Monday, 22 November 2010

When ‘C’ is the common denominator ...

Back in January I went to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. As I was wandering around the store I caught sight of my reflection. It was really was one of my worse times ... both mentally and physically. My bare scalp was covered by one of my trademark Baker Boy caps ... my eyebrows had long gone ... and there was nowhere to apply my mascara. My treatment had finished but my consultants were trying to prepare me for the possibility of a mastectomy ... not something we had aimed for... and something I certainly didn’t want.

As I took the items out of my trolley and put them on the conveyor belt the lady behind the till stopped ‘pinging’ my goods and looked up at me. “Are you having chemotherapy?” she enquired. I was so cheesed off that I was tempted to snap “What is it to you?” But I didn’t ... I just affirmed I was. “I hope you don’t mind me asking” she said, “but that was me last year. Breast cancer?” I looked at her, astonished. She looked so well ... so healthy ... and I told her so. “What about the chemo ... did it work?” I asked urgently. She replied it had. “So what about surgery, did you have a lumpectomy?” “No, no” she replied. “I just wanted the whole thing off. Get rid of the breast.” I told her that was something I didn’t want. “Having said that”, she replied, “I don’t like not having a breast and I am hopefully going to have reconstruction soon.”

I wished her well ... and as I walked away I was very grateful ... despite my initial annoyance ... that she had spoken up and given me some encouragement.

A couple of days ago I was required to go to the Oncology Department for a photo shoot. Whilst waiting for everyone to turn up I stood in the waiting room. Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly flashed by ... was a little surprised to see me ... but said “hello”. I wondered how he does it ... how does he surround himself with people with cancer all day, every day.

Then a face caught my eye. A young angelic face ... a girl who was in her 30s ... maybe even her 20s ... sitting under a familiar turban-type cap. And as I looked at her ... she looked at me ... and I remembered sitting in the very same spot watching ‘NHS managers’ wandering in and out ... and wondering where they were going and doing. I guess she thought I was ‘just’ one of those. I wanted to go up to her and say “This was me, this time last year I was going through this too. I made it. Well, this far. You can too.”

But I didn’t get chance ... as I got called through to take the pic. It was a donation from a lovely chap ... probably the same age as me ... a football referee so probably quite healthy ... he had been diagnosed a few years ago with cancer of the throat ... but went on to have cancer of the tongue. He proudly told me the details and said that he is now in remission. I was really pleased for him ... he really didn’t know how pleased.

That was the first of two trips down memory lane – the second was to the Breast Care Unit. Now when I came back from holiday back in June – after I had finished my four weeks of rads and completed my treatment – one of my first meetings over at the hospital was up at the BCU. A group of patients were looking to raise some money and for the unit and I was asked to go along, in my capacity of Comms Manager for the hospital.

It was a late afternoon meeting and I was a little nervous. It was my first full day in the job ... and the very first day that I had gone into work without my cap on. I needn’t have worried ... as I walked in I was greeted by about a dozen very smiley faces. One by one the ladies went round the room introducing themselves. And then it got to me ... “Hi, my name is Paula ... the Communications Manager ... and a patient of Dr J’s ... I finished treatment just over a week ago.” There were cheers and clapping ... it was so welcoming.

Later on we moved down to the Board Room for a presentation. By chance I was sat next to Dr J and all ‘the girls’ were sat on the opposite side of the table. I looked over at them in total awe. They were all chatting, laughing and giggling ... all enthusiastic about their mission to raise money for the unit. I watched and thought they could be anywhere and anyone. A group of old schoolfriends ... colleagues ... a gaggle out on a hen night ... nobody would have known they had one thing in common ... breast cancer ... and they were all patients of Dr J. I felt so inspired ...

Someone walked by to pick up a cup of tea and whispered to me “I expect you still like a patient ... you haven’t moved on yet?” She could have almost read my mind. “No, no” I replied, “it is still early days”. “Don’t worry ... you will quickly move on" she replied.

I thought of that comment when I returned to the Breast Care Unit a couple of Saturdays ago. I was late ... as usual ... and ‘the girls’ and Dr J were already sat comfy, drinking coffee and eating muffins. They welcomed me just as warmly and introduced me to Rebekah Gibbs – who had volunteered to compere the first charity event ... a Gala Ball.

As I grabbed my own coffee I looked across at Rebekah ... and thought it is a funny old world. You see, when I was very first diagnosed I did lots of googling ... desperately trying to find any ‘ray of hope’. Stories of women who had been told that they had breast cancer at a similar age to me ... that had got through the horrid diagnosis, treatment ... including chemo, who had experienced the trials and tribulations of losing their hair, had undergone surgery ... to finally live another day. And, during my hours and hours of cyber searching I had come across Rebekah.

Rebekah Gibbs ... also known as BBC Casualty’s Nina Farr ... was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 ... ten weeks after her daughter Gigi was born. Despite the shock she went on to write a book and a weekly column for the Daily Mirror ... and this was what I read and what gave me some comfort and confidence that I could get through it all.

And there I was a year later ... sat in my BCU waiting room ... drinking coffee and swapping stories with her. Note that I didn’t mention the muffins ... they were passed under my nose and as I went to grab one I noticed Rebekah’s black skinny jeans tucked into some absolutely ‘gorgeous dahling’ black boots ... and suddenly changed my mind ...

On Thursday I was back over at the hospital ... stood in a now familiar position ... Dr J drawing in black felt-tip pen over my semi-clad torso. “Hey, I just thought” he chuckled, “I just realised you are going to miss the Ball on Saturday night!”Yeah I am!” I laughed. “After all the build up I am once again going to be sat home alone ... a right Cinderella”.

And as I relax at home recuperating from last week's surgery ... which consisted of not just one op, but two ... with two different surgeons ... I am not sad or depressed about missing the Ball. Don’t get me wrong it would have been lovely to be actually there ... with my new BCU friends ... but I was there in spirit ... even if I was sat at home in front of the TV with my beans on toast.

The first time back in March I had to have surgery ... a lumpectomy ... because I had cancer.

But on this occasion I made the decision to have surgery ... for cosmetic reasons and to hopefully prevent me from getting a different type of cancer in the future.

This time the ‘C’ was ... for choice ...

and control ...

... and a cracking pair ;)