It is exactly one month today since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A month ago I had never spent a night in hospital, never had an operation, never had an illness more serious than shingles and had only 2 1/2 sick days in 7 years of full-time employment. One month later, I’ve had my first operation, effectively moved back in with my parents at age 29 and am about to spend the next 8 months or so in and out of bed and various different hospitals.
I discovered the lump on February 4th, the first day of my surfing holiday in the paradise resort of Itacaré in the northeast of Brazil. Of course my first thought was that it could be cancerous, but I knew it could wait a week until I got back to Argentina. A few days later I got food poisoning from a dodgy Brazilian feijoada stew and, after projectile vomiting into a bush outside the petrol station and then waiting several hours in the fly-ridden, 40-degree-C, sweaty waiting room of the local public hospital, I decided it was definitely best to wait til I got back to Argentina to have the lump checked out, rather than whap the baps out there and then.
Back in the office the following week, I fought back the tears in a meeting room after calling 10 different clinics from my private health insurance directory and being told none of them could fit me in until March, by which time I was planning to have left the country and be temporarily unemployed (with no private health insurance) in Ireland. I finally found myself in the emergency room of a private hospital in Buenos Aires on Tuesday 14th February, a date more commonly known as Valentine’s Day. Not for me the romantic, candle-lit dinner for two – no, that day I would mostly be getting my breasts out for two 60-something greying male Argentine doctors. (Which reminds me, I still need to get in touch with them about their misdiagnosis…).
After an ultrasound and a mammogram all that same day, the Argie doctor took me into his office and told me I needn’t worry, that my lump didn’t appear to be a tumour and they were ‘almost certain’ it was nothing. My eyes welled up with tears when he told me that. For some reason, I had expected it to be bad news, and in a way I almost didn’t believe it, but over time I became satisfied with the decision and thought nothing more of it until 4 1/2 months later, when I was finally diagnosed in Ireland.
I have often found that when I live away from the UK, I develop better relationships with the people I know and love back home (family and friends) because I am better at keeping in touch by writing than by phone or in person. In that same vein, I have found that the best thing about the past month has been getting to know relatives who I didn’t really know before, and friends near and far who have sent me wonderfully supportive messages every day. Of course I already knew I had fabulous friends and family, but there have been a few nice surprises and one or two relationships that have grown stronger through writing this blog.
The diagnosis has definitely sunk in, one month later. This weekend I have been in a semi-comatose state, a bit like that week on the Amazon boat in 2001 when I overdosed on sleep-inducing travel-sickness pills to keep me from puking over the side of my constantly swaying hammock. After one of the most tiring weeks, it’s a bit like I’ve been hit with a mallet and I’m wondering whether someone slipped sleeping pills into my tea on Friday. I obviously have a lot of catching up to do.
The good thing is the weather has taken a turn for the better, with things looking up for my birthday celebrations in London next weekend. Dublin and Shepley are still pretty gloomy, but at least one sunshine in the 7-day forecast is more than I can ask for.