I am lying awake again. Damn steroids. I refuse to check the time — will just make it harder to get back to sleep if I know. I block out as many senses as possible with earplugs and a blinder. But I cannot turn off my brain. Or the steroid-induced rapid beating of my heart. So I think about this, my first blog post.
It took me this long to get here. I am halfway through chemotherapy for breast cancer but this journey started in November of 2011 when I discovered a hard, pea-sized lump in my right breast. I was in the shower. The classic scenario. I remember thinking: what the FUCK is that? That was not there before. Could it be something sinister? Is it as hard as I imagined a tumour would be? Oh by the way you Americans will have to embrace my UK spelling — if tumour with a “u” or authorise with an “s” bugs you then you might as well stop reading now. Or shall I say, sod off?
I informed my husband of my discovery. Killed the mood. Maybe it’s a cyst. I’ll give it a couple weeks and if it doesn’t go away I will get everything checked out in the US over Christmas holiday. We had relocated here from the suburbs of Boston in late July. Not my first foray into expat life, but my first since I am no longer single. We arrive across the pond with our two daughters, Isabel and Charlotte, aged 7 and then 4, ready to plunge into a new life, a new adventure. Little did we know.
But London is good to me, to us. The girls settle into their new school. They get scooters. I make them wear helmets. Bill begins to settle into a new law office. I make preparations to continue my interior decoration studies, having left the world of corporate law (mergers & acquisitions) — at least as a practitioner — in New York when we discovered I was pregnant with Isabel and also moving to Boston in 2004.
We are both lawyers. But I discovered that despite my left-brain dominance, which I sheepishly try to squelch every time I take one of those tests that is supposed to indicate brain dominance, there is indeed a right brain in there (well about 30%) dying to get out. After falling asleep so many times pondering the absence of good design in children’s spaces I decide to take some classes at the Boston Architectural College. This goes very well so I plan to pursue my certificate in London and upon arrival get busy vetting the top schools. There will be some duplication — they do an all or nothing approach here rather than the uber mom-friendly one class at a time option I was doing in Boston. I decide on an intensive part-time program that will be complete in one academic year. For some reason I take out tuition reimbursement insurance just in case, I figure, some relative gets sick or something bizarre happens. Something bizarre.
The lump does not go away. I spend much of my Christmas break undergoing tests, first a physical exam which doesn’t raise too many eyebrows but then a mammogram and ultrasound which do. Finally core needle biopsies of the suspicious areas. I tell the radiologist performing the biopsies to level with me. I am a big girl. She doesn’t pull any punches. She is “reasonably concerned” there is cancer. Shit. I cry a little bit. I have to pee about four times. Nerves. I start to process. But it always always helps me to get information and begin to process it. I need to know; want to know. I will have my answer but not until two days after we fly back to London on New Year’s Day. I kind of knew though.
On the flight back to London we are four across in business class with the little girls side by side facing backwards and Bill and me flanking them facing forward. I watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is a poor choice for my mood. I cannot stop looking at the girls’ joyful faces, their bursts of laughter during Winnie The Pooh, their innocence. How can I inflict myself on them? I who am their protector.
Bill and I suffer our worst night that night. At bedtime, I peruse the internet on breast cancer. Stupid. I know better. In the esteemed words of Professor Taub in The Sure Thing, “as the dog who returneth to his own vomit so doth the fool to his folly.” I emerge from my “research” and wake my sleeping husband. We fall apart for a few hours. That and the jet lag make the next days exhausting. Oh and the questions. Can we treat this in London? My initial instinct: I want to. We have moved into a charming and cozy house in northwest London and the girls are settled into their school. We have sold our home in the Boston area. We have started to gather names of oncologists and hospitals just in case.
We get the call. It is cancer. Multifocal in the right breast. Days of hardcore research on and calls to breast and reconstruction surgeons ensue. I thank my lucky stars my best childhood friend, Beth, is a plastic surgeon who educated us over the holiday about breast cancer and reconstruction issues even before we had the diagnosis. I feel I am entering this fight with some background, with some power. I am already thinking mastectomy. Maybe even bilateral. Never want to do this again. Ever. Ever. Ever. Just want to KILL IT.
Because that is what I do when I set my mind to something.
Stay tuned for the next instalment, dear reader.
Oh and for those of you waiting for that filthy humour that you have come to expect from me, don’t be discouraged. I just have to take you there the way I got there.