Friday will be the third anniversary of breast cancer surgery, and two years until I get to wear my “In Remission” t-shirt, which I will sure as hell feel that I’ve earned. Here’s what I reflected on a year post-surgery.
A year ago today, Alan and I woke before dawn and made our way to St. George’s Hospital. I had a wire in my left breast, to guide the surgeon to the cells for removal, and there was radioactivity and blue dye, injected the day before, in the right breast, to show the pathology team whether the sentinel lymph nodes were carrying cancer cells around my body or not. I hadn’t slept well.
I remember walking through the waking streets in the quarter-light of a wintry morning, and thinking how much I didn’t like knowing how far the cancer had spread, and how, by the end of the day, at least we’d know what we were dealing with.
I remember sitting in a waiting room with everyone else having surgery that morning: an odd bunch of people, some silent, some chattering furiously and nervously; some alone, some with three or four people with them; some reading, some doing crosswords, some knitting. (OK, one knitting.)
I remember how the whole experience became fuzzy and dreamlike when I handed over my glasses before being walked down to theatre by a nurse. I remember being drawn on by one of the surgery team, and being slightly affronted that there wasn’t some sort of a special pen, just an ordinary felt-tip.
I remember being greeted by my surgeon, asked questions by a nurse, and chatting to the anaesthetist: I remember about five seconds after the anaesthetic went in. (I was so tired that I suspect if someone had just told me, quite firmly, to lie down and go to sleep it would have had the same effect as the drugs.)
I remember the recovery room, and being told that my lymph nodes were clear, so the cancer hadn’t spread.
I remember getting a bit hysterical when I was wheeled onto a ward, and demanding to go home. I remember carrying out the required steps so I could get out early – urinate, eat something, have an injection, go through a leaflet about avoiding lymphodema – and Louise and Ellis collecting Alan and I – it was dark again – and taking us home.
I remember feeling glad that it was over. I remember thinking, ‘I can cope with this’.
I remember that I slept well.
Four years from now, the medical profession will consider me cancer free. I remember becoming cancer free, a year ago today.