Keith’s treatment ended in May 2019 and we floated through June and July working out what happens next. It was tough. We discovered life-long symptoms, got rid of some short term ones and uncovered the mental challenges of living without hospital appointments.
In late May I found a small lump in my right boob. It was tiny and painless. I knew I needed to get it checked but I stuck it on a mental to-do list and bashed on with Keith, work and life.
On the 16th August I finally called and got an on-the-day appointment. The GP I saw was lovely, it transpired she had been one of the GP’s to sign me off sick when Keith developed sepsis back in April. Of the opinion that the lump was nothing but that I needed less stress in life she made an urgent referral to the Breast Clinic.
On the 23rd September we headed off to the New Patient Clinic and were instructed to allow 4 hours for the appointment. Keith came with, because he owed me a wait in hospital after my many days sitting with him on wards, and because he was still signed off work at the time.
Tests and more tests
We met the very nice Dr Elder and a new med student. We covered all the ground fast: Keith was newly recovered, lump was small, should have probably come along earlier, no familial history. He put us immediately at ease with his demeanor, lack of concern and suggestion it would be very rare to be cancer.
During my examination, as he taught the med student what to feel for, he used a lot of “if this was cancer” phrases and she dutifully explained what she could and couldn’t feel. Around 1.5cm - 2cm, no raised lymph nodes, not fixed to one place.
We were sent off downstairs for an ultrasound and told we’d be sent back upstairs if the team felt it was a cyst that could be drained easily that morning. Dr Elder joked that he only got to drain the easy ones.
The ultrasound was simple, I was then sent off for a mammogram, and after that a tomography-mammogram. I thought nothing of it. Mammogram’s are not hard, they are odd, but not hard. You stand and sort of hug the machine. You get closer than you’d like to the nurse who ensures all of your boob tissue is squished between two plates. They take the photograph.
After some waiting we were called back in to see Dr Elder. We sat down and I commented that he’d lost his medical student - unsurprising now! He looked straight at me, perfect eye contact, and very calmly said that the test results didn’t actually look that good. That this lump was most likely cancer.
It felt like being punched in the face.
I stared at the sharps bin, the little sink, and then back at him. Then the tears ran as I uttered the word 'motherfucker'.
What he told us after that I am unsure. I know he spoke quite a lot but only because I was staring at him. Keith asked questions. He told us there was a small chance it wouldn’t be cancer. That they sometimes get it wrong. I composed myself.
He told us that my test results weren’t great. That all of the markers came back as 5/5, 1/5 being no cancer. He told us that this breast unit was one of the best in the UK. That patients felt reassured by its excellence. That this was treatable. That we would do biopsies now.
Let’s talk odds
Unfortunately we’d been chatting so long that the biopsy room had been taken. As we wandered back towards the communal waiting room I fell apart in the hallway. Big waves of tears, leaning against a wall I’d found for support.
Swooping in Dr Elder and a nurse ushered us in another direction. We were tucked into a small, private room with comfortable chairs, two cups of water and a box of tissues. I called Gordon, my friend and the MD of our company. I rearranged a meeting.
When we were finally invited back to the biopsy room I’d found some real composure. A load of questions stacked up in my head. I asked for numbers, what were the chances that this was or wasn’t cancer. Dr Elder told me, in that doctor way, that he couldn't give figures so I tempted fate and offered up some odds.
70 - 30
80 - 20
or, 90 - 10
Cancer - no-Cancer.
Again, he found that perfect eye contact, my odds were a 90% chance this was cancer. He took five biopsies, placed a marker, told me about my consultant Mr Young.
Dr Elder was a senior registrar and surgeon but Mr Young would be my consultant. Although he was keen to explain he was only 8 months away from being a Consultant so he was pretty senior too!
This fun fact still sticks with me and I feel like we should join a race; who will get what first, cancer cure or consultancy?