Monday, 21 May 2012

Decisions, decisions, decisions in Limbo

It’s pretty hard trying to remember the feelings and experiences I was having just a few months ago. So much has happened for me this year and it took me long enough to feel sure of whether I wanted to write a blog about these things or not. Some things are too extreme a feeling to even go into as they’re happening. So I’ve needed time to process them and move on. Overall this system has worked pretty well for me so far.

Where I left you last my operation results were positive in that my cancer had not spread which came as surprise as it was aggressive therefore the doctors did not seem too sure of what treatment would be right for me. I had a million and one things on my mind, on the go, all at once. I was exhausted.

The choice was between chemotherapy then radiotherapy and 5 years of hormone therapy drugs or just radiotherapy and 5 years of drugs.

How do you even begin to make choices about your own health and treatment when you don’t have enough knowledge and you’re under a great deal of stress? I prepared questions to ask the Oncologist and tried not to worry too much. However, every story I read was about Breast Cancer returning. The women I spoke to had less aggressive cancers than mine that returned so much stronger. This may not be the case when you’re older but when you’re so young there are all the more years for it pop into your life again.

On the one hand I was afraid of treatment that could potentially leave me with more side effects without much added benefit (chemo). At 25 years old my chances of recovering completely from side effects of chemotherapy were a lot higher than they would be if I were just 10 years older. On the other hand did I want to use a less severe treatment but get it back again when it would hurt me even more a second time? Then again so many women have cancer come back even when they’ve been through the max with treatment. Some people don’t get it back again with less treatment. There are no guarantees. It’s a fact to accept that I’ll always be a little on edge.

I decided to try to get back to work, even though I was tired just walking up the stairs in the house – even if only for a couple of hours. But walking to the station in the morning I was absolutely shattered. Scared of everyone walking past me in case they would knock into my arm or worse still scared of someone bumping into my breast!  I travelled into work keeping an eye on everyone, extremely cautious of people even from a distance and on edge constantly making sure to move out of peoples’ way before they got close. By the time I got into work I was ready to lie down in a corner. I lasted an hour or so and decided to go back home. Epic fail. I’d made myself feel worse.

To top it off after successfully avoiding anyone knocking into me on the busy tube a bunch of rude girls decided to purposely push me out of the way as I stood aside to let them past near my house. I must have looked like I was scared of them mugging me so they decided to put me in my place – I’m guessing. Not being able to explain that I’d only recently had an operation and I’m extremely weak and would stand back from a toddler in the state I was in, I just walked on home pretty much knocked down in confidence. I couldn’t sleep for the night from the pain of having my operated side barged into. I didn’t try to go back into work after that day.

When the day came to meet my Oncologist I went along with my little (big) sheet of questions, ready to make an ‘informed’ decision. Bearing in mind that by this time I’d dealt with the fact that the decision was down to me, to walk into the room and face a rather cold man who asked me if I preferred mornings or afternoons for radio without even looking me in the face came as a shock to me.

Didn’t he realise I would have questions? Or could he not even imagine the situation I was in? That I was only just starting to deal with the fact that cancer is going to be somewhere on the back of my mind for the rest of my life now? That my decisions would affect my future not just my present.? I was very conscious of all of this.

“Actually I’d prepared some questions, I was under the impression you’d be guiding me today” I tried to stand my ground and get the information I’d come for. I’d had enough of everything moving out of my control all of the time.

Theoretically, I could see where the Oncologist was coming from. He showed me the statistics of how much chemotherapy would benefit me in terms of avoiding dying which is the number one medical priority of course! Whilst there would be benefits, the negatives are always deducted from this.

Chemotherapy has more possibility of affecting your fertility permanently, radiotherapy does not, and chemotherapy carries a chance of you dying from infection as well as a chance of developing Leukaemia. Once the detrimental points are deducted from the percentage of benefit in this respect the percentage of benefit was not high enough in my case for them to really push for it. In fact it was explained to me that with a hundred versions of me, if 50 had chemo and 50 didn’t only one extra person of the 50 who had chemo would be alive in comparison to the no chemo group.

I asked about the likelihood of my cancer returning with chemotherapy and without chemotherapy and he had not considered this but worked it out with me there. The chance of it returning without chemotherapy in comparison to having chemotherapy was much higher. However, he quite bluntly put this as unimportant. If I got cancer again it doesn’t mean it would be fatal they’d just give me a mastectomy (take my breast off) and treat me all over again. I felt like a complete idiot admitting that although staying alive was important I do rather like having both breasts as I got a blank stare. How could I be so petty to care about that right?

I decided to just go with the flow. Do as they said and take the worry and burden off my own shoulders. I chose radiotherapy and was given a prescription of Tamoxifen that I would need to take for 5 years. Besides I am pretty sure that positive thinking is a form of treatment in itself.

However, the oncologist’s cold attitude was then followed by more to worry and disappoint me. I had been referred for an appointment to see an expert for another treatment (not chemo or radio) this was extremely delayed and was only arranged after I phoned and begged on the phone for them to hurry up. Once I went to the hospital I was sent to (not the hospital I had originally wanted or been told I would be sent to) I was told that not only did they not do the treatment I was sent for. Even if they did I was not entitled to it as an NHS patient. It was the first time I had cried at news a doctor had given me since being told I had cancer. Off the record I was told I’d have much better treatment for this if I went privately to Turkey or Cyprus. At this stage I couldn’t believe I had been led on with something as important as my treatment. I lost faith in the team that was dealing with me.

I went back to see my GP to see if I could be referred to a new team at a new hospital. He said he’d be happy to do this and completely understood how I felt. In the meantime my sister had gone for a second opinion to an Oncologist her Professor from uni knew. He agreed with the treatment I was having (apart from one other treatment he would add due to my age). So I decided to carry on as planned and went ahead with getting tattoos done and having my radiotherapy planning appointments. I called the GP’s office and asked them not to go ahead with my referral to a new hospital. Apparently I had just stopped them in the nick of time.

Not so as within a week I heard from the hospital I had asked to be referred to. They offered me a consultation the day before I was due to start radiotherapy. This would be in two weeks. They had already even applied for my tumour and biopsy samples to be transferred over to them for their own tests. I was told these should be ready by the time of my consultation. Clearly the GP had forgotten not to fax my referral through after all.

In any case more opinions would not hurt. I worked hard on building my energy back up as I was tired of being at home with a life based only around cancer and hospital.

By this point I’d unofficially through friends of friends who were oncologists had second and third opinions all saying my treatment plan seemed fine. So I expected pretty much the same at my consultation. However, the new hospital told me that my test results were not clear enough and that one test that can help determine the likelihood of the cancer recurring and therefore help with deciding a treatment plan was not carried out at the old hospital.

They were not so sure that chemotherapy should be ruled out. Unfortunately the samples were not all sent over to them yet so they booked me in for an appointment for three weeks’ time – when I would find out what my treatment would be.

The next day, the day I was due to start radio. I called the team and told them I would not be proceeding. From that point on I was ready to go back to work and be strong. For three weeks I would carry on working happy in the knowledge that in three weeks I would find out what my treatment would be.

It was so good to be back at work. To have other things to think about and to see people again. Simple things like getting yourself dressed up to leave the house and putting some makeup make the world of difference. I looked positively to the 3 weeks wait as I was already on my tamoxifen I felt ok to delay things.

3 weeks came and I was itching to find out my treatment plan. I went along to the appointment and was told that unfortunately the old hospital had not yet sent my tumour to the new hospital so they did not have results yet. I would be called at the end of the week on Friday with results.

I didn’t show it straight away at my appointment but I was disappointed. I was looking forward to getting on with things. Friday came and no phone call seemed to be coming with it. I called the hospital repeatedly and was finally able to get through to someone who let me know it would be ready on Monday following first thing in the morning. Apparently my old hospital had only sent the samples through on Thursday.

Monday morning came and I realised they wouldn’t call me at 10.30 so I called them. They told me it should be ready by around 1pm. I was quietly despairing by now. I waited until 3pm but could feel myself ready to cry. Was I being a mug in believing them each time? Everyone thought I should argue back but I had no energy. I felt like this would go on indefinitely. Finally I called them again and still I was told it was not ready but they would call me.

My colleagues seeing the state I was in by this point called the hospital to shout at them for me. This was worse than torture. Finally the hospital started to take me seriously and by the time I got home and phoned them again (around 5.30pm) it was ready. I would not need chemo. I could finally plan radiotherapy (again)
So that’s where I am at now. On 17th May last Thursday, 94 days after surgery, I finally started my radiotherapy.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Driving Myself Crazy

So where I left you last I was pretty drugged up and the tumour was out.  I was pretty much ok, except I couldn’t do anything. Luckily drugs are very lovely things… to an extent of course! My pain was pretty well camouflaged for some time so in my opinion, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the biopsies had been. I had also gotten used to sleeping upright on my back so that wasn’t upsetting me as much as I expected after my days in pain from biopsies. I was so grateful for this because honestly not being able to sleep in the position you feel comfortable in is a real pain.

The simple exercises of lifting my arms from down by my side to an upwards horizontal position, was a challenge. Paranoid that I was going to get a fat bottom from lying down so much I even tried to do some squats and lunges without moving my arms on the day after my operation. I must say that overall apart from not being able to move my arms and feeling tired I thought I looked pretty good for someone that had just had an operation.

This next bit of my story is about to get gross so if you are easily put of your food don’t read this while eating! When I left hospital I was given a few different pain killers and other drugs to take. The instructions were simply to take them all together with each meal. My sister did ask (obviously I was too high to concentrate on anything logical!) whether it would be ok to take all of these together. Nothing was said to the contrary so that was what I was taking for 2 days.

On the third day, I woke up and declared I felt a bit sick. The being sick would not stop. I became the Exorcist girl. I was sweating, shaking, going in and out of consciousness and considering I had not eaten properly in quite some time I had only stomach acid left. So was in a lot of pain. It was not pretty.

I kept trying to sleep it off and even confusingly begged my sister to hoover around me because I didn’t want to see mess when my eyes were open! However, the pain was not stopping… My sister decided to read the potential side effects of my drugs and whilst some were supposed to be taken with a meal, one was supposed to be taken on an empty stomach.

We never like to take up doctors or hospital time unnecessarily so my sister called the NHS helpline to get some advice on what to do about the green exorcist girl AKA moi that she was trying to keep a handle on. They sent a paramedic, who after coming to see me decided to call for an ambulance. Pretty soon I was carted back to hospital. Hours followed in an emergency room continuing to vomit and being in a lot of pain. Coming in and out of consciousness – not from being tired but literally from exhaustion from the pain I was suffering. Trying to have enough consciousness to ensure no one takes my blood pressure or sticks a needle in the wrong arm. Even the injection given straight into my muscles to stop me being sick was having no effect.

It’s pretty common after any operation to be sick (although I don’t know if it is to the degree I was!) but this was significant for me. Because it pretty much scared me to death of the chemotherapy I would be having. This was one day! How would I take it for weeks? Clearly I was not the strong doing squats the day after an op kinda girl I thought I was.

Although I never had any conclusion on what had made me so sick my breast care nurse thought it was most likely Norovirus caught in hospital on the day of my op. Either way after that day I recovered. I was too shaky and weak to do my exercises and panicked I would fall behind.

My phone would not stop. So I never had a chance to truly be bored or fed up of being at home. I was either in pain (I stopped taking painkillers after that day) or having visitors or trying to answer text messages.

Slowly my own day of reckoning arrived. Funnily enough with each significant appointment I’d had so far I’d always been calm on the day of waiting to be seen. When I was told I had cancer, I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t truly think that’s what I would be told. The day I had confirmation of cancer I was more anxious to finally have information on whether it was spreading, or if I would live to feel too nervous. The day I was told my third lump was not cancer, I wasn’t nervous because I was too numb with shock from worrying it was now stage 4 cancer.

This time waiting for the hour when we would go into hospital to find out whether the surgeon had been able to get a clear margin of tissue around the tumour and whether it had spread to my lymph nodes. I felt terrified.

Being as we were staying at my aunt’s house while I recovered. My mum worked nearer our own house so she took me there to wait for her to finish work therefore not losing time getting to hospital. I did my best to occupy myself watching YouTube videos until she could come back to bring me to hospital. But I had this terrible … terrified feeling.

I heard noises upstairs and got myself in a terrible state that there was an intruder in the house. Being as my arm was out of order and I was pretty weak I didn’t even have my normal courage to go and check – if there was an intruder (no matter how unlikely) they could knock me over with a feather and I’d be in agony… So I just cried to myself not knowing what to do… I ran out of the house and stood in the street for a bit. I wondered who I could call to come and check the house for me. My policeman friend? No obviously he’s working somewhere else I can’t waste police time when I know that really there is no intruder. My mum’s best friend? No I can’t call her because she will worry for me and come all the way to my house for nothing. My brother? No he is at work.

Worst of all I knew there was no intruder upstairs really and couldn’t understand why I felt so terrified. It took me a good half hour of tears and texts to my sister before I got my courage up to just face my fears and go upstairs.

Finally at hospital the results that you would really want to hear in my position were given to me. No lymph nodes were affected and the tumour was removed with completely clear margin of tissue around it meaning it had not spread any further. Yet I couldn’t enjoy the first bit of good news I’d had in weeks. The situation was that it was very unusual to have found breast cancer that was both aggressive in grade and still small without having spread. Bearing in mind that treatments are decided using statistics I was informed that there were probably only a handful of people with my particular set of circumstances around the world. So they would have to use statistics from a different age group to decide. Overall the benefit of chemotherapy was looking to be not high enough to warrant the risk. The choice would be mine. Although I would be advised on what to choose at another appointment apparently.
Knowing that the choice would be mine did not make me feel better. I began to worry that I would constantly have this feeling of anxiety for life. Physically on high alert for nothing in particular fearing every symptom as a potential recurrence. I read up stories of women getting cancer again and again. Women with a lower grade than mine eventually getting their cancer back and it spreading to other organs. I would lie in bed literally in distress shivering and not knowing why. Overwhelmed with everything I faced ahead. 5 years of hormone therapy, constant tests to check the cancer won’t be coming back… for the rest of my life now. I worried that this feeling of trauma would never leave me.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Ready, set, GO!

Once my third biopsy had taken place each day was a long struggle to remain positive and pass time until results. I tried my hardest to feel ‘ready for action’ but I felt as if I had come under attack and before I could catch my next breath I would feel a new punch. I was frozen in time just waiting…

I prepared a long list of what I would need for chemotherapy. From what I had been reading there is so much, wigs and scarves are not where it ends. Ginger and ice lollies to keep you from being sick/losing taste buds and dark nail polish to prevent your nails dropping off are just a few of the recommendations. The list was as long as my arm. I saw it as a challenge to have the least side effects. I would be so organised that nothing would surprise me!

I decided to have my hair chopped off to a bob so that when I needed chemo it wouldn’t come as a shock and I wouldn’t have to deal with cutting my hair shorter in the same week as my inevitable operation. I had been growing my hair since 2007 and it was still not as long as I desired so my trip to the hairdressers resulted in quite a shock for my hairdressers! I shut my eyes whilst they cut my hair until they’d swept away my long locks and I faked a massive smile for how ‘great’ my new bob looked. I still hate it.

The only way I could deal with all that I had to confront in the coming weeks was by handling one mini nervous breakdown at a time. I allowed myself time to be hysterical about one new issue every other day!

The first serious mini breakdown was about my fears of what effect chemo would have on my fertility. As far as I knew there is always a risk that your fertility will be permanently affected by chemotherapy.

As much as I tried to research this I could not find any information on what would happen to someone my age. It’s not just chemo I was worried about but also the drugs I would have to take called ‘Tamoxifen’ would be a part of my life for FIVE years… in which time you are not allowed to get pregnant.

Funnily enough I had not been planning to have a baby any time soon – and I am not even with anybody for that to happen. But as you can imagine you don’t want to be told that you are not allowed at all! Such a long indefinite period waiting to find out if you will be ok in the end seemed unbearable.

One night whilst I was in this waiting period for results, I rather suddenly declared to my mum that I would not be accepting ANY treatment if they cannot assure me that I’ll be able to have children at the end of it. I would rather die.

Yes I know it sounds melodramatic in the grand scheme of things but I was rather adamant that a life with no children is no life worth living so I would be good as dead and may as well go quickly! I couldn’t listen to my mum begging me to remember that I am her child and how much this would hurt her. As far as I was concerned all the people telling me my life was more important were just talking nonsense and rubbing salt into the wound. My friend who was trying to calm me down over the phone and my mum were facing deaf ears. I switched off my phone, went to bed exhausted from crying, shut my eyes and ignored my mums tears and pleading.

The next morning when I woke up to a load of distraught texts from my friend and remembered what I’d been saying to my mum I felt guilty. The night before had gotten my emotions out of my system on that subject and I no longer felt as dramatic. Whatever will be, will be. I must simply carry on and live to the best I can with whatever I am given in life. There is much I want to do still.

One of the breast cancer forums I had joined and was explaining my fears on brought me a private message with research and statistics showing that at 25 it would be highly unlikely that I would be affected at all. This was enough to put aside my fears for that time.

No ‘mini-breakdown’ was quite as bad for me after this point and that was the most serious issue to contend with in my eyes.  Fears of recurrence and spreading and life after cancer treatment, I dealt with by researching one at a time. One evening was spent worrying about each and then I left them to the back of my mind. I didn’t dwell on these for too long.

Finally the day arrived in which I would find out whether my second ‘lump’ was cancerous and whether an operation would be going ahead as the team had planned. I sat patiently in the waiting room for over 2.5 hours and when I was finally seen, like a TV audience suffering the drum roll for that bit too long to care I didn’t have any anticipation left! 

Thankfully as soon as my consultant walked through the door he was pleased to tell me it was NOT cancer. This was the first good news I had, having been resigned to the fact that any bad news was bound to be mine.

The next day, a Wednesday, the medical team would discuss who should be having operations first out of me and other women diagnosed with cancer depending on their prognosis and circumstances. It was confirmed that I would be having my operation on the Monday following.

This would consist of a wide local excision to remove the tumour from my breast along with a margin of tissue surrounding it plus a separate excision of my ‘sentinel’ lymph nodes from my armpit. These are the lymph nodes that would be the main route of any cancer that would have spread from the tumour.  If these tested positive I would need a second operation to remove all of the lymph nodes.

I am very lucky because a lot of hospitals currently do not perform this operation and so many women would have all of their lymph nodes removed for testing unnecessarily even if there has been no spreading. As our lymph nodes are very important for the functioning of our immune system this would be quite an extreme measure to take in the case of someone who has not been affected in that area.

I did my best to prepare for my operation buying comfy tops that button up and hoodies glad to getting on with things now. At my pre-op appointment one lady around my mother’s age started to complain as I went through the door to see the nurse that had called me in. “Why are you seeing her first?! I am a mother – I have three children! My blood pressure is low! I can’t take this waiting here!” she had been delayed in her appointment as she was waiting for a translator that she had not requested in advance (although clearly she knew enough English to complain about me being seen first!)

I had been given a fitness pack of exercises I was supposed to learn for after my operation to build my strength up. I had asked one woman I knew how she’d found the exercises after her operation and she told me she found them too difficult for the first 2 months. It was only the night before my operation that I decided to have a look at the routines. They involved lifting my arm up and down… This would be too difficult for me? Worrying for someone that likes to keep fit! However, no backing out or other option to hand so I would have to train my arm to go up and down again! Too bad

Early on the morning of my operation I waited patiently in my gown whilst I was still allowed to keep my sister and mum beside me. There was not enough room in the ward for them to wait for me so they would have to leave and I would have to wait by myself.

The first stage was having dye injected into my breast which would show the route to the sentinel lymph nodes. These were found with a machine that scanned my body and x marked the spot with a marker pen on my body. I was a big doodle board! I asked if they could show me what the lymph nodes looked like on the scan (they must have thought I was a bit strange in hospital that day!) they were happy to comply and seeing what my innards looked like and the exact location in the image was very interesting!

Then I was through to the ward again to await my name being called for my operation. I was sat beside the lady who complained about me being seen first at my pre-op appointment…  Whilst I read a magazine and tried to chat cheerfully with the nurses to keep myself occupied. She sobbed continuously and kept calling for the nurses to check where her possessions were. I can only say that the way you allow yourself to react to situations when they are no longer in your hands determines how you will feel and how well you will recover from negative situations. Sometimes you have to let go and give up caring. Crying would no longer do anything other than to make you a nervous wreck!

My name was called first again (mwa-ha-ha-ha!) so off I walked down the corridor following the nurse in my rather fetching green gown. When I got into the room and saw my surgeon and the team in their ‘PJs’ I tried not to listen to my nervous feeling and propped myself up in the bed preparing to soon drift off.

I had previously had a procedure under general anaesthetic  to have four teeth removed before, you can count to three and you’re asleep. So I didn’t expect to notice too much for long. They went ahead and tried to attach cannula to my hand. This wasn’t working. In fact it hurt a little as my hand was too small for the cannula and it was dragging my skin off. The vein was hiding! I would need to be put under with gas instead.

Not my kind of thing at all! I like the idea of it being done quickly without you knowing. Having to hold the mask over my own face felt like I was putting myself to sleep… I didn’t trust it. Would I wake up? I wanted to ask the surgeon but I didn’t want to look like a big wimp and drag the situation out so I just breathed in as much as I could and squished my eyes closed hoping that would do the job…

Obviously, they know what they are doing! I woke up hours later in another room with the mask on my face and slowly realised where I was. At which point I rather embarrassingly started to cry for my mum! I knew that they had made my mum and sister leave the ward and would call her when I was brought back to the ward so I thought in my drugged up state I believed that the more I whined the more likely they’d be to make the effort to call her immediately and have her ready for me as soon as I wheeled back up to the ward. I didn’t want to wait in that confused state.

Now, as a result of my lymph nodes being removed I am not supposed to put pressure on my left arm, or to risk infection for life. So things like blood pressure tests and injections have to be taken from my right arm. That is a permanent state of affairs that will never change. Yet I can say that I had keep offering my right arm, even though I was out of it, as my operated arm was being lifted each time! Not safe and also painful.

As I was wheeled back into the ward in the bed past the crying lady who was still waiting for her operation I decided to give an encouraging big thumbs up (with my good arm) and a knowing head nod… in my hilarious drugged up state I was one wise gal!

I knew mine was a day case only so I would need to ‘recover’ sufficiently before going home for the night. Now all I wanted to get out! I asked when I would be allowed to go as. I made myself sit up and they told me that once I had eaten something and shown I could get up and about I would be allowed to go. So I had a biscuit and a tuna sandwich which I declared to be the best tuna sandwich in the world… Seriously drugged up. Half an hour after I told them I was ready to go. They gave me my painkillers which were to last for 3 days and off I went on my way.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Shock Mode

So at that point in time, I had pretty much been told I had cancer without having official confirmation. At first this left me in a terrible state of shock and as mentioned in my last post completely unable to sleep.
The effects of the anaesthetic, sleeplessness, pain from biopsies and ultimately the shock from the blow of the news had put me into the most surreal state. I cannot explain how it feels to anybody and I just hope that you never have to experience it to know.

I tried to arm myself with information in the next few days so that on the Tuesday of my appointment for biopsy results I would know exactly what to ask. Type of cancer, treatment, long term effects… dare I even consider statistics and survival rates?

However, in that time we remained confused about whether to tell people what was happening. Yes, so far it was a need to know basis, my manager, closer colleagues that would need to cover for me and mother, aunts uncles knew. I couldn’t face telling anybody when I couldn’t regulate my own thoughts and feelings just yet. By the end of that waiting period I had even managed to delude myself that I must have misheard the consultant and they were just double checking all along. This was going to be one big embarrassment when I tell everyone that does know – hey no! It was all a big misunderstanding! Silly NHS ey! No point telling anybody yet.

Yet the terror of considering the worst possibilities such spreading cancer, potentially having been there for longer then I’d known were gnawing on my insides and my mind. I spent so much time online looking up effects of cancer treatments, reading stories of survivals, recurrences. Generally I overloaded my mind with too much information. Finally one video I found on Youtube was completely different from the other sob story style videos that had been dragging me deep down with despair…

Katie Huttlestone, diagnosed at just 21 and vlogging her experience of chemo, with complete dignity and courage. Watching her definitely made me feel better and it was the first step to choosing to face this with a smile instead of with tears (for the majority of the time). I wanted to be someone that could be used as a positive story when people go through this in their own lives either themselves or a loved one.

Yet I still had so many issues to work through. I tried to deal with each fear one at a time.

1.       Death – I pretty much felt that my time was up. If not now then sooner than I’d ever thought. I worried that I didn’t have enough money to be buried and that my family would now suffer because I hadn’t been wise enough to save for a grave at 25! I watched one music video in which a girl slowly disappears and literally freaked myself out with it over and over again. This is what I felt was happening to me.

This was probably the base fear of everything for me at that point. I know people worry about chemo and hair loss etc. But I just did not care. I felt desperate to do the maximum of whatever was needed to make me better.

By the time I went for my appointment on the Tuesday following my biopsies/mammograms the confirmation of cancer was not a blow. I calmly asked for the stage of cancer and when I was told stage 1, I was incredibly relieved. Overall they were confident that for my size of tumour and stage I should be looking to be fully cured.

I still had a fair few appointments and tests to be had, starting with my MRI scan for the breast area only the following day. This was ok the only awkward thing is having the contrast dye dripped into my arm whilst I lay completely still. It feels – not painful – just awkward. Not nice as you literally feel cold liquid moving around through your veins. Nothing compared to biopsies though.

As I sat in the corridor in my gown waiting to have my MRI scan with a man sitting next to me shouting on his phone for however long it was… I noticed a small worn out looking young lady sitting in a wheelchair. I felt for her as she started to cry “I’ve been sitting here for hours but I’m not supposed to be in this corridor, I’ve been put into isolation room to avoid infection for the last few days because I am Neutropenic and they’ve put me in this corridor with everybody and forgotten me here.”

Neutropenia is simply put – when the level of certain cell in the blood is dangerously low – leaving you susceptible to fever and infection – a potentially dangerous side effect of chemotherapy. I was unnerved to see her being treated this way and completely on her own with no one to fight her cause and chase anyone up.

This was at a different hospital to the one where I had had my screening and so we quickly rushed back to our own hospital to meet my breast care nurse for a ‘cup of tea and a chat’. I felt determined to get more answers to my question this time as the day before I had only managed to find out that I was stage one and my cancer was a hormone receptive cancer. I did not want any mollycoddling and I really wanted to full frank answers about what was happening.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as the stage one I was so happy to hear the day before. Although I seemed to have found it early, the grade and stage was not the same thing – which I had not realised. My cancer was grade 2 which means they are faster growing and more aggressive (although not as much as Grade 3) invasive ductal carcinoma, and ER positive. Meaning that they were growing off of oestrogen my body was producing. This is apparently a good thing because they can take certain measures to stop the hormone causing your tumour to grow.

During this tea/chat time I was given dozens of booklets on every topic. Losing my hair, fertility, depression, lymphoma (something that can be an unwanted side effect from your operation to remove the cancer and from radiotherapy), chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone treatments, surgery. I was given magazines that were apparently inspiration (unfortunately the first article I opened in the magazine was about a lady dealing with her cancer having spread to her liver, lungs and finally brain – making her condition terminal! Not so uplifting I must say!)

I asked questions and seemed probably quite cheerful. I felt quite detached about it. Okay so chemo here we go. I am totally going to deal with this gracefully! The only point I did make clear was that I desperately wanted to find out what my options were and how much I might be affected in terms of chances of having children in the future. Even though it was not something I had ever given serious thought before. I had assumed it was always my option for the future sometime and I do not like the idea of having my option lost for something that I wanted to be a temporary situation.

I was told that whilst there was a chance of infertility with chemotherapy it is generally more the case for older women. As I am so young I have more chance of recovering completely than someone who is young – but closer to menopause. I felt satisfied with this but felt reassured that they would be sending me to a specialist to discuss this with me more in depth. I would be referred straight away because any treatment can potentially interfere with chemotherapy and there is a short window of time. This is one of the most annoying elements of something as serious as cancer. You suddenly have so many things to think of that you’d never considered on any serious level. Being stuck in a position where you have to consider such serious things you’d never thought of – whilst you have so much on your mind as it is not healthy…

At the end of our chat time, I felt I had a lot more information than before. I was told I would most likely need chemotherapy purely because I was so young and they wanted to give me the best chance. I had my operation procedure explained to me. I was finally told that if anything unusual came up from my MRI scan I would need to come back in. It shouldn’t be the case but they would call me if that happened. I now had to wait for my next appointment the following week to have my operation date confirmed.

I decided that although I still felt in shock and still felt in pain from the biopsies I would go back into work the next morning and continue until my operation was confirmed. This way I could prepare things for when I was ‘off’ and keep occupied as much as possible.

In the morning I aimed to travel into work before rush hour began as I couldn’t hold a pole to balance myself and was very protective of my whole breast region because of the pain I was in. In the office as the time approached 9am I noticed my phone flashing. My blood ran cold it was an ‘unknown number’…

I knew immediately that it was the hospital and what this meant. The MRI had found more. Rather embarrassingly I started to cry so picked up my phone and went straight over to the other end of the office to find the nearest woman to lean on while I had my call!

As soon as my lady colleague saw my face crying she took me into a smaller meeting room while I cried uncontrollably on the phone whilst gripping onto her for security. Poor colleague was in shock not knowing what the call was about. They asked me to come in urgently as they had arranged an appointment for more tests in an hour and a half. I cried and blurted out to my colleague that I had cancer. She was shocked. I was having a mental breakdown. I called my mum who was at her work and told her to meet me at hospital and she started to wail down the phone as well at which point my colleague began to cry.

I had to go back over to my side of the office to get my things. The office I work in is male dominated. I’ve never cried in the workplace at any job so it does say something that I didn’t care how it looked as I sobbed like a baby! Men cannot bear a crying woman I have come to realise and at that point as I sat down crying while people tried to get my things together. The men in the office rushed around me like headless chickens not sure of what to do. I can’t say I was too sure of what was happening around me at this point - I had lost a part of my mind. All I could see was this bringing my stage of cancer higher and my percentage of survival lowering rapidly. They did not want me on the tube or in a taxi by myself and so they quickly got the money together from what I gather to take me by black cab from London Bridge to Enfield in rush hour.

Thankfully one of the men in the office came along with me as he knows Enfield and to be honest – he was probably the best person to have come along with me. He managed to calm me down very well (probably another woman and I would have been a heap of tears in the back of the cab!) and I even cheered me up a little by the time we got to hospital and I was handed over to my mum and aunt both red eyed and looking worse than I did!

This time I wasn’t so helpful as I sat to have my ultrasound scan done. This wasn’t on purpose but by this point I had bruise on top of bruise from two separate occasions of biopsies. Each time the consultant reached over to place the equipment on my breast I squirmed away on the bed. I asked where the new lump was and was told “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask, there are two I’m afraid one more in the same breast and another in your right breast”. They should hopefully be nothing I was told that unless they really looked suspect in the ultrasound I would not need another biopsy. Left breast was examined and the consultant was satisfied that no biopsy was needed. Right breast was tested and unfortunately I heard the words I didn’t want to another biopsy was needed.

I squirmed about on the bed rather pathetically trying to move away from being tested even though I willed myself to stay still and have it over with. This time the position of the lump was such that I couldn’t turn my head away. I could only close my eyes and cry and wait for the pain. The anaesthetic didn’t feel like it was working this time. My mum’s tears dripped onto my face.
Afterwards I was silent. I couldn’t say anything. The ground had fallen from beneath me.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Tears Roll Down

My post today took a lot for me to write down. I remember these events, all of the time, every day but I think that it’s important to make clear that I am now doing much better now. Still, I think it’s important to remember ‘where I came from’ to show what you can come through. Yes with some scars but ultimately much stronger. I apologise for the length but it will get much shorter after this. This is the ‘dramatic’ part of my story - so to say!

So… Where I left you last, I had just had a horrible testing procedure and been left in pain. I was worried about the results a little but I assumed the entire procedure I had gone through was standard testing for a Fibroadenoma.

I won’t lie and claim that I didn’t think anything of it or imagine the worst. I did. I smacked myself on the wrist many a time for reading scare stories about young women, surprisingly diagnosed with cancer and horror stories that death rates amongst young women were much higher than for older women.

In any case, despite me allowing myself a bit of time to wallow in fear, it was only to the extent of anyone who imagines horror stories ‘Final Destination’ style – never truly expecting it to become their reality.

I knew all along that this would end with me embarrassing myself about how I allowed myself to think it was anything more than just a silly little lump.

Part of my ‘trauma’ at this point was that in my mind’s eye, I had visualised the breast screening process to be similar to a blood test clinic. You hop in, wait around, get seen, go back to work or home depending on the time of the day. So I had been very taken aback with the pain of the process and the fact that for three days I had to sleep uncomfortably sitting upright leaning on my back, feeling queasy from the anaesthesia.

By the time Monday came around, I was back at work, a bit achy but able to forget about things a little. I let my manager know that I had to leave early the week after for my results.  Wednesday came and the thought did flash through my mind that ‘If they don’t call today you’re fine. They get the results of the biopsy today – they’d hardly wait until next week if it’s serious’.

When no call came by the end of my working day my relief was great. I felt myself cheer up and the pain from my bruising felt more bearable. This would pass. I just have to insist I want it out and then I can forget this. My main worry at this point was that an operation for a harmless ‘tumour’ that would never become cancer would give me a pointless scar.

As I got out of the tube station coming home that evening, I received a voicemail from my mum. I couldn’t access it but I worried… Why would she be calling me and leave a voicemail when I’m due home in minutes. She never does that! Immediately I pretended to be worried that she was calling about something else being wrong - something less important. I called her back but she just told me we’d speak when I get in. Great… I planned to tell her off for freaking me out like that. Why not just tell me now while I wait for the bus?

When I got through the door the first thing I asked was ‘Did they call about… bla de blah!’ The unimportant matter I was pretending to myself to be worried about. Too scared of another potential.

Mum - ‘They called from the hospital to ask if you can come in tomorrow morning’…

Me - ‘Why? Did they sound concerned?!! What did they say exactly!? Oh no…’

Mum – ‘No, no. They said they had a cancellation and you can come in tomorrow if you like or you can go in next week for your appointment on Tuesday’.

Flash of thoughts occurred 1. Why would someone cancel an important appointment like this and why would they call me if that happens? 2. They said they had clinics on Tuesdays only… not Thursdays… why are they making an exception now?

What I chose to say was “Great! I’ll go tomorrow morning and get this out of the way immediately. Can you come with me so that I have a quick lift to the station to get to work quickly?” That was it. I chose to believe the cancellation story and spent the evening planning short breaks I could go on to Barcelona, Bath or York. 

In the morning I jazzed myself up, wore a nice new white silk blouse that was fitted as this was the first day I could wear something that wasn’t loose fitting or with buttons only. When my mum and I arrived at the clinic desk they said ‘Ah you’re here!’ and as fast as the negative thoughts could come in… ‘Why do they know me in particular?’ I chased them out with positive ones ‘Oh they must be glad they’ve filled their cancellation!’

As we sat in the clinic I enjoyed a bit of cheeky eavesdropping the hilarious three elder ladies behind me were having a right old chin-wag about a fire on their street and what their grandchildren get up to (No not looting!). See this is a regular thing for them, coming here for a check-up. How social, how sweet! I was called in first…

I stepped into the room and the nurse asked me to remove my top and bra and lie on the bed with the ‘dignity’ sheet (or at least that’s what I call the thin towel sheet/thing you’re given at examinations). I thought I’d remind her ‘I’m just here for my results. I’ve been examined already’. ‘No we always examine you every time you come for your appointments’. I was disappointed. How many of these unsympathetic men would I have to show my chest! How might they make me feel idiotic this time?

 I asked my mum to wait outside until I called her back in and off she went. However, the nurse was uncomfortable “Oh dear! Oh my God. Is that your mum? Why is she going outside?” I presumed she thought I was weird not having my mum in the room. “It’s ok – I’m past the age of showing my naked body to my mum!” I explained. The nurse however, still didn’t know what to say. Off she went next door. There was quiet for a while as I sat there thinking. I hoped I could call my mum back in quickly so I had someone with me while I got info about an operation. I was sat there for ages.

Finally a consultant came through and introduced himself with a mini reassuring hug/pat. He took off my bandages from the biopsy and sure enough I was totally green but very relieved to find only small dots which didn’t look too ugly. He was absolutely lovely asking what I was doing with myself. Studying? Working? I did not question why an effort was being made to put me at ease. Then he said something that immediately let me know things were wrong.

“We’ve called you back early…” oh it’s not a cancellation. I was stunned into silence. All I could do was stare “because we are very concerned. The ultrasound did not look right and the pathology reports have been very worrying. We need to do more tests and we need to do them right now.” I didn’t cry. I just stared. “I want my mum. She’s sitting outside can someone call her over please!? Her name is Bel… ” Off they rushed to get her. The second I saw my mum come through the door my tears came rolling down and I stared at her but I was still silent. My only thought was that this was not happening. I noticed how many people were standing in the room looking upset.

“If this is Cancer, you are young and strong and you will fight it. We need you to do a mammogram, another ultrasound, biopsy and an MRI scan”. I tried to be alert, to take in everything they said but longer was I inquisitive, multi-tasking, good memory skills Cansu – I was silent, zombie brain, shock victim Cansu.

They told me about an MRI machine at Barnet that I would be paying a visit on Wednesday and that the tests today would give them a better idea of what we were dealing with in time for my appointment next Tuesday. I still sat staring, my tears rolled.

“Is that ok?” he asked. “Yes but I still hurt there… so I have to have biopsies again? I’m so bruised won’t it hurt more?!” I asked. “I’m sorry. I know it hurts but we have to do these quickly but we can wait if you like?” No.  I wanted this over. I needed to do everything now. This was war but I felt I had no weapons and I was losing.

Off the doctor went to leave me to get changed. First I asked for tissues. I couldn’t let women outside see me crying. I didn’t want to scare anyone waiting to get their results. My mum and I gripped each other’s shoulders “Mum! What did he say? Did you hear him say it? No! No! No!”

I stepped outside holding my mum’s arm, shaking. The sight of a room full of women in their sixties and seventies sitting around having a sweet natter, hit me with my situation. They are happy. I am sad. They will go home and have a cup of tea. I am fighting cancer. I am 25. I haven’t lived. I haven’t had children. Tears rolled down.

I sat down confused the nurse came over with a sheet “These are our direct phone lines you can contact us whenever you want” everything they said came as a blow. This one especially “You can go over to the x-ray department now. You won’t have to wait, give your name they’re waiting for you now” My mum says that is the point where she really felt afraid.

Off I walked, confused, afraid of the inevitable pain, scared for my future but most of all in absolute shock at the speed in which things were progressing. Everything I imagined for myself was swiftly being taken from me…

Over at the X-Ray department the mammogram nurse came to collect me giving me a gown to wear. I sat waiting, asking over and over ‘what is happening – is this happening?’ I had to go to work. I went to pick up my phone but kept crying. How would I talk to them? How do I say these words out loud that I can’t even say in my head? In any case my mobile phone was dead. I had left my charger at work assuming it would last me until I got to work. Now there would be no work again for days while I recovered – I needed to let them know before I really drop further into shock. I could feel myself slipping into insanity.

My mum called my uncle who works for the same company as I do. She started to cry and passed him the message of what was happening asking him to let my manager know that I’m not in a good state to talk. Then she spoke to my sister in Brighton who said she was coming back to London immediately. My uncle cancelled his work appointment visiting a client site as he was too shocked.

The nurse called my name and I got up to follow her with my mum in tow. “Which of you is it?” she asked blasé whilst looking at my mum. When I said it was me she didn’t look my way, this is normal routine for them, she wasn’t being rude. She asked for only the patient to enter the room. When the door was shut and she turned to face me she did a double take – confused, not expecting it to be me that entered.

Mammograms routinely screen women over 50. The younger you are the denser your breast tissue so it won’t be effective. She went over to another nurse and together they whispered confused about me. They looked up from my file, having decided to check that I’m not just freakishly youthful looking I suppose “Can you repeat your date of birth?” This hasn’t satisfied them, they continued to stare at my file shocked. So I thought I’d help out “I know I am too young for this but Mr. Consultant-Man (he has a real name of course) is concerned that’s why I have to do this”

I guess I looked near enough to passing out that they realised my predicament at this point and became very comforting. The mammogram machine is an instrument of torture. You basically push yourself in as much as physically possible whilst they press your breast with what looks like two panes of glass, as flat as can be, first vertically, then horizontally. I am sure it’s usually pretty bearable but with a bruised and cut breast, no it’s not! The numbness that shock brings you and the feeling that you NEED to do this to help yourself helps wipe out the pain to a degree.

They kept complaining that I wasn’t saggy enough to do this. So unfortunately my age was a bit of a hindrance in this scenario!

But the ‘comforting’ words that the nurses gave me could each serve as blows at that point “You have to fight now! You have to be strong”. Each time I was shocked… So I do have something for sure?

Off to my next nightmare. Biopsy on top of biopsy bruising! At this point my shaking was difficult to control. The same lovely nurse from my last biopsy saw my tears and hugged me immediately. “I’m not letting go of you ok? I’m right here. It will be quick.” I lay down and did everything I could do to put myself into position so he could do this fast.

When the other doctor went to examine my lump which was now very much noticeable to the touch, I whimpered. It hurt to touch from last week’s biopsy. “I’m so sorry!” He kept saying. “This is 5 days’ worth of tests in 20 minutes. We can leave it a day if you want?” No it must go on and finish I thought. I faked being brave. Even though I was physically shaking.

He did the ultrasound in my armpit. “What can you see is there anything there?” I asked… “Borderline” was the response. I whimpered. My mum was seated her head now in her hands.

He injected some anaesthetic in my armpit. I could feel the pain but not sense it.  It’s amazing to think that a week prior I hated needles now I willed him to do this so that I wouldn’t feel the biopsies.

The feel of the biopsy as they do it is not too bad anaesthetic makes you numb. The sight of the size and shape of it does you in mentally - the pain after is even worse. But I yelped in pain at the first biopsy in my armpit. “I’m sorry the anaesthetic can’t actually work on the lump!” he said. What there is a lump in there too!? I felt a blow again. I counted down the next two in my armpit. They did not hurt luckily. However, I was shaking still, he kept apologising.

Then my breast came next as expected. The first staple noise came as expected. I went to count down “Just 2 more to go!” I fake cheered. “No I’m sorry but the level of urgency is different to last week. I need to do however many I need to do which is more than three…” he replied. I stopped myself from counting and concentrated on crying as little as possible and lying as still as I could.

“Now I have to place a metal coil inside your breast as guide for the mammogram – because your breast is too dense to show the lump”. I saw the metal coil being placed inside something like a needle. “What – so I will have metal inside me? When will it be taken out? Will it be taken out?” I asked, not in protest but in wonder. He seemed to have the wrong idea…

He stopped what he was doing and asked me “What has Mr. Consultant-Man told you exactly?” “That he is concerned…” I answered. “Okay. Because this is most likely cancer we are dealing with here and I would be crazy not to have all areas checked for you right now” I looked over to my mum to check she was ok at hearing that… her head was rolling about in her hands as though she’d lost control of her neck.

I just lay crying in silence while this was placed in my breast. Everything was a blow. I was on high alert yet so numb at the same time. Now I had to have a mammogram with said metal coil in my breast. Imagine same as previous but this time with extra pain. By this point both nurses hugged me and told me they were also my mums now and I had to fight. They told me how they had all been shocked when I'd been discussed in their team meeting and that Mr. Consultant-Man was so upset. Flashbacks of news stories of young women being more likely to die from breast cancer. Wipe out! Leave my head I begged.

I couldn’t change easily into my new white silk blouse from the pain but did my best. The doctor who had taken the biopsies this time wished me good luck and off we walked to our car, slowly.

My mum could drive only using the wrong gear. I came home and coated myself in a blanket on the sofa not knowing what to think. Everything was wrong. What was happening? How could this happen to me? I eat healthily overall, I don’t smoke, drink, I’m the right weight, I exercise. There is no cancer in my family. I was always so grateful for that.

My sister arrived then my aunts all arrived in the evening we sat in stunned shock in my living room. Me, small, in my blanket that I wouldn’t leave for days now. Life as I know it is gone. I am now cancer girl. Did he really say that? My mind switched back and forth, between fight and hide mode.

My brother came home and walked into the living room. Everyone sitting here on a weekday evening was not the norm. I looked to him and shook my head unable to bring myself to say and live it in words right now. I’d already described it to my aunts and sister – while not believing it was right. He just said “Oh noooo” and rushed off out of the living room.

This was I can say one of the worst nights of my life. Not the worst because I wasn’t entirely ‘there’. I was lost. I went to bed and had to lie upright yet again from the pain. But there was to be no sleep. I shook. Not a little bit of shuddering. Full on body shaking trauma. Not being able to move to hold myself still from the pain. I just let out cries of “No!” “Oh!” and “Why?” every ten minutes or so as I cried to myself, thinking of what would happen now.  Am I ever going to be happy again? Will I have children? How bad is my cancer? Has it spread? Is it growing right now? Am I going to die? It will be Tuesday until I know! Each time I sob my sister jolted asking what was wrong. I’d ignore her question and do it again ten minutes later.

Around 2.30am I must have exhausted myself with this and nodded off with constant disruption giving up at 3am. Lying there in anguish because I knew I had to stay and suffer until morning. Is this how I will feel forever? Can sleeping ever be ok for me again? My sister still asked what was happening each time I exclaimed a cry. Finally around 4am I heard my mum walking about. No sleep for her either then so up we all got. Me back to my trusty friend the blanket on the sofa.

The next day my cousin/friend paid a visit. Nothing was real to me as I described it to her. I laughed at her little boy being cheeky and speaking to me in his baby voice whilst drawing my picture. It gave me some comfort to pretend to be ok to a child.

Days passed with me unable to sleep, and by the third sleepless night I was hallucinating which was frightening – hearing things running at me I shouted for my brother to come save me from these monsters. He must be a bit deaf! I think I had been about to nod off and not let myself. So it was part dream whilst I had my eyes open. I knew it wasn’t real but it scared me regardless.

I went over the events in my head constantly. I spent day and night researching, arming myself with information. The signs were not too great for young women. Googling ‘breast cancer in young women’ is not wise bringing me unwanted information on young women having more aggressive cancer that is less responsive to treatment. I tortured myself with statistics and sad stories of cancer spreading. I tried to face up to what may be to come.

Friday, 9 March 2012


So at the ripe old age of 25 years, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer... The immediate questions and comments such as "Oh my God!", "Are you serious?" and "I'm so sorry..." are without fail always followed by the most pertinent question "How did you find out?".

My theory is that people want to learn about my 'discovery' first because the fact that someone as young as I am has had this awful news, means it could potentially happen to them too. Without intending to we instinctively fear for our own safety when hearing real life horror stories - and that is perfectly reasonable. We need to feel unease when we hear tales of tragic, sad and frightening life experiences of others because this makes us appreciate our own lives. Fortunately until something really shakes us up on a personal level this fear usually remains at a level of 'Thank God that's not me!'.

In any case, I believe that it is important not to be afraid of the bad turns we can unexpectedly find ourselves taking in life. These hopefully take us on unexpected routes to better times or give us new found strength. Harsh but necessary lessons in life.

So how did I find out I had cancer? The discovery? From the start... Here we go...

For around a year I was very tired. I began to believe that this was the lazy new me who did not want to go out and meet with friends or even talk to them on the phone. I thought that perhaps I was jaded with the same old activities in my life or that I was just being boring because of stressful events I'd encountered in recent times.

My feelings of lethargy increased so gradually that I generally did not notice the change in my lifestyle. Perhaps I was calming down in my ripe old age of 24/25? Maybe I was tired and stressed from work? Maybe getting used to driving everywhere had left me unfit and unable to hack much activity? Days of working from early in the morning straight through my lunch breaks and well after the office closed had become a distant memory.

I would browse through one or two shops on Oxford Street and want to go home, sit through meals with friends wanting to take a nap through my main course all the while recalling the times I could walk the length of Oxford Street and each department stores ten times over, cook for large groups of friends then go out all night until morning and last out chatting with friends until well past sunrise. I blamed myself for letting go of my regular gym visits and not dancing as much anymore believing that my fitness had gone down because of this.

Toward the end of 2011, I had begun to realise something must be wrong. I often ignored phone calls as I couldn't muster enough spirit to fake cheerfulness and had no energy to make conversation. I would often sit aching and feeling low from my lack of energy and occasionally I would get a numb feeling in my hands.

The more dramatic this became, the more frequently I would complain about my symptoms to my mum. "This must be happening because I don't eat as healthily anymore!" or because "I don't work out so much!". Sometimes I had such terrible numbness in my hands and arms that I would be on the verge of tears as I'd ask her "Is this all in my head?". Even my bones and joints ached terribly.

One evening I began to feel the numbness in my feet. When I went to bed the feeling was there in my lower back ever so slightly. I definitely had to get someone to listen to me. Even though my 'symptoms' were so generic they were enough to drag me down - and that is not like me!

I generally made every effort to avoid visits to my GP surgery because I was not used to having a male GP and to top things he was Turkish Cypriot (like me) which would only increase my discomfort, leaving me feeling shy whenever I had to see him. However at this point I had decided that enough was enough. This was December 2011 and I wanted to enter 2012 on track to regaining my old energetic self.

I am very grateful that my doctor took my symptoms seriously and sent me for blood tests. He thought that perhaps I had diabetes or a vitamin deficiency. I crossed my fingers, hoping it was not diabetes (I cannot bear the thought of cutting any food out of my life!) and hoping it would be something I could easily fix. Ideal solutions being some sunshine on a good holiday!

Two days after the blood test I received a call from my GP whilst at work, asking me to attend an appointment the next day. Cue worried feelings about having diabetes and trying to calm my increasing paranoia. Luckily this was during the week before christmas and I was finishing work early most days so I was able to leave for my appointment with no feelings of guilt.

My appointment panned out quite well. I did not have diabetes (so sugar food disasters were averted) but my GP told me he was very concerned about my vitamin d levels. This made me happy. No diabetes! Excellent! All the worrying was unnecessary and I could carry on eating as I like! However, the doctor stopped me from getting too excited by telling me he was still quite concerned as my vitamin d levels were much lower than the usual 'low levels'. He explained that 'normal' levels should be around 70 where mine was just under 10. This was what was giving me the aches, pains and exhaustion.

Still, I had an answer. Something I could work on and improve with a plan. Go and sunbathe, put an order through for magic vitamin d tablets. Get my old energy back. Go shopping again without suffering the consequences of a few hours of activity. Have full conversations with friends. All good! Tablets equalled solutions.

As I researched my plan of action I was a little bit confused.... Why were my vitamin d levels so low? I did not avoid the sun. Okay, I would not walk around in short skirts and small tops like I did in my teens but... still... Which had come first the vitamin d deficiency - making me stay in from feeling too tired - and therefore not getting enough sun? Or not going out in the sun enough and therefore feeling fatigued? Why hadn't this happened to me before 2007 when I hadn't gone on holiday for ten years and was as pale as snow!

Well, my google searches for information on vitamin d deficiencies brought up, eggs and sunshine as top sources of goodness.The last few years I had been in the sun several times each year. Summers in Cyprus, Italy and the USA, spring trips walking around Budapest and Vienna under the sun. In fact I cooking myself with baby oil to the point of getting sunstroke in 45 degrees plus when in Cyprus! How else was I lacking in collecting myself sunny vitamin points?

There were (I guess fortunately) a few worrying articles that I allowed myself to skim over which linked vitamin d deficiencies to aggressive forms of cancer. I did not let myself dwell on these for too long as there plenty of crazy articles on the web which would have you believe that a broken nail is potentially down to cancer!

The next day was Christmas and whilst I tried to get to sleep laying on my side, I felt an achy feeling in my left breast. It felt as though something was taking up room within and stretching my skin, weighing me down. As I turned to sleep on my right hand side I moved to hold down and support the painful area of my breast and I felt a large lump. I immediately pulled my hand away. It was scary. Did I imagine it? I sat up in my bed and slowly brought my hand back to check. It wasn't really detectable now I had sat up. I told myself that it must be a hormone related lump that leave at some point in the monthly cycle.

I laid back down on my side and put my hand back to check and yes... It was still there. It felt firm and about the width of my two fingers placed together. I tried to sleep but the articles I had read from the night before flashed through my mind. I told myself that if I didn't touch it again and it would go away in a week or so.

The next morning when I got up the courage to check, there it was there, real as day. I could only really detect it when I lay on one side. I didn't say anything at first but I messaged my sister who's studying molecular medicine at university and is therefore far more practical/sensible than I am. "I found a lump, it's given me the heeby jeebies!" I joked. She told me to wait until my period had been and gone as it was probably just a monthly thing. I knew she was probably right and I didn't want to panic through the Christmas period when no doctors appointments could be had. Yet I still felt frightened and would shuddered thinking about the lump so I decided to get someone else to check it and see if I was exaggerating the issue.

The moment my mum touched it her face dropped a little. She didn't say anything much, but her reaction gave me even more heeby jeebies. Yep that's right. I was walking around the house pointing at my breasts saying "Heeeeby jeeeeebie!" and frequently! That weekend I decided that as soon as the bank holiday was over I would get some peace of mind and have it checked out before New Year's Eve. So long as I could get a female doctor to check me.

My GPs were a nightmare to get appointments with. You had to call at 8am and keep calling, a million times, no less to get an answer. Then you would be given an appointment for 2 days later. If you called later than 8.30am you could only get an appointment for 2-3 weeks later.

This being the week between Christmas and New Years we were coming into work later than usual so I could get on the train to work after 8am giving me the chance to try to call for an appointment, a chance I would not ordinarily have. However, I could not get through and by the time I got into work at 9.30am and tried to try to call again, I was too late to get an appointment for two days time. They asked me to try again at 8am the next day or to take an appointment for the end of January. I asked what I was supposed to do about the lump in my breast and they were frustrated with me "As I just said, you can call at 8am tomorrow morning for an appointment next week".

I resigned myself to the delay in being seen but thankfully my sister is much pushier than me when it comes to medical things. She gave them a call whilst I carried on with my work and messaged me to say that the doctor would call me himself to decide whether I was worth seeing that day. He decided I was.

I left work early - as did everyone and while the doctor was not my regular doctor - he was a man. However, by that point I was quite unnerved and had riled myself up with worry so I just wanted to have it checked and be over and done with it.

He asked me some general questions about my background, no breast cancer in the family, twenty five years old, he seemed bored with the facts. Obviously this was benign. He didn't put me at ease but in any case I at least came to realise it was highly unlikely to be anything serious. Whilst checking for the lump he kept saying "Hmm strange... that's strange!" and he told me that this would be totally benign. I would still be referred for screening at a breast clinic two weeks waiting time as standard. Upon my exclaiming "Oh good I was very worried about this" he responded "Yes women do worry about these things". Just like that. Silly man that he was.

The next day I went into work feeling uneasy. Why did he keep saying it felt strange? Why do I have to wait two weeks? I was disappointed that going into the New Year and I was worrying instead of making resolutions. My colleague was also very worried for me when I told I was upset about it and convinced me to go to the nearest hospital and see if they could see me straight away. I wasn't convinced they would but I also wanted to see if anyone could put me at ease as it was New Year's Eve. Off I went to hospital with said colleague.

This hospital visit was in my eyes a success. The female doctor who checked me over looked like a melting plastic character from Little Britain (don't ask why but I liked this!) and she was happy to announce as soon as she felt it that it was a 'Fibroadenoma', "check it out online if you like completely non cancerous benign tumour that young women often get'' she told me. She suggested I go for my screening anyway as they might be able to remove it for me if it was making me uncomfortable. It was, I was in pain from my skin feeling tight. I was just happy to have someone so confident and to be able to wait for my appointment in two weeks without having a nervous breakdown!

In the time it took me to have my screening it was now detectable in any position I tried to feel it from and I had to take painkillers when I tried to sleep. I could also only sleep in certain positions. This didn't worry me too much because I had read that breast cancers do not usually hurt so as this did hurt it couldn't be cancer. I also had a few women tell me about the times they had the same thing around my age or when they had a cyst drained. I hoped I had a cyst instead of a Fibroadenoma as I didn't want a scar from an operation for something harmless but I also didn't want to leave it in when it was hurting me. My main worry until the screening day was just whether I should ask for an operation or not. I asked my mum to come with me to the screening so that someone would be there when I asked about having it removed - my feeling tired from lack of vitamin D had been affecting my concentration and I didn't want to forget anything that was said.

On the day of screening a third doctor saw me and checked me over again... He said he was happy to say that it was a Fibroadenoma quite common in women my age and that I would have an ultrasound as standard  procedure and a fine needle to check it over. He asked me for background details as the other two doctors had done and asked if I'd had anything other than the painful lump. I told him about my numb hands/feet and tiredness and he laughed - saying that has nothing to do with my breasts. Frankly I started to hate visiting the doctors as so far I had clearly been wasting their time with my 'stupidity'.

So off I went to have my ultrasound - very nervous - because I hate needles but just wanting to get through it. I was shaking a little not because I thought it was anything serious but because I don't even like having my blood taken and to admit to an embarassing secret had only recently begun to have injections without my mum or someone to stand next to, amuse and distract me!

The radiographer found the lump on the machine immediately and within seconds declared "We're going to need a biopsy" I didn't realise that this was different to a 'fine needle' and I am glad that I didn't. It was thicker than a knitting needle and long with a hook on the end... I saw it briefly and then had to keep my eyes diverted to try not to loose my courage... I asked him if it looked okay on the scan - he told me he never likes to assume anything. They assured me I would be anaesthetised first. The nurse by my side was so nice and so was this doctor/surgeon/radiographer - I was too busy being scared to notice what he was! Before he put the 'biopsy' majig in my chest he demonstrated the sound it would make - like a stapler - so that I wouldn't be shocked. Each one he took he counted down how many I had left to take. 3 only each one left me shaken. Even my mum who is not squimish looked away (although I did demand she do that at this point because it feels daft showing your nakedness to your mum once your old enough to wash yourself!).

Once it was done and dusted, the shock of the size of the thing that took the biopsy, the bandaging, pressing and prodding from the inspections and the effect of the anaesthetic left me in a daze. I went home and realised only the next morning when I felt sick and couldn't move properly that I couldn't go into work. I felt sick and unable to move properly for three days. They told me the results would take 5 days from the lab but that as they only have the clinics on tuesdays I would need to wait two weeks.