There are a few choice c-words that come to mind, but I’m talking about The Ultimate – The Big C – Cancer.
It was exactly one year ago today that everything changed; it was one year ago today that my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer.
When Mum called me a few days prior to her diagnosis, asking me to come over that night so that we could talk, that she didn’t want to talk over the phone, I knew something was wrong, but it never occurred to me that she might be sick. I thought that maybe she and my dad were finally finalising their separation, or perhaps that my Pop was sick again – mothers don’t get sick, right?
I sat on the couch, bracing myself for her news. She’d found a lump. She’d been to her GP. She’d been sent off for an ultrasound. She’d had a biopsy. She’d been referred to a surgeon. She would have the results in a few days. “Do you understand what I’m telling you?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, seemingly unmoved. “You’re saying you have cancer.” I tried hard not to choke on the word; nobody was dying here, that word would not break me – I would not cry.
When the results from her biopsy came back, the diagnosis came as no surprise. Surgery was scheduled in – a lumpectomy – my mother would be fine.
It was nearly two weeks from that afternoon on the couch before I cried. I sat at my desk at work as hot, angry tears spilled down my cheeks. I am not a pretty crier. My eyes swell up, and the surrounding skin goes red and splotchy. People walked past my cubicle, stopping to offer concerned looks – I waved them on. I’d not long managed to stop the tears when Little Miss Moi appeared at desk to ask a question – she took one look at me, and gave me a hug; I tried not to soak her shoulder. She’ll never know just how grateful I was, how much I needed that hug.
The day of Mum’s first surgery, I went to work as normal. I waited anxiously for my phone to ring all day. What was taking so long? Why hadn’t my dad called? What was wrong? I don’t know how I managed to drive myself to the hospital after I’d received the call that Mum would soon be out of recovery and back on the ward. Did I speed? Did I run any red lights? Did I drive my car or Mr Posy’s? Wait, did I even drive? What I do remember is how green my mother looked when she was out of recovery. Green, and fragile, and sick. I felt nauseous. Hot. Dizzy. I had to get out of the room. When my dad called the next day to tell me that Mum was going back into surgery, because she had a blood clot, I couldn’t breathe. Another surgery? A blood clot? People died from blood clots, didn’t they? My stomach was in knots. When I arrived on the ward that afternoon, my mum looked a much better colour when she was wheeled into her room. Still fragile and sick, but not so green.
The drains caused her pain, and turned my stomach. The smell of the hospital became comforting. Mum had to stay longer than anticipated, but I was grateful – it meant that the nurses were only a few steps away should she need them, and that her pain was effectively managed. I was terrified when the time came for her to go home.
We breathed a sigh of relief when her lymph nodes came back clear – the cancer hadn’t spread. But they’d found pre-cancerous cells close to her lumpectomy site, and that meant more surgery – a mastectomy. Fucking cancer. My mum appeared calm, but I could see that she was crushed. The only upside was that following the mastectomy she wouldn’t need radiotherapy – but she’d still need chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
Her surgeon plugged different scenarios into his computer, with treatment, without treatment, with surgery, without surgery, and the computer spat out numbers – her odds of being alive in 5 , 10, 15 years. Her surgeon scheduled in her surgery – Mum changed her mind a few times before that date, but in the end she went ahead with mastectomy.
The hospital began to feel like home.