Breast cancer lesson number six: If Dr Google really had the answers, we’d all be camping out at A&E on a regular basis

Dr Google should be struck off! Far from reassuring us with his wit and his wisdom, one session on the computer is enough to make us run a mile – preferably in the direction of a general anaesthetic! (Please note, I have nothing against Google the colourful brand and the usefulness of its search functionality, just the medical company it keeps.)

In the fight against cancer, however, it doesn’t take long to learn that knowledge is power. And I’m a big fan of power. I walked into the hospital on diagnosis day thinking about my latest publishing deadlines and whether or not I had enough chorizo left to make a risotto for dinner. I came out armed with a small forest worth of paperwork and the determination to read and understand every word.

As far as I am concerned, cancer is just another client – albeit a rather impatient and demanding one that doesn’t seem to like my scheduling! It has its very own notebook, to-do list and meetings calendar. It also has its own agenda – which currently doesn’t quite match mine!

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So, having discharged myself from Dr Google’s rather unsteady hands, I took it upon myself to plough through more than 400 pages on the subject in just one day (it was a particularly fun day!) I am at last learning the language of breast cancer – and fertility for that matter. From lobules to lymph nodes and stages to systemic treatments, my brain is now a giant glossary of specialist terms that sound like they belong in a science fiction movie. I am also comfortable talking openly about boobs (hence the name of this blog), which has been a little alarming for the men in my life. 

Knowing that you feel well, but also knowing that there is something inside you trying to take your life away, is a hard thing to process. For the first few days after my diagnosis, I found it so hard to sleep. As irrational as it may sound, I thought that if I shut my eyes and let my body take charge, the cancer would take me. That’s why I quickly realised, it is so important to stick to what you know and what makes you feel like you are in control. For me, that’s hard work – and lots of it.

If you’re as interested as me about the little battle going on inside my angry right breast, here are the facts (as I currently know them). I must add here that two weeks does not a cancer surgeon make. I have a degree in English, not medicine, and this is my take on the information provided to me.

The Scully guide to Stage 2, invasive lobular carcinoma

1)   It wants to make friends: invasive (rather than ‘in situ’ or non-invasive cancer) means it has the ability to spread. It has already teamed up with the lymph nodes under my arm, so they’ve all got to come out on surgery day. I can assure you this is one invasion that won’t make the history books.

2)   It all started in the dairy: the lobular bit in the name means that cells started to divide and grow abnormally in my milk-producing glands or lobules (rather than my ducts – tubes that carry milk to the nipple). 

3)   It knows the score: whether you like it or not, your cancer gets a grade (and trust me, this is not the time to be top of the class!). The scoring system used grades the cancer (from 1 to 4) by looking at the size of the tumour, whether the lymph nodes are affected and whether there is any spread to other body parts. I have a tumour that is around 40mm (there are two other suspicious areas and I get the biopsy results tomorrow) and there is evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes. That puts me at stage 2. I’ll take that thanks.

4)   Oestrogen is keeping the cancer well fed: this is actually one of the hardest parts of the diagnosis to take in many ways. It feels like my own femininity is leading the charge. The only good thing is that there are more hormone drugs available to join my side of the battle.

There will always be more to learn but, for now, I think I know my enemy. Cancer, it’s time for you to be afraid, not me! 

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