I just got the pathology results back, and the news is not good. Sorry, guys. I know you were all hoping for better.
I, on the other hand, always had a feeling it wasn't going to be simple. My gut feelings are usually pretty accurate, and I never really believed that the mammoplasty was a get-out-of-jail card. If you read my last blog post carefully, you would have noticed that it didn't exactly end full of joy and hope. I'm okay, though, because I was ready for this.
At some weird level, I've felt like I have an important job to do here, documenting every goddamned cruel thing this goddamned ugly disease has to throw at us. And so I just did not believe my journey was over already, so easily. The job doesn't feel finished. I still have work to do.
When the phone rang this morning I actually answered it, because my gut said it was Dr Goodguy bearing the bad tidings (and there was no way I was letting the Bear take that call). The tone of Dr G's voice was enough to confirm my suspicions, well before he actually said anything important.
I won't leave you in suspense any longer: No, I have not taken the count and I am not about to throw in the towel, but the fight's going to get ugly from here. I do have to have more surgery; I do have to have the old-fashioned radical treatment, in case of spread.
You've got to hand it to the Freeloader; he's been busy, for a little guy. Nothing wrong with his work ethic! When they chopped him out, there was only 16mm of him. But boy, had he done the housework.
He didn't just make up beds for all his mates to come and stay in the 'east wing'. The whole damn sample that was cut out of my breast last Monday, a third of the breast taken right down to the nipple, was polluted with little pre-cancerous spots. It was like an army bunkhouse in there.
They weren't actual tumours, mind you. The invasive stuff has been ejected- that's the good news. (A pity that, on analysis of the Freeloader, it looked like the aliens had landed in my breast; he's been reclassified grade III abnormality.) But it's very likely, given those results, that the whole breast has already been prepared for further Freeloader action in the near future.
So the whole breast has to go. Bye bye, baby. So sorry you didn't get a chance for a proper encore; you were almost looking pretty again already.
(I will cry about that later. Maybe. Right now I am far too busy being informative and padding the pathos with black humour. Let me do it my way, please.)
And there's more (send no money, we will bill you). Not satisfied with that little coup, the Freeloader had also got little samples of himself wedged into half a dozen nodes.
Now, let's not despair here (are you listening? DON'T DESPAIR!). It's completely possible that Dr Goodguy successfully removed all the affected nodes.
(Yes, we do have to hope they hadn't sent out any party invitations into my bloodstream yet; if you're the praying type, that's your cue.)
But it's also possible that there might be a couple of stray compromised nodes further up in my armpit. Are we gambling on that? No, we are not. They all have to go.
As I said to Dr G, "My family doesn't survive cancer diagnoses. We need the big guns."
That was in his office at lunchtime; I'd driven myself into town after he rang me, less than three days post-op, so I could get all this information completely straight in my head. I grabbed my appointment bag and my phone and my painkillers and my little pillow for my arm, and just went.
Don't ask me how I did that drive. It's just what I needed to do. The Bear was in no state to drive me; I was much safer going alone. You just don't know what you can do, until you have to. People run away from explosive situations on broken legs. People lift cars to release trapped children. I was running on 100% adrenaline, and I got to town and back without fainting or falling asleep.
Hold that thought: You just don't know what you can do, until you have to.
Anyway, Dr G agreed 100%. Big guns it is. All the nodes have to go too. Bye bye, outbuildings. Hello, screwed-up lymphatic function.
And hello chemo. Oh, joy- oh, rapture; I get to test drive how strong my stomach really is. (Seriously, I have a cast-iron stomach. I almost never throw up. This is going to be a bit of a battle of wills, methinks.)
That is what's doing the Bear's head in- the thought of watching me go through chemo. Once was a nightmare. Twice was torture. Three times? There isn't even a word for having to hold a loved one's hand through chemo for the third time in a lifetime.
That is So. Fucking. Unfair.
NB1: I'm not sad or despairing; I'm bloody angry.
NB2: I do not enjoy being nauseated. I am going to be looking for solutions. And I don't give a damn whether the solutions are legal or not.
Oh, and NB3: hair schmair. I'll get a friggin' wig. Or you'll have to learn to love my bumpy skull. Whatever.
Moving right along...
...because of those goddamned nodes, the chemo will probably be followed by radiotherapy. Oh, joy- oh, rapture; I get to feel what it's like to have my chest cooked by degrees. (MasterChef for cannibals. Or something.) Hello, nuclear-grade burns.
The aloe vera pups are already planted. The Bear did that last weekend. I'll be looking for the Moo Goo that my friends on the Breast Cancer Forum recommend. And I think I'll start thanking my lucky stars now that I inherited my father's Polynesian skin rather than my mother's touch of Irish; hopefully I'll burn less easily.
NB4: If that impression's wrong, just shut up, okay? I don't need to be disillusioned about that till it happens.
So there you have it; the news from Hell. In an attempt to pre-empt any more little surprises, I'll be having a bone scan tomorrow. I'm holding the thought that there's no reason to think that the bone scan will light me up with alien invaders any more than the CAT scan did, but I'm SO not looking forward to waiting for more results.
Enough tests, already; I know. Maybe I should be ducking my head, acting positive and pretending there's no chance of the invasion already being a fait accompli. But that's not the way I deal with stuff; I need to know ASAP whether this is a fight I can win, or as Dr Goodguy put it, a situation where we "manage the disease rather than cure it". I need to keep looking it in the eye, to stay on top of things.
The Bear looked me in the eye when I came back from town, and started telling me all the things he loved about me that cancer can't take away. My eyes. My nose. My laugh. And so on. I am not just a pair of breasts to him. (Let alone just an armpit. Ew.)
Maybe he's not coping with the practicalities, but don't judge him for that. He's a champion with the feelings. To me, that's more important. It's cruelly unlucky for him that he loves me right now, but damn, it's so lucky for me that he does.
It's so not fair on him. Honestly, I feel like going out and throwing rocks at stained glass windows. Nobody really deserves a cancer experience- I know that- but he deserves another one less than anyone else in the whole goddamned world. He barely came back from the brink after the last one.
Don't forget to breathe, Candy.
And while we're talking about luck: as 'luck' would have it, my dear friend Jools just happens to be in Brisbane today instead of Melbourne. I called her the moment I realised the Bear was in meltdown. So she's coming down tonight to stay with us, to help us get through the next little while.
(Like, the bone scan.)
We've been friends for over 40 years. She's having a tough time with this, too. We need each other right now. We're lucky to have each other as we go through this.
And you know, I'm so damn lucky that I can write about this. You wouldn't believe how much it helps me make sense of things- it's my do-it-yourself therapy. Things have never been simple for me, really, and in a strange way I enjoy unwinding the complexity so that it ends up on the page. I can remember once explaining to my son that I'd probably stayed in a bad relationship far too long because it was good for my creativity. Weird, right? Not really. Complex situations are what a writer thrives on.
So at the end of the sort of day that would make some people feel like throwing themselves in the river three times and coming up twice, I just sit here and write it out. And feel much, much better for doing it.
Oh, and you're an important part of that 'feeling better'. Every writer needs an audience. Thanks for reading.