By SHAE SPRY
As soon as the specialist took my hand I knew what she was going to tell me. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “It is cancer.” It was surreal. Breast cancer was not a possibility I had entertained. I bowed my head and wailed for a few minutes, all the while thinking “But I’m only 24, I’m not finished yet. I’m not finished yet.”
I couldn’t think of any question to ask apart from “I’ll survive?”
“We don’t know yet,” the specialist replied. “We need to do more tests.”
I insisted on having those tests done immediately. I was having more biopsies, mammograms and ultrasounds, within half an hour. I felt that I needed more information if I was to deal with this new reality. I recall chatting to the people administering the tests – about their kids, about my recent trip overseas for uni – as if everything was normal, only I still had tears wetting my flattering hospital gown. I was in shock and on auto-pilot.
The next day brought relief: I had caught my cancer early, so it was not likely to take my life. However, there was no time to waste! My cancer was classified as small, but it had a medium growth rate.
The following week, I had surgery for the first time. I had a lumpectomy which removed my cancer and a margin of safety around it. I also had three lymph nodes removed from my underarm to test whether cancer was spreading via the lymphatic system. Just before surgery, to identify the lymph nodes to be targeted, I had a blue radioactive dye injected into my nipple (ouch!). I watched the screen with the silhouette of my body on it, and as the dye travelled through my system, the lymph nodes lit up like stars in the night sky.
The amazing thing was that the lymph nodes I had removed were tested for the presence of cancer WHILE I was still under general aesthetic. The results were available within half an hour. This knowledge is vital for surgeons in deciding their next steps – if cancer is present, the lymph nodes can be removed immediately, thus reducing the number of times a patient requires surgery.