In my secondary school years I revelled in the world of languages. I loved them and they came to me an awful lot easier than things like Maths and Chemistry. In my final year at secondary school I took, English, Latin, French, German and History. That combination and the insights of the teachers I had gave me a burning desire to see the world, but back in those days it was a 6 week journey away by ship and cost thousands of pounds as we had then. My measly public service salary, after deduction of food and rent, never was enough to go save the necessaries to undertake that sort of trip, and besides 18 months after I had moved to Wellington I had met the love of my life and marriage and the ensuing home and family consumed me. Although that yearning for an overseas trip never abated.
I did go to Australia, several times in my later years, with my talented teenagers to watch them compete in Australian Track and Field meetings. We spent our savings sending our elder two teens to Europe, but still never went ourselves.
One of our children was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship to Tulane University in New Orleans, and I went to visit her in 1996. In 1998 the same child (an adult then) represented New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and, of course we had to go and watch that.
After we had moved to Carterton there seemed to be enough money that we could finally plan that long yearned for trip to Europe. So plan, I did, and made bookings to visit Maria and her fiance in London and take a river cruise along the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers. I was as excited as a kid at Christmas time at the prospect of this trip and couldn’t wait for the September 1 departure date.
One night in August, in bed unable to sleep because of a small niggling pain I found a lump in my right boob. Now, I call it my boob because my mother had died in 1977, months before Maria’s birth, of breast cancer, and I suppose there was a sub-conscious thing going on that no-one got boob cancer. It was always breast cancer, and I was going to do my damnedest not to fall prey to the same disease my mother had.
But there was this frozen pea sized thing in my boob, and all that money for the trip of my dreams had been paid over only days before.
I made the decision right then and there that this would have to be my secret. Who knew whether I would survive to do this trip another year away, we had made these plans so that we could meet with Greg’s family before the wedding. No point if we went a year later. All sorts of logical and illogical thoughts ran through my mind. But I was so very determined that that damn, stupid lump was not going to spoil that trip to London and Europe, so I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with life as if it weren’t there.
We were away in London,Europe and Australia for nearly 6 weeks and I had the most wonderful time. For me, it was like constantly walking through the pages of story books, living the dream and seeing things with my own eyes that I had heard/learnt from my school teachers, read and absorbed in the many years that had passed since I left school. Even the languages I had learnt all those years ago still served me quite well when we ventured out on our own into shops and cafes in Germany, Austria and France.
We arrived home on October 10th. On October 11th I rang my local Dr only to find that he was booked though till October 16th. I have only just realised the coincidence of that date now that I am writing all this down. That was my late mother’s birthday. Had she lived she would have been 91. So it was on her birthday that I saw my local GP and he confirmed that the frozen pea should be inspected by a specialist. He said he would do a referral to a Dr at Boulcott Clinic in Lower Hutt, over an hour’s drive (and over the Rimutakas) from our house in Carterton.
That night I told Peter I had been t the Dr that day and that I had a lump on my boob.
I waited and waited for a letter to come from the clinic. While I had managed to obliterate the lump from my mind while we were on our trip the wait for that piece of paper from Boulcott Clinic with a time for an appointment was agonisingly mind numbing. On October 25th, the day of our 43rd wedding anniversary I rang the Boulcott Clinic. They said they had never received my Dr’s referral!!! I rang my Dr and the nurse there confirmed that t had been sent on the same day as my last visit. So I rang the Boulcott Clinic again. The nice lady on the end of the phone said that I would have to have a mammogram before I saw Dr Carl Dowle (who was in Sydney at the time). She made an appointment for me to see Carl Dowle on 1 November and I tried to make one with Pacific Radiology some time ahead of that date. My explanations of the urgency seemed to count for nothing in the eyes of the Radiology clinic. They didn’t have a spare appointment for me. I called back the lady at Dr Dowle’s office who arranged it for Monday 29th October.
I’ve had the government provided free mamograms since they were available and at 63 I was looking in the face of being phased off the system at age 65 as I would not be considered at risk of getting breast cancer past that age. But there I was on 29 October in the clutches of the mammogram machine. I don’t think a man could ever conceive of the embarrassment and discomfort of a mammogram. I don’t know what the definitive test for prostate cancer is, but I am sure it doesn’t involve squashing a penis flat between two plates of an X-ray machine.
There were cheerful noises while I was having the wretched experience. They thought it looked like a skin lesion. That brightened my day considerably. I thought that perhaps everything would be OK. A skin lesion was nothing compared to breast cancer.