Diagnosis revelation over at Cancer Care Parcel

This week I’ve had the honour of sharing a guest blog over at the wonderful Cancer Care Parcel.

You can check it out here: cancercareparcel.co.uk/three-little-words

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If you haven’t heard of their work, they’re a fantastic organisation who partner with UK charities to helping them with their fundraising activities. They also provide gift box donations and financial support to those in the midst of their own delightful Big C journey, as well as driving awareness campaigns and filling gaps that perhaps aren’t being properly covered within the UK cancer community (AKA the club that nobody wants to be in).

Cancer Care Parcel has a lot of useful content that the team either write themselves or that have been created elsewhere, like by yours truly.

They focus on helping people who are somehow or other stuck in the cancer world – those who have it and those who are caring for people that drew the unlucky straw.

Topics include:

  • What to say and do
  • What not to say or do
  • Products may or may not be suitable as gifts for someone going through treatment for cancer

Their gift parcels look fab. They put them together for adults, teens and younger children and they’re full of things to relieve boredom, ease symptoms and just make yourself feel a bit better!

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Find out more at cancercareparcel.co.uk

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Three Little Words

December 24th

“Are you looking forward to Christmas then,” the receptionist asks me.

AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO CHRISTMAS? Is she for fucking real? I’m standing at the reception desk of the breast clinic on Christmas Eve. Oddly, I’d not really had much head space to even think about the joys of Christmas with the biggest lump known to man festering away inside my boob.

“No,” I replied in an incredulous tone. I’ve always been truthful but when you’re faced with the scary prospect of the dreaded C you somehow seem to care even less about what you say or how you deliver it.

He says, “You have a lump” whilst drawing on my boob with a black pen!! “No shit,” I say, “that’s why I’m here.”

The waiting area was overcrowded, to say the least, and we had struggled to find somewhere to sit. Men and women of all ages, faces with all different states of expression; all of them probably really looking forward to Christmas too!!!!

Forms completed, questions including family deaths from cancer…happy days. We wait. Reading the posters on the wall about hair loss, numbers to ring with questions. Christ. “Am I looking forward to Christmas?”

The nurse calls us through and we meet Mr. A the consultant. Nice enough chap but he seems to have a penchant for stating the obvious. After my inspection, he says, “You have a lump” whilst drawing on my boob with a black pen!! “No shit,” I say, “that’s why I’m here.” He must have had to go through this process with people who have a lump and have been referred to the hospital time after time after time, you’d have thought he might be able to muster up something a little more considered.

Sorry, I’m ranting, aren’t I? Let me introduce myself, my name’s Vicki. I’ve been on the planet for 46 years and I run a successful business. I’ve been a single parent of two fabulous boys for 14 years (paid for everything, parented them single-handedly), I have a fantastic and hectic social life, have been blessed in many, many ways AND I can front out virtually any situation. I am a battler. But it’s funny how a process like this can tip me to uncontrollable eye leakage and because I don’t cry very often when I start it’s almost impossible for me to stop.

The Lump

I found the lump about 2 weeks ago I don’t think I’ve EVER checked my breasts and I lay in bed one night, no doubt prompted subconsciously by something I’d seen or heard, I decided to have a feel. My left one had this huge lump thing which wasn’t mirrored on the other breast. I booked in at the doctors and she confirmed I did indeed have a lump and that she’d refer me to the hospital. I asked her what she thought it was, she was understandably vague but said it could be one of a number of things not necessarily the big C. I have to be honest, I wasn’t really too concerned. I’d decided I had a cysts – nice bit of self-diagnosis.

I was completely unaware my body could perform such things.

So the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy process starts as do my tears, it’s so bad the nurse performing the mammogram asks me four times if I want to stop. NO, I just want it done, I want to be told I’ve got a cyst and I want to go home and look forward to Christmas. It’s for this reason I’d asked my friend Catherine to come with me, not because I thought I had cancer but because I knew I’d be on meltdown due to the procedures. After being handled like a milking cow (not her fault, she was very lovely) and having my boobs stretched beyond all expected capacity between two bits of toughened plastic (I was completely unaware my body could perform such things) we get moved to a separate room to wait the 45 minutes for the ultrasound. Just as well, I don’t think I’d have been able to see through the tiny slits in my face to find our way back to the main waiting area. As we sit and I calm down, we continue with the conversation of “There’s nothing wrong with me, I’ll be fine, there’s no way I’ve got it, it’ll just be a cyst or a blocked duct, god there’s a million things it could be, just because it’s a lump it does NOT mean I’ve got the C word.”

So I lay sniffling and breathing my garlic breath all over John the technician.

We get called through for part two – the ultrasound, and I ask that Cath sits behind a curtain. We’ve been friends since we meet in 1990 in the south of France and there lies another story but forgive me I really don’t want her seeing me with my whammers out getting prodded and poked. The ultrasound is no different to that uber-happy experience when they show your baby moving and wriggling, except this one isn’t quite so happy. I’m still crying; pathetic I know but the floodgates have been removed and so I lay sniffling and breathing my garlic breath all over John the technician. It was seriously strong. Cath had already commented when she arrived at my house how bad it was and she suffers from polyps in her nose that mean she can’t smell anything, so it must have been bad.

John does both boobs but understandably spends most of the time gliding the equipment over the bit that’s been used as a colouring-in pad by the consultant. As he moves it to my armpit – I know. I just know. I know what he’s doing there, we all do… the dreaded fucking lymph nodes. Two small words that none of us ever heard of before and lived in complete ignorance of their existence until the C-word.

Ignorance in my world is NOT bliss.

The biopsy, well, it wasn’t nice but to be perfectly honest it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d expected it to be. John was really considerate and explained what was going to happen. He numbed the area and then let me hear the noise the instrument would make, I guess so as not to scare me. It sounded a bit like a quiet gun. I didn’t look. I think sometimes when you can’t see what’s happening it’s easier to cope with and bizarrely hurts less. The most uncomfortable part for me was having to keep my poorly arm stretched above my head. It’s not built for these kinds of manoeuvres since it tried to vacate my body some years hence in a motorcycle accident. That REALLY hurt. John explained that he was going to leave a coil in the lump, something to do with measuring the size of it… bit lost on me, to be honest; I was a little distracted.

I’m not built for waiting. I’m one of these that just need to know. Ignorance in my world is NOT bliss – so I asked him if it was a cyst.

‘It’s definitely not a cyst,’ he said. Hmmmmm, fuck.

“And it is definitely not benign.”

DOUBLE FUCK.

“But there’s some good news. It doesn’t appear to be in your lymph nodes.”

It’s incredible how your once quick brain malfunctions and grinds to a halt. It flatlines and turns to spaghetti.

My brain exploded. FUCK – what do I tell my kids, I haven’t got time for this shit; I’ve too much to pack in before I die (I’m not overly dramatic but trust me this does push you the edge of reasonable thinking). It’s taken me ages to grow my hair. I don’t want to lose my eyebrows. God how do I tell people?

I realise I’ve said most of this out loud as John responds with a, “Well, we need to send the biopsy off first and find out what type you have and what we need to do to is identify which treatment you will need to shrink it.”

SHIT, I’ve got it. Those three little words: I’VE GOT CANCER. The Big C. How bloody annoying AND to cap it all, I’m still bloody crying. I honestly can’t believe it. I’m fit, well, healthy, got a superb life and now I’ve got this to contend with. I simply don’t have the time. How inconvenient, and just before Christmas too; speaking of which – NO, I’M NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO CHRISTMAS!

This Will Not Define Me

I’m the practical sort, so I need time to process this cancer bombshell. My boys had been waiting for a text from me so too had a couple of friends. I sent them all a version of the truth. I’m not built to lie but I also have to consider my communication so I don’t upset anyone, and I’m not sure a text is really the best way to deliver the news so I sent this:

Mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy done get the results in 2 weeks.

It’s true I do get the results of what version of the big C I have and how they will treat it. But you really can’t upset people before Christmas, there’s no point everyone being brassed off. I need time to reassemble my brain.

So, Cath and I have a cup of coffee in the separate waiting room, I guess prepared for people like me who’ve just been given the sort of news you never want to hear. We were encouraged to stop for coffee because you’re not supposed to drive after a biopsy but trust me Catherine is NOT driving my fabulous new SLK. At the beginning of the year, I’d decided that if the business had done well I’d give myself a bonus and treat myself to one. We’ve had the best year ever and I’d managed to save a lot of money in the business. I’m a bit tight and hate spending what I’ve saved, but in truth, I’d found the lump and not knowing what it was it inspired me to just part with my cash. I’m pleased I did and whilst it won’t fix me it does make me smile. I love cars. I love the acceleration and this beast does not disappoint. Cath’s not the worst driver in the world – but even so, she is NOT driving my new car, cancer or no cancer!

Dinner with Sarah. Poor girl. I’ve no idea what we spoke about.

I manage to pull myself together, nip to the loo and wander round to the car park. It’s a piss take – I have to pay £2.60 for the parking to be told I’ve got cancer, oh the fucking joy… I do think they should make some allowances for stuff like this. Anyway we come home, Cath goes and I have to find the courage to get ready, stay smiling and go out with my friend for dinner. My kids are away with their donor – yes, I know that’s not very nice but to be fair that’s about all we got from their father – so I’ve yet another Christmas on my own. So after music full blast, showered and my happy mask applied, I collect Sarah

Dinner with Sarah. Poor girl. I’ve no idea what we spoke about. I know my communication was disjointed, to say the least, and my train of thought not exactly as rail track straight as it should. Thankfully she was drinking as I drove so I don’t think she noticed. But all I wanted to do was scream in her face, “I HAVE CANCER!” It went round and round and round in my head. I don’t know how I stopped myself YELLING it out loud, except for the impact those three little words would have on her, her Christmas, her family. It just wouldn’t be fair it’s not her fault and I don’t think I’d want to be hairdryered like that.

I’ve had friends that have completely abused their body’s and yet are fighting fit; whilst I wouldn’t ever wish this upon anyone, you do have to wonder who decides.

Now let’s chat about being fair. The big C is not fair. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t want a pity party, a badge, nor do I need a flag to wave. I’m no ‘poor me’. If I was, you’d think getting sexually abused at ten by an overzealous step-grandparent and nearly losing my arm at 21 in a motorbike accident would be enough for me to get a ‘poor me’ badge, but you really couldn’t write this shit. Why me? I know that’s an awful thing to say but why? Jesus, haven’t I had enough to contend with. Ever wondered what you did in a previous life?

And I know this is even worse, but I’ve had friends that have completely abused their bodies and yet are fighting fit. Whilst I wouldn’t ever wish this upon anyone, you do have to wonder who decides. I had this one friend who had a body to die for, proper slim, long luscious brown hair, she drank black coffee, did cocaine, smoked her perfectly pert tits off each and every day to the tune of 20-30 fags, drank like an alky, ate no more than 500 calories a day and she’s fine…HOW??? Again, trust me, I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, it’s a shit thing for anyone to go through BUT I want to know who picks the recipients because we need a chat!

Sorry, I’m ranting again – right, back to Christmas Eve. After I dropped Sarah off I popped into my friends Nicky and Nigel’s for drinks and did my best to be my idea of normal. Tell you what, it was good to get a couple of glasses of prosecco down my neck and play catch up with my friends. I’ve always been lucky with my friends and have a vast varied collection of people whom I love spending time with. I was vague about the outcome of my appointment. I had told them that I was off to the hospital because I honestly thought I’d have nothing to complain about – got that wrong, didn’t I?

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Just Another Day

Christmas day was a challenge. It’s never great spending Christmas without my boys but I want them to do what they want so I can’t honestly say I’m loaded down with Christmas spirit at the best of times BUT I am very positive and always approach it with the ‘it’s just another day’ attitude. But I’d woken up in the night having a little panic thinking I was dying. My body didn’t feel right. Oddly, I had a moment like this at a friend’s a few weeks previously. Except in the middle of the night, alone, you do literally think this is it; this is the end for me, I must be terminally ill. It then dawned on me that over the previous four days or so I hadn’t eaten much, and I’d walked about 26 miles so that was the actual reason my body was having a mini crisis! I needed food, so at 3 am I got up, raided the fridge and started to feel a little more human. It’s funny what your brain does to you, it plays games and tricks especially in the middle of the night.

I still felt a bit down when I woke up so I walked the dog for about 8 miles. It was great thinking time. By the time we’d got home, I’d realigned my brain. Excited with myself, came back and wrote down my thoughts:

The C Word

Facts

• I could have died in a car crash last week.
• We are all going to die.
• Having the big C doesn’t mean that I am going to die, it’s a just a small jab in the ribs, a wake-up call – maybe for everyone – I think sometimes the kids take me for granted a bit.
• My life’s been relatively easy for the last 13 years to be fair and pretty close to perfect so, to be honest, something like this may be needed to happen to make me realise again just how lucky I am and realign my thinking.
• It’s not my kids or anyone else I love.
• I’m strong. I can do this.
• I have something that needs fixing that all, it’s just the words that are scary.
• If they tell me it’s terminal I will still fight the fucker… I usually win battles… and anyway we all have to die sometime, I would just have been given an early warning… more than most get. I’d be pissed off that I was wrong though (I’ve always said I’ll die when in 92 and even had a party this year to mark the halfway point!).
• I’m fit and well.
• I think we got it early – it’s not in my lymph nodes.
• I’ve got amazing support.
• The more you dwell on the negative the more the negative becomes reality… tell less people.
• Financially I’m OK…I’ve got cover of some description.
• If I sit and wallow, I could make myself ill, there’s nothing wrong me… I have a lump, I’ve survived far worse.
• This is a blip.
• I’m not scared. This is no different to anything else I’ve had to face.
• I will win.

Philosophical

• This has definitely happened for a reason.
• Maybe I need to slow down.
• Maybe I need to reassess work and find people that can run it without me to enable me to sell it and stop fannying around with it. The model is right I just seem to think only I can do it… bollocks.
• Maybe I need to do more of the things I want to do and stop saving for a rainy day… it’s currently fucking raining!!!
• Maybe I need to get on with children’s homes (this is my long term goal).
• If I don’t experience this, how can I help anyone else that might go through it.
• Maybe I need to chill out a bit about the things that don’t matter.

Emotionally

This is going to be a test of my strength. I will fucking win.

I’ve made a decision too. I’m only going to tell my fave people only:

Cath
Clips
Sally
Karen
Conor & Oakley – I’m going to tell the boys tomorrow…I’m going to sell it to them, focus on the positives.

Positives

• I got it early
• It’s not in my lymph nodes
• The process wasn’t as painful as I expected
• Staff were amazing and honest
• I’m fit well and healthy
• I feel great
• It will fix
• I will win
• The situation in itself does bring positives…financial, opportunity to refocus realign and rethink… none of which I would have done.

Time to Share the Big C News

I appreciate that this brain dump isn’t exactly cohesive, but I can’t tell you how much better I felt for doing this – we all have to do what’s right for us and I’m a list girl. If I brain dump and write a list I feel back in control and I think that’s the crux of it for me. Control. Everything in my world is under my control: I’m in charge; work, kid’s social life, friends (I mean that in the right way… generally, I’m the strong one). This is probably why I’m struggling with this. I’m not in control at all, the lump, the procedures, the process, the outcome, the long term prognosis, my thoughts… this is the hardest thing for me. I’ve always been brilliant at controlling my thinking and my emotions; something I perfected at an early age, as you can imagine, but this has sent me into a spiral of unanswered questions. You may have noticed that I’m not the most emotional of people so my list is about practical and logical stuff predominately.

I also hate negativity and sympathy, for me they are pointless, hold no positive outcome and just make people like me feel worse. I do NOT want people to feel sorry for me or to behave differently towards me. Christ, I have a lump, yeah ok it’s big and it’s cancer BUT that doesn’t change who I am.

Making the decision to only tell my favourite people has also helped me enormously. I feel like I’ve some control and what it also enables me to do is to ensure I don’t have a pity party. The sad, knowing looks like you’re already dead. For fuck’s sake, I could NOT cope with that. The head tilted to one side, pity in their eyes and a, “How are you feeling? Have you started the treatment? Oh, your hair…” I don’t want pity or sympathy, it won’t make me better AND, more importantly, I don’t want to have copious negative conversations about the same topic; that would drive me crazy.

HELLO! I’m still me. I still exist in my normal form which is gobby, loud, silly, funny, direct Vicki. Mum, boss, frikking amazing friend and the most honest person any of you will ever meet. Don’t misunderstand me, I know people mean well but I think I’d end up knocking someone out.

What this will also ensure is that my other friends and mates and staff will treat me exactly the same. Possibly not the right way for everyone but, hell, it’s made me feel great AND in control of how they behave towards of me. My favourites get me and will completely understand what I need from them which is positivity, happy, normalcy unless I want to talk about it.

Saturday 26th December

Boxing Day night, my friend Sally invited everyone over to her house for the evening. The street I live on is fab. I’ve been here with the boys since 2002. December 17th to be precise and when I moved in the heating didn’t work nor did the sky TV. I knocked on my unsuspecting neighbours’ doors to ask for help and found within number 38 two amazing people who have become great friends of mine; Sally and Derek. Sally fixed the heating and Derek didn’t manage to fix the Sky but we bonded over a crate of freezing cold Strongbow and our fate was sealed. Over the years we’ve had many a fun tale to share.

It was lovely to spend Boxing Day evening with friends, but I struggled a bit to keep it together. When Sally asked me again what the outcome was, I fluffed her off. I just wanted to buy some time. No one wants those conversations over Christmas or at a party, but I knew this wasn’t going to be the end of the conversation; she’s not stupid! So she came over the following day and I told her where we were at and what the real outcome was. She was, as I expected, great. Sally is very different to me and is very emotionally driven BUT she knows me so well and delivered exactly what I needed: positivity, practical thinking. Not all the sad shit.

Monday 29th December

By Dec 28th I’ve arranged to see Clips – real name Clare – to share the happy news. She’s 10 years younger than me and an amazing friend and great support. We met through work about 18 years ago. God, that makes me feel really old. We worked together on and off for years and during that time became great friends. She’s hilarious and absolutely brilliant to work with. In fact, when I started my business she was our Girl Friday (and Wednesday, she only did 2 days initially). Whilst I’m strong, I seriously do not think I’d have got this far with the business without her. Amazing woman and very fucking funny. She gets me, gets my sick humour. Oh, and the nickname? I’m not particularly good at remembering peoples’ names and when you manage a team of 20 it’s kind of important that you can address each and every one of them, so re-naming them is my trademark.

Clips and I met at our usual upmarket haunt, Macdonald’s. Coffee high, here we come! I approached the conversation with a strategy.

Tactic one: get them to talk

“So, how was Christmas, Clips?”
“No, come on. I want to know about the hospital,” she said.
Shit.

Tactic two: distract them

“Oh, I meant to show you this. It’s our new brochure.” Clips has always been interested in what we did at work – she left us a couple of years ago to pursue a career in a school helping severely challenged children.
“It’s great Vee I love it. I still have the first one we did.” She puts it in her bag.
“So, how WAS Christmas?” I say.
“NO. What happened at the hospital?”
Double shit. I take a breath.
“I’ve got Cancer… Well, no, I haven’t but my boob has.”

I have no idea why I just blurted that out. No idea at all. I’d planned what I would say and I can assure you it wasn’t that. FFS. Now her eyes have filled up. “Right, Clips you can’t be upset.”

Apparently, I can’t control how my news will make people feel. I made her laugh, it’s my coping mechanism, it’s really sick, black humour but that’s me. It’s the only way I know how to deal with difficult situations. I explained to her what had happened on Christmas Eve but that I didn’t want her to be upset. Stupid really, isn’t it? Of course she’s going to be upset, she loves me. Another lesson in control – apparently I can’t control how she will feel or react… hmmm. So I’d said that if she was going to be upset then it could be no more than a 3/10. I mean, I did want to know she cares. Her text to me made me fill up.

Ok, so I managed to get to the end of the path before I cried….👍 Told Karl after a few deep breaths and I may have reached a level 4 as there was snot 😤
Makeup reapplied and I’m back 😁
I know you know but if there is ANYTHING you need from me I’m here 😘
xxxx

My World is Changing

My whole world is changing. I’ve gone from making people happy to making them sad. I’ve gone from being the one who checks in on them to being the one who gets checked in on. My friends are crying because of me. I just want to run away. I still can’t really believe it. Not me. I’ve so much to pack into my life. So much to see and do and I won’t know till the 7th if I’ll be here to do it!! So. We make choices and I’m NOT sitting at home pissing my pants about this. I’m going to live, love and enjoy every moment of every single day. I’m being faced with something like this and at the moment it’s all very much unknown what version I’ve got and what treatment I’ll need and, yes, indeed whether I’ll survive it. Dramatic? Maybe, but it goes through your head. It also makes you feel reckless and review the day to day things you do and the importance you put on stuff that frankly is irrelevant. It’s all well and good you reading this thinking, ‘Bloody hell and she reckons she’s not dramatic? They’ve told her it’s not in her lymph nodes, what the hell is she whining about?’ And yes, you’re absolutely right, BUT my usually very positive brain is wondering a collection of the following at any one time:

• How long it takes to spread to the lymph nodes?
• Is the two-week wait long enough for this to happen?
• Is this secondary cancer/ have I got it elsewhere?
• Will they give me a lumpectomy?
• Will I need radiotherapy?
• Will I have chemo?
• Will I keep my hair?

Tell me you wouldn’t do the same? Oh, and the best bit – social media only seems to be posting statuses of someone dying of cancer; sorry, “losing their battle.” Just what you want to see.

Tuesday 29th December

So I wake up on Dec 29 early after a poor night’s sleep and drive 80 miles to have breakfast with Catherine, then I drive to the coast and spent 3 hours on my own walking the beach. It was fantastic. The day was cool yet sunny and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it. It was just what I needed to recharge my batteries and to not think. And I LOVED driving my car – it was just what the doctor probably wouldn’t have ordered because I drove way too fast, roof down, wrapped up in my big skiing jacket and the heater on full blast, music blaring. Great for the soul and a superb distraction from my thoughts.

God, how I HATE being needy.

Although my business closes at Christmas, the following day I go into work to pay the wages. I’d woken in the night with this enormous feeling of just being so alone, so on my own with this BIG horror story, I just wanted someone to make it all go away and tell me that everything will be ok. Sadly this carried through into the day. I was probably hormonal to be fair. Gosh, us girls have a lot to deal with, let me tell you. However, the hardest thing for people like me that aren’t very emotional and therefore don’t cry and behave like a normal girl is that when these black days arrive, it’s like the end of the world. I basically have a huge meltdown. Well, actually I have two. I’ve gone from Mrs. Strong-Independent-In Control-Witty-Happy Bird to Mrs. Fucking Needy-Crying-Irrational-Moany-Bitch.  This is not something that’s synonymous to me and a very ugly trait in my view. This is very scary for those people around me because I’m just not like that. I’m factual, practical and logical… this little predicament is NOT playing to my strengths.

The support I’ve had from my friends has been amazing and they’ve delivered exactly what I’ve needed at the time I’ve needed it. New Year’s Eve was a challenge. I go on a HUGE walk and reflected on my fate. Gosh, this is hard. It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest thing to cope with.

A New Year’s Eve party at the neighbours’ is fab, although by 10.30 pm I’ve lost my happy mask and just left and came home and got into bed, with Sally in hot pursuit just to make sure that I was okay. I’m really not! I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my entire life and I’ve got to the point that I didn’t even really know what I’m crying about: cancer, being a bitch or just having an overdose of hormones. Life, hey?

So I have 3 meltdowns in 2 days – an absolute record for me. GREAT and Happy New Year!

Oddly, though, after my hormone days, I feel absolutely fine. I feel back in control of me and I just want to find out exactly what I’ve got and how we are going to fix it.