Posted in Life

Living though not loving the reality

I can distinctly remember a phone call I received from a close friend in late March 2012. I was on my way to Launceston to run a weekend class for my online students when my phone rang. My friend rang to tell me she’d discovered a lump in her breast and after some investigation had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I cried all the way to Launceston and had to admit to my students that I was a bit distracted. Because my friend lived over 1500kms from me I didn’t see her live with the reality of surgery and the subsequent treatment. I saw her recently and almost seven years later she’s looking the best I’ve seen her in ages. But the intervening seven years have had their ups and downs and while she doesn’t talk much about her experience I know it wasn’t easy.

I’ve just received my own breast cancer diagnosis and the reality of the experience has hit me in a way I wasn’t at all prepared for. No one ‘expects’ to get breast cancer and I don’t imagine it’s anything but a shock to all those who hear those words but it was so far from my mind as a possibility that it’s taken a bit to be even able to say: I have breast cancer.

When I discovered the lump I decided not to tell anyone about it, not even Tim, my husband. He was going through a stressful time at work and didn’t need this added stress at home. I made an appointment to have an ultrasound but couldn’t get an appointment for four weeks. It was a long and difficult four weeks but with the help of a playlist I’d made some time earlier on Spotify – a playlist I’d called sleep songs which consisted mainly of Enya songs – I managed to keep my mind calm and my increasing stress and anxiety from Tim.

Or so I thought. He was worried about the times I’d come home from work and head upstairs to have a nap but figured that my gym sessions were wearing me out more than usual.

I went to work, tried to not think about it, not dwell on it, but every morning in the shower I was reminded of the lump’s presence. A little voice in my head told me to go to the doctor, but I was convinced the process was that you go to Breastscreen first and if they find anything a process is then put in place. Over time, the physical discomfort grew, adding to the emotional and mental discomfort I was feeling. It wasn’t pain, but the discomfort was certainly increasing.

I asked Tom, my trainer, if muscle went that low in your chest. No, he said, it doesn’t. He looked at me a moment then asked ‘are you getting it checked out?’ I nodded. ‘Have you told Tim?’ I shook my head. We talked about it sporadically at my twice-weekly sessions. It helped, but talking sporadically didn’t get it off my chest. Figuratively or literally.

Finally, the day came. I went to the Breastscreen appointment on a Friday afternoon, turning my phone off so Tim couldn’t locate me through find my friends. If you’ve already found a lump, we can’t do a mammogram I was told. You have to go to your doctor and she’ll organise a more thorough examination. Four weeks of waiting, I thought ruefully. If only I’d listened to that voice in my head.

Luckily my doctor is easy to get to see and I made an appointment for Monday afternoon. I raced out of my second meeting of the day, turned off my computer screens, grabbed my bag and headed to the appointment, pleased I have a level of independence at work that didn’t require me to account for my whereabouts every minute of the day.

My GP is quietly spoken and calm. Yes, she said. It’s a lump. I’ll make an appointment for you to have a mammogram and ultrasound. She called one imaging place. Friday? I shook my head. She called another place. Tomorrow at 9:30? Yes please. Booked.

When Tim came home that evening I told him. It was much, much harder than I thought it would be.

Next morning he finished his early morning meeting in half the allocated time – due to being super organised – and was able to come with me.

Mammogram.

Ultrasound.

She lingered for quite a while over the lump.

We were out of there by 10:30. We were quiet on the way home and waited nervously for the result, not sure how long that wait would be.

Two hours, as it turned out. My GP rang and said she was sorry but she had potentially bad news. The radiologist’s report indicated the lump was ‘suspicious’ and that further investigation was needed. She’d made an appointment with a breast specialist for Thursday – I liked that she was super organised. Take someone with you, she said. Two sets of ears are better than one.

It meant a day and a half of waiting, of excruciating uncertainty, of tears and hugs and it’ll be alrights. Of possibilities flooding my mind, of endless what ifs. None of it helpful, but all of it normal I guess.

My request for sick leave was approved and I could at least relax a little knowing I didn’t have to worry about work as well.

Off to meet Alison in the city to watch the taping of The Yearly with Charlie Pickering. It was a good distraction, but dinner afterwards was difficult. We went to our usual place, but the food tasted like sandpaper, and our dribbles of conversation always came back to what-ifs and wonderings.

Wednesday. I called Deb, my sister, in the morning. She told me she’d dreamt about me the previous night and her sleep was so disturbed she’d had to get up and read at 4am, something she never does. If I hadn’t called her, she would have called me. It’s comforting to know our connection is still so strong.

Tim found a patch of rainforest in the Otways and we packed our lunch and headed there for the day. We always find consolation in trees and these trees were particularly consoling as they were very similar to the deciduous beech trees we were so familiar with from our many years in Tasmania. Little fagus-like leaves scattered across the forest floor took me instantly back to Cradle Mountain and I felt some of the tension dissolve from my body.

We drove home via the Great Ocean Road, so I had the double delight of trees and ocean on the same day. It was beautiful, all those trees and all that ocean, but the anxiety didn’t ever go away and potential outcomes flitted through my mind all day.

Thursday. My appointment with the breast specialist was moved from 9:30 to 11:20 – not long in the scheme of things, but the delay felt much more like 24 hours than slightly less than 2. I was instantly put at ease when we met her though. She exuded confidence and compassion, and patiently answered our questions. If the result was positive, I would have surgery to remove the lump on January 15. I’d have an overnight stay in hospital, some weeks recovering, then further treatment starting six weeks later depending on the status of my receptors. A good outcome was to be oestrogen positive and HER2 negative. That would most likely mean radiotherapy but no chemo. 

But in the meantime, given the suspicious nature of the lump, I needed a biopsy – my super organised GP had organised that too, for 2pm that afternoon.

We wandered to a nearby cafe for lunch feeling more relieved than we’d felt in a few days. At least we knew what the process would be, even if we didn’t yet know the outcome. We had information – something objective and real to hold on to. And I had a glimmer of hope.

A mini-faint after the biopsy but otherwise it was a no fuss, though not at all pleasant, procedure. The nurses, Nina and Athena, were lovely. Very caring, one rubbing my ankles as the biopsy was being performed and the other noticing the pain on my face when the needle went beyond where the anaesthetic had reached. Two samples would have to do. A wet washer for my forehead, a fan to cool my body, the sheet off my feet, the blood pressure cuff wrapped around my arm, an icepack on my breast and after a few minutes all was right again. Athena went to get Tim and we went home to wait some more. The specialist had said she’d call on Monday with the result.

Friday. I stayed in bed for most of the day, Enya playing through my headphones, my mind not at all calm, but the music did help. Tim swapping the icepacks regularly – one warmed on me while the other cooled in the freezer. No phone call, no matter how desperate I was to hear. By the afternoon I’d convinced myself I was going to get the all clear.

Saturday. No run club for me this morning. No swelling or bruising from the biopsy though, so that was good. I’ve learnt to rest properly and not feel bad about spending time in bed. My two hospitalisations in the last two years have convinced me of the importance of rest for proper recovery. We had some last minute Christmas shopping to do, so slowly ambled down to the Hawthorn shops. Tim went for a coffee while I let my eyes wander over the books in Readings. My phone rang. It was the breast specialist. The report was in and she told me the result. It wasn’t what I’d wanted to hear. Did I want to come in to see her that afternoon? Yes please, I did, very much.

Again she was all compassion and confidence, answering our questions patiently. The surgery was booked in for the 15th. It meant I could still go to Tassie for Christmas, then to Queensland for the first week of January with one of my granddaughters to visit family.

I remember snatches of what she said as we drove home: my receptors are the ‘good’ ones, the lump is slow growing, it’s not life threatening, I won’t need a mastectomy, it’s treatable, I’ll have a radio oncologist and a medical oncologist, I’ll have a sentinel node biopsy meaning they put radioactive material into my chest and track it with a geiger counter to know which lymph nodes to remove, the second week of recovery will be worse than the first week, take as much time as you need/can to recover, hormone therapy, radiotherapy, possibly no chemo … if you’re going to get breast cancer, this is the one to get.

I feel fortunate.

And not.

At least I know now, the uncertainty is over. I know the process, I know that the cancer will be removed from my body, that I’ll have a good medical team providing excellent care, that I won’t lose my breast, that I may not lose my hair, that the cancer will be gone.

Fortunate.

I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life before, I have a tremendously supportive and capable husband, I have an excellent specialist, and I have a beautiful array of family and friends who will do what they can to care for me.

Sunday. I decide to tell the children. They all live in different states to me so that means five phone calls. It’s interesting how differently they reacted to the news. I let them know there’s a little bit of bad news but then some better news. None of them were expecting this particular piece of news. Ben makes me laugh by telling me about something he’d supposedly read in a medical journal last week. Daniel’s voice deepens with concern and I know to tell him as much information as possible. Rochelle is shocked into not being able to say very much at all. It’s hard for her to take in and she goes quiet in that way she does when she’s processing difficult information. Chase tells me he loves me through his tears. Emma offers to come over to support me through my recovery, cries when it’s time to say goodbye, and I hear ‘love you Mum’ before the phone hangs up.

I also tell Mum. It’s safe to say it came completely out of the blue for her too. She’s with my brother for Christmas and I’d warned him I was calling her with some news. He called me afterwards to let me know she’s okay and to get some more details. The telling makes it more and more real but also re-emphasises the positives. It’s not life-threatening. It’s slow growing. It’s treatable. The outcomes are good.

I am fortunate.

I am worn out by the telling and re-telling and admit to bouts of crying throughout the afternoon as my emotional energy dwindles.

It’s been a big week!

Stick with me over the coming weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll write more about this particular journey, but I just might. It might help me work through what I’m going through and it might help others too in the sense of coming to more clearly know it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m not actually sure about that part of it, but that’s my hope.

I’m fine – tired but otherwise fine – and I know I’m in good hands. I have a great medical team, good access to all the services I need, and just as importantly, if not more importantly, I’m surrounded by warm, caring and generous family and friends.

 

Author:

I like to travel and take photographs. I like to blog about both.

32 thoughts on “Living though not loving the reality

  1. Hi Sharon,
    I came over from your sister Deb’s blog…and am glad I found you, although at a difficult time for you. This is your journey, and you need to process through it as feels right to you. And I so agree, having the supports in place as you do will make it easier. But not ok. Rest when you need to, talk about it or write about it if it helps – or not if it doesn’t.
    When you are past the worst, and onto feeling more yourself again, I look forward to reading your blog – as well as Deb’s.
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
    Nancy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Nancy … I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. Deb has some truly wonderful blogging friends and I’m very grateful that so many of you have popped over to my blog and left supportive messages.
      Thanks so much 🙂
      Sharon

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing. I have a much deeper understanding of both the emotional journey and the medical one having read your blog. So many people go through this all in silence. 😟 Since 80% or so (not a scientific fact – just my theory) of our health is how we think, I’d say 🙂 keep your head strong, just as you are! Best wishes.
    PS a friend of Debbie’s who reads lots of blogs but doesn’t usually leave a comment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by Fran – I really do appreciate your comment, particularly if it’s not part of your usual practice. Deb has a lot of really lovely blogging friends and I can tell why she loves this community so much.
      I did consider going through this in silence and I still wonder if I should have – but it’s out now and in many ways I’m pleased it is. It’s so easy to keep this kind of information tucked away and that means others can’t benefit from another’s experience.
      All the best,
      Sharon

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Sharon, I’ve not visited your blog before but I have formed a firm friendship with your sister, Deb. Words aren’t adequate and times like these but the outlook is positive so you need to keep the focus on that and also be kind to yourself. I can remember when my Mother was diagnosed back when I was 18 years old (I’m 61 now). There are so many emotions that you and your loved ones feel aren’t there? Knowing you have love and support is a great help to you and I wish you all the best. The waiting must have been excruciating but at least you know what you are dealing with and it sounds like your GP and other doctors are on top of it all. Take care and I’m sending positive thoughts and a big hug from Brisbane. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Sue – Deb talks about you quite a bit so I almost feel like I know you. I often see your comments on Deb’s blog and know that she values you highly. Thanks so much for reading my post and leaving a comment – I really do appreciate it.
      I wrote a post some time ago about how I’ve always tended to jump into Deb’s communities and benefitting from their support and generosity in allowing me to do that – and here I am doing it again!
      The waiting is excruciating, but I’ve had a lovely Christmas with lots of my children and grandchildren in Tassie and then been able to spend time with my mother, brother, my youngest son, other grandchildren and assorted family members north of Brisbane so I’ve had lots of distractions and love and support. I am very fortunate indeed. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I came here from Debbie’s blog, as I respect her and what she writes about and wanted to show my rather distant and virtual support for you. Both of you. Your approach to this is very strong, and I wish you the luck and strength to overcome this. I’m sure I’ll hear more from Debbie’s blog, but am now following you too. Lots of luck, and take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Clive. It’s really lovely of you to pop over to my blog and leave such a supportive comment. I appreciate it so much – Debbie really does have beautiful blogging friends!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Sharon I’ve come over via Deb’s blog. I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis however it sounds like your health care team is excellent and a positive prognosis. I’ll be sending positive energy for your journey and wishing you strength in the months ahead.
    Sue

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sue. Yes, I am blessed to live where I do and have access to great medical support. I can confidently put myself in their hands knowing I’ll be fine. Thanks for coming over from Deb’s blog – I really do appreciate it 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve come to your blog via your sister’s most recent blog post, what a dreadful way to end the year. It does sound as if the prognosis is good and that it has been caught in good time. You are in very good hands with an excellent, efficient medical team behind you and a close and loving family to support you, so keep concentrating on those positives. Wishing you all the best for a successful surgery.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Debs … not long to go now. I am indeed fortunate – both medically and in terms of my family. And I feel extra blessed that so many of Deb’s blogging friends have shown their support of us both by reading my blog and leaving a comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Sharon,
    I cried when I read your post. I know you from the gym where we sweat and grunt our way through the crazy antics the PT’s devise, and I’ve always liked your quiet, steady determination.
    I have read your blog for a while now, enjoying your expressive and fluid way of writing and your accompanying superb photography.
    I have another close girl friend going through breast cancer right now too, although I have no personal experience of it.
    All I can offer is support and a friendly face if you need a chat or anything else. You’re strong and the gym will have helped that dramatically. You’ve also got onto this early by the sounds of it. You may not be at the gym but I will be sending love and strength and I know I’ll see you back these just as soon as you’ve got on top of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Kate … lovely to read your comment. No doubt I’ll be back at the gym in no time – well that’s my hope, but I do know to take it easy so that I recover fully. There are lots more runs to do in 2019 and beyond!! See you at the gym some time 🙂

      Like

  8. Wow. the power of writing it out is amazingly good but also emphasises exactly what it has been, will be and could have been as you wrote so darned well! I am a blogging friend of Deb’s so it as through her that I read your blog news about your cancer. I blog about my cancer (oral- Head & Neck) and the on-line support is so helpful as well as the posts giving me a chronological story! Wishing you well as you face what’s ahead. You have some great people caring for you professionally by the sound of things & of course close & loving family. Denys

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Denyse … thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and to leave a comment. I could get used to this reading and responding to comments thing – no wonder Deb loves her blogging community so much. You’re all very supportive.
      I’ve been over to your blog and now that I’m home from seeing family before my surgery I’ll spend more time reading of your experience and gleaning as much information as I can about the emotional roller coaster I’m on … I’m hoping that’s a normal part of the experience.
      Thanks again for letting me know about all the online support available …
      Sharon

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello sharon,
    I follow you since you use your colorful flower photograph for my company in Barcelona. My name is Patty. I am HR2 + surrounded by Luminal A and Luminal B. With the mastectomy already done in my left breast. I have gone through the process with chemotherapy included (16 terrible chemo). I’m sorry you have to go through this. If you need help or ask someone who takes you a year and a half to go, this is my mail plluch@withoutfilters.es in my particular profile of instagram @patty_withoutfilters tell the whole process to make it visible. Now I am dedicated to helping newly diagnosed girls or those who do not know how to face it. If you need any questions, do not hesitate to ask me. Once you start you will see that your emotions are like a fair attraction and it gives you the feeling that nobody around you speaks your language. Everything will pass. Later or earlier it happens. Take care and take care of yourself because breast cancer is that unknown that when you relax you can be dangerous to life. I do not know what habits you have, food and sports help to avoid recurrence and to have your body help radio and chemo. Basically eliminates sugar altogether (any type of sugar), stress, alcohol and tobacco. Swell with fruits and vegetables, ginger and curcuma-like spices. Red fruits and a lot of hydration. Take care of your skin of the radio with creams because it ends up burned and resentful if you do not. Ask your radiologist how to help. There is a book on nutrition that is fairly well known about feeding in our cases that is Odile’s. Google it. In short, unfortunately we are many. Support yourself a lot in your family and friends. Ask for everything you need, do not want to be brave. I wish you strength to accompany you A hug

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much for your support Patty. I really appreciate it – and the information you’ve provided. There were things I hadn’t known about so I’m thankful for the information. I’ll be sure to reach out when I have questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing, Sharon. You are often in my thoughts though I have been off the grid a bit the past 2 years. Rest as much as you are able. The reflections that come at times like this are enlightening. A year ago I had melanoma surgery on my arm.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I cried again reading this, hopefully it helps you sort things out in your mind. You are fortunate, you’re fit and healthy and have lots of loving caring family and friends, so reach out whenever you need to. Lots of love coming your way and I’ll see you soon xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I too have shed tears reading this Sharon. It came as a shock when Jen told me but reading your blog has cemented the reality of you having breast cancer. Stay positive Sharon as I know that it most important from Aunty Lyn’s fight with her cancer 🙏

      Liked by 2 people

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