By SAMANTHA YOUNG
Six months ago, I was sitting with a friend outside on a balmy summer night and a mosquito bit me under the arm. I went to scratch the bite and felt a lump on the side of my breast.
My doctor sent me for a mammogram, ultrasound and fine needle biopsy. The results were initially inconclusive. I found this out waiting in the queue to see Father Christmas at a large shopping centre with my seven year old. I could feel the fake Playschool Mummy smile stretching my face beyond reasonable limits as I rescheduled another ultrasound and biopsy. For that one, they had a Pathologist on stand-by. I had breast cancer.
I am a 44-year-old single mother of two beautiful girls. I am also director of a psychology practice and self-employed. The day I was diagnosed was the day I lost the carefully constructed control I thought I had mastered over my life. Previously I has successfully juggled many balls in the air every day. And suddenly they all came falling down in a spectacular heap.
I strongly believe in salvaging good from bad but I struggled with finding the silver lining in the diagnosis. The fear and anxiety waiting on test results to find out if the cancer had spread were crippling and I was haunted by dark thoughts of death.
The bone scans, bloods, MRI, X-rays and other various tests were rushed through and I was given the imaging DVDs to take to my surgeon with no reports. I sat one night with a medical student friend and a bottle of wine and opened the scans one by one. “Oh my God, what is that?” I would ask my friend and she would reply “That is your heart. Normal to have a heart, sweet. Did you study biology ever?”. Part of me was sure I was going to die, and soon.
I was lucky. The cancer had not spread. The tumour was contained and I had a genetic test done that showed minimal benefit from chemotherapy assuming I had lumpectomy surgery, radiation and then take a hormone drug called Tamoxifen for the next 10 years. I have completed the radiation which entailed daily visits for six weeks.
My left breast became progressively red and blistered, the nipple black and the pain was worse than breast feeding with mastitis. The skin peeled off, I was exhausted. Dark days. I kept it together when my children were awake and either cried in the shower or stared into the dark when they were asleep.
I would not wish this journey on my worst enemy but I think I have found the silver lining and my dearest hope over and above the cancer being gone for good is that I hold onto these lessons:
1. Letting go
My life before breast cancer was highly organised, disciplined and controlled. Every spare moment was productive. I saw clients back-to-back, I ferried my daughters to activities, I crammed my weekends with social events and I had multiple “To Do” lists for each facet of my life.
I have spent the past 6 months going where medical people tell me to go, doing what they tell me to do and waiting. The radiation and medication have made me extremely tired and my brain is simply not functioning the way it used to.