Right after receiving the devastating news, the nurse working with the doctor handed me a book on breast cancer which would provide me with the information that I needed to make more informed choices. I don’t remember walking to the car in the parking lot of the hospital. What I do remember however is that I immediately started to pour over this book. I felt this overwhelming sense of panic utterly consume me and I wanted as much information as I could lay my hands on as quickly as possible. I just wanted the cancer out…it didn’t matter to me at the time what it took. The only problem was that through all my sobbing and tears I couldn’t see the pages of the book properly. I looked over at Jaco who was driving us home. He was crying too. What really struck me at that moment was the girls who were laughing and playing in the back seat. At 6 and 4 years old, they had absolutely no idea of the fight that their mother was up against and the paralyzing fear that came hand in hand with it. After putting the girls to bed that evening, Jaco and I went to bed ourselves. Clinging to each other, we sobbed.
The next task at hand was to break the news to family and friends. It was at this point where I was actually grateful that I would never have to tell my mother about my diagnosis. She would not have handled it very well at all and I’m pretty sure to this day that I may very well have given her a heart attack given that, that is what she died of. I would never have been able to live with myself if I’d been responsible for her death. I wasn’t able to phone my father and tell him either, as he’d had a stroke about 10 years earlier and had lost most of his faculties. At the time he was in an old age home where he could obtain the best care. The most difficult phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my older sister Karen, who at the time was living in the UK. We both started crying over the phone, but then not long after that quite a remarkable thing happen. I can only describe it as a gradual calm coming over me as I spoke to her and explained what was happening. The tears stopped and in a strange reversal I found myself comforting and reassuring her. The same process repeated itself again as I explained over and over to others what was happening and what the future held, while my sister was making arrangements to fly out and see us. Being in a foreign country with no real support system at hand, I was so grateful and looking forward to seeing Karen. In fact I desperately needed the comfort and reassurance of her presence.
In the mean time surgery had been scheduled for 4 days time. I had been given two choices by the doctor. If they went in during surgery and found that the lump was small enough to remove it without causing much outward distortion to my breast, then they would perform a lumpectomy. If it was too large however, then they would have to perform a mastectomy. At the same time he did mention that my lump didn’t appear to be large enough to warrant a mastectomy, so I wasn’t too worried in the days building up to surgery which were taking agonizingly long.
Finally the morning of my surgery arrived. Although there was an tangible sense of dread and apprehension in the house, I was so glad that I was finally going to be getting rid of this cancer. There was of course also that sense of fear that always comes with surgery and the associated risks attached to it. The girls must have picked up on my anxiety because they became impossible in the car on the way to the hospital. As the crying and fighting amongst themselves escalated in the back seat, so did my agonizing headache. On driving through the gates of the hospital, I threw the very last cigarette that I would ever smoke out of the window. Once I’d been shown to my room, Jaco helped me to get settled in and comfortable in bed, but the anxiety had become too much for me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with nausea and ran back and forth to the bathroom several times. Jaco alerted the nurses to what was going on and they and the doctor decided to give me a sedative to calm me down. I remember Jaco sitting on the bed and stroking my forehead while holding my hand…and then nothing. I don’t remember him and the girls leaving and I wasn’t aware of being wheeled into surgery.