In 2010 I was living in Germany and on a sunny Sunday I was getting into the shower when I noticed a “crease“ on my breast. The crease was smaller than the knuckle on my little finger.
Two days later I went to the doctor. I had a mammogram.
The next day I had a biopsy.
I don’t remember leaving the doctors office after the biopsy and getting into the lift. When I came out of the lift on the ground floor I spun around in the same spot three times and thought what am I going to do now? Does he mean I should get my affairs in order?
The official result of the biopsy came back and I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Ten days later I had a lumpectomy. After that operation they said the cancer was on the margins and in order to be sure I should have a mastectomy. In the meantime, between October and January, I would do six sessions of chemotherapy.
I began to realise that this was not going to go away in three days like a cold. I was in this for the long haul. I had to learn to live with it or live beside it. It shouldn’t take over my whole life. God gave me the grace for each step I needed to take when it came. He didn’t give me the grace to see the bigger picture or the future outcome. I learned to live in the day as much as possible and I discovered resources within myself I didn’t know were there.
I had to think of the chemotherapy as rainbows going into my system. I wasn’t sick during it just had waves of nausea and my head was muzzy. Immediately afterwards I had what I call “movement” sickness. If I moved I felt queasy. So I didn’t move that much.”
My hair began to fall out after the first chemotherapy session and this was a very difficult period for me. Three weeks after the last chemotherapy I had a mastectomy.
During all of this I kept my life very simple. I wrote every day. I could drive into town, meet a friend for coffee and have a look around. I was teaching one day a week. I took a long planned trip to London to meet my two sisters three weeks after my first chemotherapy session. My sister had a chest infection I looked better than she did.
Believe me it wasn’t all serious stuff I did have some good laughs and I had the support of many people. The doctors and nurses at the hospital were brilliant, my health provider, my partner, family and friends, my beloved dog Jack used to sit with me. Soon too I realised it was not only the medical side of things I needed to look at, nor my diet, though these were huge aspects for me. A cancer diagnosis is a physical, mental, spiritual and emotional journey.
In 2011 I returned to Ireland. I felt it was the only place I would truly heal.
In 2012 I had a tiny lump, the size of a pinhead, removed from the site of my scar. They changed my medication and I went for three monthly check-ups.
I enjoy my garden and am grateful that I am healthy enough to be able to work in it. I set myself goals because they are great “live” messages. I plant flowers and believe I will see them coming up in spring. I might book a concert or a trip some months ahead to keep me “going.” Every birthday is a bonus.
I’m quite a positive person – and I don’t mean “airy fairy” positive I’m realistic too.
It’s difficult to hear results and difficult to go for check-ups. I have to work at this. One day I woke up and realised I’d lost the sadness and loneliness I had felt going through that journey.