Thursday, 15 October 2009

Baps, buns and cupcakes

Today I thought I would talk a little bit about me.

"But you always talk about you."

Well ... yes ...   But ... ummm ... errr ....    Oh yes, but in fairness Bridget always talks about herself in her diary ...

"Yeah, but then again Bridget talks about her friends, her social life, her job ... oh and the handsome Daniel Cleaver and the gorgeous Mr Darcy ..."

Ok - so I guess it is time to introduce you to the two new, and important, men in my life ...

Today I thought I would talk a bit about me.  No, not the mad ramblings in my brain, but a bit about me and what is actually happening to get me on to the road to recovery and hopefully back to normality.  First of all we will need to rewind.  Not for too long and too much as I don't like reflecting on the first few weeks when I was diagnosed as they were really really grotty.  However, I do think it is time to look at the nitty gritty - or should that be the titty gritty? 

Right, before you switch off and do-something-far-more-interesting-instead then please don't.  I am not going get too detailed here - there isn't going be anything scary or gruesome.  Just imagine that you and I have just parked our butts on one of those lovely leather sofas in Starbucks and just getting comfy.  We've both got lattes ... and cake.  Yours is chocolate, as you prefer that, and I've got carrot cake with that lovely frosted topping. So let me begin.

Back to August - my GP has referred me to the hospital.  I turned up at the Breast Care Unit (BCU) to see the Breast Care Consultant.  I am going to call him Dr Jordan - cos he's the boob man - get it? Look, try to keep up - I am trying to make this as simple as I can!  Dr Jordan said: "Looking at your history and age I don't think that this is a cancerous tumour, but a cyst.  I am going to send you for a mammogram and an ultrasound to make sure." 

Mammograms are usually routinely offered to women over 50 (though the Government has just this week reduced this to 47) as mammograms are not as efficient at diagnosing problems in younger women.  This is because younger breasts are denser.  But this does not mean that mammograms are a waste of time.  They are offered to older women for a reason and it is something they should take up.  It also means that younger women, i.e. pre-menopausal women, who are given a mammogram should not take the results as absolute and continue to do manual checks too (think back to Kylie) or have other tests, such as an ultrasound.

And ... whilst we are on mammograms ... I would just like to clarify they do not always hurt.  Apparently lots of women who are entitled and who are invited to have a mammogram refuse to have one because they have heard rumours that mammograms are painful.  Well, at that point in time Yukky Lump was really tender and the thought of a mammogram was equivalent to some kind of Japanese torture.  But for me it was OK.  I can't even say it was uncomfortable - let alone painful.  Please ... if you, your mother, grandmother, or aunt, puts off a mammogram due to fear of it hurting then please go, or encourage them to go ... the bark is worse than the bite.

After my mammogram I went to see the doctor in ultrasound - he has a small walk-on part at the moment so I am just going to call him Dr Ultrasound.  The ultrasound is like what they do when you are expecting a baby.  Except they are hunting the lump not checking the bump. Dr Ultrasound didn't tell me very much - perhaps because he didn't say very much - but I knew something was very very wrong.  I went back to see Dr Jordan and, although he couldn't confirm there and then that it was definitely bad news, he said that it wasn't looking good and from the tests he could certainly tell me it wasn't a cyst.  He told me to come back in seven days - actually I asked if he could make it six days as I was supposed to go on holiday a week later.  I returned to the BCU for that scheduled appointment and that was when Dr Jordan told me something that he and I had known all along ... that it was indeed breast cancer. And I didn't get to go on holiday.

Dr Jordan described to me how big the tumour was, its location, the grade, and then went straight into his spiel.  He told me that I would need to have a mastectomy - where they remove the whole breast - and then have chemotherapy - probably followed by radiotherapy.  I felt totally numb all the way through his briefing.  Until  ... until he said: "But there may be another option as the good news is you are big busted." 

It was as if Paul McKenna had clicked his fingers as I suddenly jumped out of my breast-cancer-news induced shock.  I suddenly sat up bolt upright in my chair, crossed my legs, and started to nod my upper foot up and down just very slightly.  I discreetly hid the crumpled and snotty tissue in my hand under my thigh.  I tipped my head and flirtatiously gazed at him with large doe-like eyes through my wispy fringe - think Princess Di - and in a raspy seductive tone, lifting my eyebrow slightly (think Samantha from S&tC) - said: "Well Dr, that certainly isn't the first time a guy has said that to me."

OK so I didn't.  But honest to God I thought it.  To the man who five minutes earlier had delivered the most horrific and devastating news that I have yet to be told in my whole life.  Can you believe it?  But then something else happened which has never happened before either.  For the first time, possibly ever, my brain got to my mouth before it had chance to open and shouted a very loud and resounding "No!"  And, just as amazingly, my mouth obeyed.  All that came out was a quiet and subdued: "Oh right".  He went on to say: "But I am a Breast Consultant, I do breasts.  You will need to see the Oncologist, he does cancer."  Hey, I guess you can tell who pulled the short straw out of you two.  But I didn't say that either...

And then we were whizzed off on the next bit of the "Welcome to Breast Cancer Induction".  The Breast Care Nurse (BCN) ushered us out of that consulting room, down the corridor, to another consulting room.  Now for those of you in the 21st Century I want you to imagine that this takes place at about 6x, maybe 12x, on your Sky Plus. 

For those of you who still in the 20th Century it is the fast forward button on your video.  "Right", she starts, "there are three important things I need to tell you.  Firstly, we never lie.  We tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Secondly, I advise that you don't look back.  You don't look forward.  But you treat each day as it comes. Concentrate on the moment.  Thirdly, .....".  Thirdly .....

Honestly, I can't remember.  But there was definitely a third.  Perhaps it was "I want to you to listen and remember everything I say."   She went on to talk about practical things.  "Your hair will fall out.  It will grow back.  It will grow back thicker, stronger and possibly curly."  Well, every cloud ...  She then went on to book an appointment for the mastectomy surgery.  As well as a pre-surgery appointment. And a post-surgery appointment.  "Of course we will cancel all these and arrange the chemo dates if you have the chemotherapy first", she said breezily.  BCN then went on to ask: "Would you like to see some photos?  Photos of women who have had surgery? Dr Jordan does great breasts you know and absolutely sooo-per nipples". 

And I did it again.  Perhaps it was the shock.  Or perhaps I have a very deep and hidden sense of black humour which had just come to the fore.  I suddenly had this image of Dr J standing in his large beautiful country cottage kitchen - handcrafted oak with granite worktops - in his green operating scrubs - but with a chef's hat balancing on his head.  In his hand is not a surgical knife but an icing bag ... and he carefully squeezing fondant pick icing to form nipple shapes on to little buns. "Hey, Dr J you could top up that consultant's salary with a bit of pin money you know? Handmade specialty cakes - apparently there is quite a demand for them." The BCN asked me again: "Do you want to look at some photos?" I declined - I preferred my own images sourced by that vivid imagination of mine.

About fifteen years ago a colleague of mine who had worked in hospitals for many years told me a joke. "What is the difference between God and a Consultant? God never thinks he is a Consultant." It is the only joke that I remember.  Which is a shame, because as we see fewer and fewer James Robinson-Justice/Sir Lancelot Spratt type consultants it is not very funny these days.  And it certainly isn't when I am talking about my Oncologist - Dr O.  Now you are thinking that I have called him Dr O because he is an Oncologist.  But that is not the case.  He is called Dr O because every time I talk about him I say: "Dr O, my Oncologist, oh-he-so-so-luv-ver-ley".  Not just once, lots and lots of times.  But the funny thing is that when I am asked at the hospital who my Oncologist is every female enquirer responds with: "Oh, Dr O, he is sooo luv-ver-ley".

From my appointment with Dr Jordan until I saw Dr O was 197 hours. That week and one day was really painful.  I didn't sleep very much, and, when I did, I would often wake and cry, hysterically, driving myself to panic attacks.  When I was awake I got terrible dizzy spells due to the lack of sleep and the incredible stress.  I put the dizzy spells down to the brain tumour which they were bound to find on the MRI scan which I was sure they were going to make me have done (vivid imagination me). My appointment with Dr O was at 7.45pm.  The very last appointment of the day.  By the time I went in it was 8.45pm.  I thought it was very ungentlemanly for Dr O to keep me waiting over an hour for our first rendezvous.  In fact, to be truthful that last hour finished me off and by the time I went in to the consulting room I was bordering on hysteria.  No, actually by the time I went in I WAS hysterical.  The poor chap was sitting there thinking that he was coming to the end of a long and tiring day ... and then I walked in.  But Dr O, because he is oh-so-so-luv-ver-ley, was a total trooper.  He put any thought of a Chinese takeaway and a glass of wine - or do you think that he might be more of a fresh-tuna-salad-and-a-glass-of-pomegranate-juice type of chap - and turned his attention 100% to me and how we were going to get rid of Yukky Lump.

"Now as you are rather big busted" he started. No. I didn't think it.  I was far too distraught.  My wicked and mischievous sense of humour had evaporated. "So you might like to consider having chemotherapy first to try and reduce the lump.  That way we might be able to do a lumpectomy, which means surgery would be less severe than having a mastectomy."  I said to him: "Dr, I am in your hands".  Which actually at that particular point in time was in fact true in more ways than one - I guess he didn't pull that short straw after all ... 

"Well", he replied, "I think we should try the chemo first". So we are. And, just to let you know that on neither of the two occasions that we have met has Dr O suggested the MRI scan ... well not yet anyway ... I think he has already realised what an emotional and sensitive little soul I am.

Before I wrap up I want to thank all my lovely friends who have I seen over the last week or so, leading up to today's chemo number 3.  Your time and company was both loved and much appreciated.  In particular, I want to mention my friend who I am going to call Little Miss Sweaty Jockstrap.  Now only the handful of friends who came to the super little soiree that she arranged and held earlier this week will know what that means - but it is my little revenge to the fact she has shared some photos of me with a few of our colleagues.  Me, who hates having my photo taken at the best of times, sitting in her living room, wearing my new and practical, albeit not very sexy, Baker Boy hat. 

Now, the super Little Miss SJ has not stopped at the soiree but has also been planning a number of events to raise awareness and cash for breast cancer care.  Earlier this month she kicked them off by baking some cakes to sell to our colleagues for a donation to charity.  On asking her how it went she said well, but had to confess that she was rather heavy handed and they had turned out much bigger than she planned. 

Now, just after I was diagnosed I e-mailed some of my colleagues to say that although I was out of sight I certainly didn't want to be out of mind and they needed to keep in contact with me.  So I want to take this opportunity to say a special thanks to Little Miss SJ because ... well let's face it ... whilst she is handing out large, pink, D-cup cupcakes around our place of work then there ain't no chance of anyone forgetting me.

That's because I am apparently "rather big busted".  Well, so I have been told ... more than once in my life.


  1. puts me in mind of a comment from a certain film involving a bunch of ladies of 'more mature years' ... realising they were going to need ... 'some bigger buns' .......LOL B xxxxxxxx
    ps you may be out of sight - you will never be out of mind xxxxx

  2. Loving the blog Paula, just caught up on the last 2 entries, and yes please I'll join you on the sofa for a coffee and slice of cake!!Hope you're not feeling too rough after yesterday. xXx"

  3. Absolutely fantastic Paula, really cheered me up thank you will be watching for the next instalment.

    take care love T xxx

  4. I just want to point out that mammograms do hurt some women. In the US, you get your baseline at 35, and it didn't hurt me at all. But when I began perimenopause my breasts started getting very tender and lumpy - and yes, my next mammogram was excruciating. And, I'm not a person who feels a lot of pain and I don't mind medical tests. I avoided it after that, and here I am with cancer. So, I think the advice should be, yes, it may hurt you, but do it anyway! I sure wish I had.

    Now, where is that latte and cake?

  5. I love reading your blog Auntie Paula :)..Tea & cake soon?! and possible a walk!!xxx

  6. Hi Paula, after one of your blogs when you firmly said if you find a lump, get it checked out... well I did and went to the Breast care unit. Your description was spot on and no, the mammogram didn't hurt (my mum said it would!). I also had a scan but thankfully all is well. I just wanted to say thank you for making me go and for such a great blog xx


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