It was April 2003 and we had been living in the UAE for just over a year. I was still reeling from my mothers death and struggling to come to terms with living without her, whilst smoking one cigarette after the other without giving it a second thought. I, or rather Jaco (to be really out there and honest with you all) detected the lump in my left breast at the 3 o’ clock position. He later told me that the lump had been coming and going as well as changing size for several months before that. What that ultimately implies I’ll probably never know, but he advised me this time to go and have it checked out as it had increased in size quite dramatically in the month leading up to this. For the next few weeks however, I didn’t do anything about it. I kept on thinking that maybe it was just a cyst and that it would go away on it’s own eventually. I wasn’t even considering the fact that it could potentially be something way more sinister than that, after all breast cancer didn’t run in my family and it only happened to other women not me…in hindsight I was too terrified to find out either way.
When I did eventually bring myself to get advice I visited my general practitioner first. She did a sonar on my breast and told me that her opinion was that it was nothing serious, and that it appeared to be just a benign cyst. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but she did advise me to get it checked out further just to be sure. She was wise enough to know that sonar was not an adequate diagnostic tool in this case. I was referred to a breast surgeon at the American Hospital in Dubai. After examining me, he told me that it didn’t feel like a cancerous lump to him but that the only way to know for sure was to do a fine needle biopsy. I gripped the sides of the bed until my knuckles were white, while the technician performed the procedure. I started feeling like a pin cushion as the needle went in for the 4th time. Bleeding and bruised I left the hospital hoping and praying for the best.
A week later as I was driving to the school to collect the girls, my mobile rang. In those last few minutes before I got the call I should have cherished the normalcy, the feeling that I was invincible, the naïve misconception that I would live forever. Non of us forget those first few words that come out of the doctor’s mouth do we? The words that I heard were “You need to come back in to see the doctor as your tumour has tested highly suspicious.”
I knew in my heart of hearts what ‘highly suspicious’ meant. Doctors are loathe to deliver such life changing and devastating news over the phone. That was the day my life changed forever…where nothing would ever be the same again. Sitting in the doctors office, he slowly turned in is chair and handed me the dreaded piece of paper with the words that make everything crash down around you and make you feel like your world is coming to an end. “I’m so sorry but it is cancer” are words that nobody ever wants to hear. Having to face your mortality is without a doubt the scariest thing that anyone has to do. Nothing trumps that. A feeling of ice cold consumed me from head to foot. Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion as I came very close to passing out. Breaking into a cold sweat I looked over at Jaco. He’d turned pale and had a look of terror in his eyes I’d never seen before; one I hoped I’d never get to see. I turned and looked down at the carpet where my three little girls were sitting and playing, oblivious of the horror that was playing out around them. I shouldn’t have turned around to look at them because that is when I completely dissolved. To this day I don’t really remember what was said or what instructions were given. Luckily my husband had the wherewithal to listen and take everything in, understanding what was going to happen next.