6 hours later I had just emerged from the anesthetic in recovery when I heard the doctors voice saying to me, ‘I’m so sorry but we had to take the whole breast, a lumpectomy wasn’t an option.’
There is nothing in the world that can possibly prepare a woman for hearing those words. I was absolutely devastated and coupled with the anesthetic that made me even more emotional I started sobbing like a baby, and the tears kept on coming as they were wheeling me back to my room. Not long after that the surgeon came to see me and explained that when they went in, they had discovered two additional lumps. Although they were smaller than the one they had detected originally, in order to get clear margins they had to remove most of the breast tissue including a thin layer of muscle off my chest wall. They had also removed 15 lymph nodes which had been sent off to the lab for testing. Waiting a week for those results would be unbearable.
Once the doctor had left I finally had the chance to really process what was happening to me, and of course the first question I asked myself was the age old one, ‘Why me?’ Was there a reason for me to get this disease or was it just a brutal and random blow from a cruel universe that seemed to be turning against me. I felt this overwhelming anger towards my body for doing this to me. It felt almost like an out of body experience where I no longer knew and trusted my body. It had become a stranger to me and I no longer trusted it to look after me anymore. I was becoming profoundly depressed and was sinking into a deep dark pit of despair that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to claw my way out of.
Not long after, a nurse who also happened to be South African came into my room, and sitting on the side of my bed and taking my hand in hers, she told me her story. It was a story that would transform my despair into hope…hope that I still have today. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the doctors had given her 6 months to live. The cancer had metastasized to most of her major organs including many of her bones. When she got home, she shut herself up in her room, closed the curtains, curled up in bed and stayed there for days- close to a week. No matter how much family and friends knocked on the door, she wouldn’t respond. She started to lose weight and all she did was cry until she fell asleep. Upon waking the process would repeat itself again. Then one morning she woke up and it was as if she had experienced a mind shift in the middle of the night…as if a light switch had been flipped on. She got up, opened the curtains and windows wide and, staring out the window decided that she wasn’t going to give in to this disease. She was prepared to give everything and do anything it took to defeat it. She sat down at her desk and made a bucket list of all the things she was determined she was going to get done before her life was even close to ending. Then it was what she said to me next that really got my attention, which was ‘That was 11 years ago.’
When she left my room my usual optimism started to kick in again and drying the tears, I had a smile on my face. 4 days later I returned home only to face yet more emotional and psychological obstacles. We had still not received the results for the lymph node testing and had absolutely no idea what my long term prognosis was going to be. What if my prognosis was poor? What if I never got to see my three little girls grow up, build careers for themselves, get married and have children? I would’ve given absolutely anything at that point to have some sort of guarantee that I would eventually have the privilege of holding my first grandchild in my arms. It was another 4 days until we heard what the results of the tests were and although the nurse that had visited me had by and large put me back on track again emotionally, I was still swinging like a wild pendulum between optimism and despair born of outright fear. In those 4 days before we got the phone call, I also couldn’t bear to hug my children or even go near them. I couldn’t stand the prospect that I may not get to spend much longer with them. They were still so small. What were they going to do without their mommy? Jaco had to take leave from work and look after them while I lay in bed day and night, holding my own private pity party.