Just a little ray of light shining through
Mick Hucknall ~ Fairground ~ 1995
My mother died 14 years ago, aged 53, of ovarian cancer. She had been diagnosed five years before ... but to be truthful the cancer had probably been there since her early forties, when she was a similar age to me. For a year or two they had said she was peri-menopausal and by the time they realised the real problem, and operated, the tumour was the size of a melon.
I wore a pillar box red jacket to my mother’s funeral. I wasn’t being disrespectful. My mother didn’t like black. I don’t recall her ever wearing anything black. Black doesn’t suit me ... and it probably didn’t suit her. She liked red ... she liked the red jacket ... so I wore that.
I remember the cortege pulling up outside the crematorium, and as I opened the car door and climbed out I heard someone say “There’s Sylvie”. It was an odd thing for me to hear. Sylvia was my mother. Obviously, they weren’t talking about her ... they were referring to me... and how much I looked like her.
I must admit I did inherit a number of her features and as I mature, steadily edging closer to the age she was when she died, it is probably now even more noticeable. She was also shortish and curvyish, with high cheek bones, and fine brown hair. When she was alive mine was shoulder length and wavyish and which I would straighten ... whereas she wore hers short and would curl it.
My mother was pretty low maintenance. She used to wear a dash of mascara and little bit of lipstick. However, her big thing was her hair. She liked to go to the hairdressers and have it permed and styled. The chemo she had didn’t make her hair drop out until right near the end. When it did she got a really good wig and lots of people didn’t realise it wasn’t her hair ... but she did. It hit her hard.
Until twelve months ago the only cancer that really appeared on my radar was ovarian. If I saw something about it in a magazine, or on TV, then it would get my attention. Not breast cancer. And ... when I went for my very first appointment at the Breast Care Unit, a year ago this week, Dr Jordan looked at my family history and said he wasn’t too concerned. “The lump is probably a cyst that will need draining.” Of course once they had scanned it and taken biopsies we all knew that it sadly wasn’t “just a cyst”.
A few weeks ago I returned to the hospital to have Perky checked out after the four weeks of rads. I saw Dr Gillies, the oncologist, and she said it was looking pretty fine ... that there might still be a little fluid there and that I need to keep slapping the aqueous cream on and massaging it ... and that they will take another peek at Perky again next month.
Whilst I was there I decided to ask her a couple of questions. I wanted to know why they hadn’t done any genetic testing ... why they hadn’t tested to see if I have either of the faulty BRCA genes and whether my chances of another incidence of breast cancer, or my chances of getting ovarian cancer, were significant. She said that as I didn’t appear to have a noteworthy number of breast or/and ovarian cancer cases in my family then that isn’t something they would normally do. I explained that my mother had no sisters and no aunts ... however, my grandfather had died of cancer ... as did all of his five or six brothers. She said it wasn’t something that the health profession was sure about ... but if I wanted genetic counselling to talk about it then she could arrange it.
I knew the answer ... I had thought long and hard about this ... and the answer was “no”.
Is that right? I don’t know? I may have the opportunity to discuss what my risks are of another incidence of breast cancer ... or getting ovarian cancer ... but I am not taking up the option.
I explained to Dr Gillies that I have survived this last year ... but my head is not in a place to consider the implications of testing and recommendations ... which I guess may mean being advised to have both my breasts removed ... along with my ovaries. Perhaps I am being silly ... or naive ... or stupid ... especially as I am Triple Negative and there is no medication to keep the cancer at bay. But, for the moment least, I am happy to protect my ignorance ... and live on a ray of hope ...
I went back to the hospital again last week. Let’s think ... on Monday. Oh ... and Tuesday. And probably Wednesday. Thinking about it ... Thursday too. And Friday ... definitely Friday.
Don’t worry ... I am OK ... I didn’t have any appointments. No. I was at the hospital because I now work there. Yes ... my hospital. What I have not had chance to tell you about yet is that when I came back from holiday in June my job changed. Not totally. I am still working with those old colleagues including Mr Campbell, Peaches, Miss Sweaty Jockstrap, Cornish Cous et al. But my different role means I now have some new colleagues ... including Chemo Nurses A to H, Dr Jordan and the luv-ver-ly Dr O ....
Now ... I know it sounds odd ... but you would think that each time I go to the hospital I would think about what has happened there before. My mother’s cancer ... her death... as well as my own diagnosis and treatment ... especially as that really wasn’t very long ago. But I don’t. OK ... so when I walk past the breast care unit ... or radiotherapy building it might fleetingly cross my mind ... but generally I consider it just to be one of the places that I work.
I say “generally” as last Friday was a little different ... it was a year to the day that I attended the Breast Care Unit for the very first time.
On Friday I went over to the hospital to do a charity donation photo shoot. It went well and once it was done I left the hospital feeling all warm and fuzzy. That was until I drove down the drive .... and I looked at the clock and it said ten to two ... about the time of my appointment exactly a year ago ... and it got me thinking. I had a flashback of me and Nit Nat getting into her little black car and setting off to the hospital to get my lump checked out. I remembered feeling nervous ... and a little scared ... but certainly no idea of what was about to knock me for six ...
As I drove along, the memories from my initial visit the previous year caused tears to well up in my eyes and warm salty drops toppled down my cheeks. I thought back to the comment made by the actress Lynne Redgrave when she heard her diagnosis. She said: “I have my moments of such sadness. They hit me quite suddenly. My loss of innocence. The innocence that made me feel that cancer couldn't happen to me.”
And that is what happened to me at that moment as I was driving along. I got cancer... I got treated ... and hopefully it has gone away ... and I am truly grateful for that. But ... I will never be the same person who walked into that Breast Care Unit a year ago. I want to continue to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life ... but I know that even if I go hours ... or maybe days ... and perhaps one day even weeks without thinking about cancer ... that it will always be in my life. Not necessarily physically but definitely mentally. There will always be something in the back of mind ... I will never have that innocence ever again ... I will always live with a silent shadow ... a tiny grim reaper sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear and reminding me that the cancer could reappear ... in my breasts ... my ovaries ... anywhere ...
I got back to the office and pulled into the car park and checked my face ... grabbed a tissue to wipe away the smudged make up. And, as I did so, I caught sight of my hair ... and let out a little chuckle. Yes ... my hair ... my hair that used to be fine and shoulder length but ain’t no more. Following the chemo it has grown back thick and curly ... not even wavy ... but curly. Honestly, my mum would love it. She would be so envious of it ... along with them infamous red shoes of mine ...
I can’t remember who made that comment as I got out of the car at her funeral ... I am not even sure if they are still alive ... but I do know that if they thought I looked like my mother back then ... then they certainly would now.
Fingers crossed hey, that it is just our looks ~ and our passion for red ~ to remain the things she and I have in common.