On November 8th, it was another trip to Lower Hutt. This time Peter came with me so that we could both hear the results of those awful biopsies from the week before. Talk about good news and bad news, well there was bad, good news and bad news. The bad news was that the frozen pea was definitely cancerous, Invasive Ductal Cancer of the Breast, apparently the most common and the easiest to treat, if caught early, as are they all. The good news was that the area of calcification they had taken biopsies from had all turned out to be non-cancerous. However, that in itself, while a relief, was immediately tarnished by the fact that having established that, they wanted, now, to make sure that the other area of calcification was also not cancerous, or otherwise.
With the official notification that I had cancer, Robyn, Carl’s Specialist Breast Nurse, who sits in on all the consultations, handed me a ‘Cancer pack’. On top of Carl’s detailed explanations of diagnosis, prognosis and treatment there was a whole heap of paper to read as well, just to make sure that we were fully informed, in case one or other of us had glazed over during all the verbal explanations. One part that I didn’t glaze over for was the fact that now there was a non-cancerous part to the equation with one part still unknown the treatment could change from a straight out Mastectomy to a chance that there could be a Lumpectomy, or in their terms a Wide Local Excision, accompanied by a Sentinel Node Biopsy and followed up next year by 6 weeks of radio-therapy. And the bad news on that possibility was that, because the frozen pea was right on the edge of my aureola, I would have to lose the nipple.
To me that is almost as bad as losing the whole breast. That’s still quite a disfigurement that will be with me for the rest of whatever life I have left after all this. When Carl talked about the Mastectomy he talked in terms of an immediate re-construction being available if I wanted it, because of the unlikelihood of the cancer having spread into the lymph nodes. But with the lumpectomy and losing the nipple with it there is no talk of reconstruction, even though the disfigurement is almost as great I would have thought. In fact, I do think. OK, there will still be something to put in a bra, but it will be smaller and misshapen. In the cancer pack I read, somewhere, that the NZ government provides subsidies for prostheses in cases such as I imagine mine would be. That’s not what I want to define the rest of my life either.
Something I shall have to enquire more about on the next visit.
But meanwhile, back to November 8th. An appointment was made for me to go down to Lower Hutt again, the next day (9th) to have the extra biopsy on the ‘hard to find’ area of calcification. And, oh dear, was it hard to find. That day, I think I must have had the most photographed boob in the country. It was one of those nasty ones where I had to firstly stand up for a lengthy series of mammograms till they found a picture they thought they could work with. I think there must have been nearly 15 mammograms trying to get that far. Having obtained the right sort of picture, I was then put on the gurney again, on my side, with boob clamped into the mammogram machine while what seemed like another 15 mammograms were taken while they positioned me exactly, so that the Dr could reach the area of concern with all his needles to take the required samples. I ended up with my hips downward on the gurney, my arms over my head, and my whole top half almost completely off the gurney with my head between my arms, all but eating the mammogram plates and with one of the radiologists having to support my top half so that I didn’t fall off. And though all this I had to remain so still, so that they could do their positioning and eventually stick all the needles in.
I might add that all of this was taking place on a boob that was already showing a bright rainbow of colouring from the bruising of the previous week. plus there were two incision marks healing. (The biopsy needles were wide enough that they had to make small incisions to get them into my boob.) The incision from this biopsy was under my armpit and in the ensuing days both it and the new lot of bruising made for quite an uncomfortable time. The bra-less 60s beckoned, but I didn’t back then and nor did I that week.
I had had the foresight to bring a little lunch with me this time and ate in the car park before driving home over the hill again.
So then began another nightmare week of waiting, waiting, waiting, sleep deprivation and so on. On one of my periods of sleeplessness, in fact, it was November 15th, the day I was due to go back to Lower Hutt for the results of that horrible biopsy, I heard my Ipad ping with a Facebook notification. Not being otherwise occupied, I answered the message back and surprised one of my lovely friends in the USA who thought that all good people in NZ should have been asleep at that hour, 4am. But I had already been awake since 2.15 so I had no compunctions about picking up the Ipad and writing back, and so began a ‘chat’ that lasted over an hour. I was so grateful for the company, and the sympathy at that desperate hour of the day, and all this while she was supposed to be working. You have to love friends who love you like that. And for her it was a bit of double whammy because her sister in Christchurch had had a Lumpectomy (and the Sentinel Node Biopsy) for an Aggressive Lobular Cancer only a week before. In a way, I almost felt guilty, unburdening myself on her as I knew full well what her sister’s situation was, but I had no sister but her to ‘listen’.
So the day of my next appointment (November 15th) had dawned, rather early for me, and again we piled into the car and drove over the hill for the news that the second (‘hard to find’) area was benign. I almost felt that it should have been cancerous or at least pre-cancerous, just because of the ordeal I had been though to get any sort of result at all. But that result certainly simplified the treatment options. Although I could still have the Mastectomy if I wanted to, the lumpectomy followed by the radio-therapy sounded like the least invasive option, surgically anyway. So I have been booked into Boulcott Hospital in Lower Hutt for the surgery on November 28th. I have to be there at 7am and nil by mouth since midnight on 27th. That means I shall have to leave home, at the latest, by 5.45am. Ye gods and little fishes. Another time when good New Zealanders should still be in their beds.