Breast cancer lesson number 24: Not all upgrades are worth having!

I have only ever been upgraded once before in my life. Duncan and I were on a holiday in Cyprus and, having opted for a really tiny hire care, we were upgraded to something a little bit better. As the designated driver, I was visibly thrilled at the news. Duncan was laughing. I didn’t know why until I saw the car – or maybe juggernaut with a giant boot would be a better description. Having driven nothing larger than a Nissan Micra (I am pretty fond of my small car), it took me days to get used to it. As anyone who has been up the Troodos Mountains will know, big cars and little windy roads with sheer drops are not a match made in heaven.

Today, at my pathology report meeting, I received the results of the testing done on the cancerous mass – or should I say masses. This meeting is one of the most important meetings in the whole process because it’s the first time they’ve tested everything and it’s the first time they know for certain what really went on behind naughty right boobie!

With the results, came the second upgrade of my life (why can’t I just be upgraded to first class on a plane like normal people!?). The tumour they found was larger than anticipated; there were other masses (making it multi-focal cancer); and while there were only two lymph nodes affected out of a possible 13 (the number of lymph nodes present in a body varies from person to person), the cancer in one of the lymph nodes had spread into the surrounding tissue. This means I have stage 3 cancer, which is sometimes referred to as locally advanced breast cancer. Stage 4 cancer is secondary cancer and it doesn’t even get a mention in some cancer leaflets.

Ok, so you’re probably thinking that there’s no way Jackie will be able to get a positive post out of these findings. But, I am delighted to say I can and I have! The reason being is that I AM CANCER FREE. Yep, you heard that right. THE CANCER HAS LEFT THE BUILDING – AND THE BODY!!! Yes, it’s not the best news in the world (although the surgeon did say it was better than they thought it would be). Yes, it means I will have to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a course of hormone therapy. But, I can now say I HAD STAGE 3 INVASIVE LOBULAR BREAST CANCER AND NOW IT’S GONE.

Today has been a good day. The surgeon and the breast care nurse were surprised to see me looking so well – and bolt upright. The surgeon had a quick peek of the new improved me and looked very impressed with the results (it’s nice to get nods of approval when you take your top off). I met the surgeon who saved my life and got the chance to ‘thank him for working his magic’, and I am no longer waiting to hear what the next six months are going to look like. My cancer surgeon doesn’t want to see me again for a whole YEAR (woohoo) and there was an incredible amount of smiling and laughing. Anyone would have thought we were having a celebration rather than discussing the fact the cancer was trying its hardest to take me away.

Thank god for amazing surgeons and for Christmas Eve 2013. My engagement may have been the best Christmas present ever, but finding this lump on Christmas Eve has got to be up there. While no one can tell me what the future holds and whether or not it will come back, the fact is, right now, I’m lucky to be alive – a fact that’s only just starting to sink in!

Breast cancer lesson number three: Good things do not always come in small packages!

As a pint-sized person, I have always been an advocate of the little things in life – Cadbury’s Heroes being a particularly good example (why would you eat a full-sized chocolate bar again?!). My breasts were no exception – until now!

It pains me to say it, but small is not always beautiful. In fact, in breast cancer land, small is pretty annoying.

My world view was crushed on what I truly believe to be the weirdest and most surreal day of my entire life. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone this time – although I think my amazing mum (hello mum!) could have been forgiven for wanting to go and lie down in darkened room about half way through. Massive credit to her for laughing along with me throughout – even without lunch.

It was supposed to be one 10am meeting with a surgeon and a breast nurse to discuss the MRI results and plan what I thought would be a wide local excision or lumpectomy (in other words, chop it out, move on to chemo). I thought I’d be back at work within the hour.

Here’s what happened:

1)   Surgeon (who is hilariously funny and witty for a surgeon) explains that the tumour is more like 40mm than 28mm and there are two other suspicious areas that need investigating (just to qualify, this part was not funny or witty). Still smiling though!

2)   Surgeon examines me – and brings mum in too for a quick feel – and confirms that my breast is just too small to save (thanks nature). Bit scared and annoyed with nature!

3)   Surgeon explains the two ‘reconstruction’ routes, one of which involves taking out my tummy tissue to give me a new mound. Has a feel of my tummy and thinks they might just be able to use it. Laughing now at fact tummy is being squeezed!

4)   Surgeon refers for second biopsy to investigate findings and my kind breast care nurse loads me up with breast reconstruction literature. Still smiling… just!

5)   Care staff at biopsy number two turn out to be very entertaining and lovely. Smiling lots to block out fact my boob is yet again being explored – trying not to laugh otherwise might disturb procedure.

6)   Lovely breast care nurse points us in direction of secret staff bus to whizz us to another hospital. Mum and I laugh while trying to look like serious hospital staff.

7)   Meet nurse quickly and get weighed! Best weight in three years (yay for dry January and losing my Christmas podge). Feeling pretty smug!

8)   Meet next nurse who makes us tea and explains that the Dutch only put milk in their children’s tea. Smiling at having discovered something new!

9)   Meet plastic surgeon, three nurses and a doctor who explain tummy procedure and give me a quick squeeze. Check leg and bum and confirm just too tight (oh yes!). Feeling pretty smug again at weight loss.

10)  Plastic surgeon thinks tummy might have enough fat to go ahead with procedure, but needs to do a CT scan to check. Feeling less smug and starting to regret losing Christmas weight. Maybe need to make a batch of mince pies!

11)  Surgeon refers me to pre op assessment (why not, while I’m here)!

12)  Behind door number one, nurse one takes blood pressure. It’s high (I would say this wasn’t surprising)! Second time round, I pass and move on to MRSA testing. Smiling due to the fact I like passing tests!

13)  Behind door number two, nurse two (who told us a lovely story about buying herself a dressing gown for Christmas and wrapping it up under the tree because she’d always wanted one and never got one) talks me through op day. Smiling lots at having met a friendly lady who would have otherwise remained a stranger!

14)  Behind door number three, nurse three takes blood. Uneventful. Smiling at fact needle went in vein and was uneventful!

15)  Op date confirmed: 21 February. Phew! Bit tired of smiling now.

So three waiting rooms, two surgeons, 15 care staff, six appointment rooms and six and a half HOURS later, and my mum and I are hugging and laughing at the tube station as we say goodbye.

While neither the day nor the results were what I was expecting when I woke up that morning, I was a) humbled and inspired by the amazing hospital staff and the way they fast-tracked me and b) happy to have spent the day experiencing and laughing through it all with my mum. Every cloud…

Tune in on Monday to find out if I passed the ‘fat’ test…