great love for life while putting all things in perspective. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
C.S. Severe recently posted.."Future" Problems
Hope you’ve had that lump checked out properly!
It’s so hard to stay positive ALL the time – those negative thoughts are going to creep in – but that’s okay, as long as they don’t stay there permanently!
Sending you some magical, loving thoughts for a positive outcome x
Sonia Marsh says
C.S. I hope you get checked and that it’s nothing. Thanks for coming over to respond to Christine’s positive message. All the best my friend.
Kathleen Pooler says
Thank you for sharing your brave story of how facing cancer helped you to gain perspective on what really matters. That is a gift in itself and sharing your uplifting story as you have will bring hope and healing to others facing the same. Sometimes our greatest obstacles do become our greatest blessings. As a fellow cancer survivor, I can relate. Wishing you continued good health!
Kathleen Pooler recently posted..The Power of Hope: A Guest Post by Ted Cole
Sonia Marsh says
Thank you Kathy for your comment to Christine. I agree with you that Christine’s story offers a positive message which I am grateful to read. I did not realize you were also a cancer survivor Kathy.
your story is very inspiring. I know you could get through it. Thank you for sharing this.
Thanks Dorothy – I did get through it 🙂 I have been well now for 13 years. Seen a lot of friends/ people I know affected by the same thing.
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