Who to tell and when

So my husband told my kids the news. I unfortunately made the mistake of asking my daughter not to put it on facebook, etc. I should have been more specific as she took this to mean she could not tell her close friend/confident through a private message. It took a few days for me to realise that she was bottling up emotions when she should have been discussing them with her peers.

I phoned my mum. Quite a hard phone call but I knew I would be seeing her in a few weeks as she was due to come on holiday with us – we assumed at this stage that our holiday would still happen. We arranged for my brother-in-law to be with my mother-in-law when we told her – she was in her 90s. 

I was supposed to be “depping” for a band the day after the diagnosis. My husband managed to get someone to cover for me simply telling him that I was unavailable for “personal, non-trivial” reasons.  I think some of the band knew something was up though when at a gig 2 days later I was trying discreetly(!) to pick the brains of a nurse friend about MRIs. I was concerned as my ring finger was starting to swell and I couldn’t get my wedding ring off. Luckily a phone call to the MRI department confirmed that I could keep it on. With what happened next with my finger though I think we should have persevered and removed it then.

My husband told our conductor after our last rehearsal before our holiday. We were due to play in the national finals in Cheltenham in September and the likelihood was that if I had an operation on return from holiday I would not be playing.

I emailed my boss and arranged to meet her for coffee out of the office. It was school holidays so I was only due in the office 2 days a week but with what turned out to be 4 medical appointments that week I wasn’t going to make it in. I started writing handover notes for my colleagues.

So how do people react? You get those ” friends ” who don’t know what do say, so they ignore you. You get those that gaily inform you that cancer gets us all in the end and know loads of people who have not survived. You get some who repeatedly tell you that they will pray for you even when you ask them not to (to me this translated as “I am praying for you because I think you are going to die” – it did not bring comfort). Then you get the friends who supply you with tissues, let you cry on their shoulders, make you coffee and buy you cake.

I have some difficulty now when people ask me how I am. “Good thanks” doesn’t seem enough – they want details of my physical and mental wellbeing. Then the next time someone asks you reply “Good thanks, just a few side affects from the drugs but at least I now have hair” then you realise that you hadn’t actually spoken to this person for years or it was a work colleague who wasn’t around when I was in treatment and they didn’t know what you were talking about.

You have to be able to guess what people are asking and tell them what they want, after all who really wants to know our fears.


Friday 24th July 2015. I don’t think I will ever forget that date.

My husband and I returned to the breast clinic. We were shown into a small interview room and were joined by a specialist and one of the breast care nurses. Alarm bells should have rung at that point.

I was given those dreaded words, I’m sorry Mrs C traces of cancer were found in your lymph nodes. I just sat there in shock. This wasn’t meant to happen. We were taken to the “green room” for a quiet sit down to absorb the information. I have been in many IMGP0081egreen rooms but definitely prefer the ones in concert halls!

Whilst traces of cancer were found they could not tell me that it was definitely breast cancer. The mammogram was clear so more tests would need to be done to determine the source of the cancer cells. They had told me when I had the biopsies that I had dense breast tissue and this can make it more difficult to see tumours on the mammogram results. I was booked in for an MRI, CT scan and further biopsies.

Feeling very shell-shocked we returned home via my doctors surgery to try and make an appointment to get my coil removed – apparently this had nothing to do with the cancer but as the cells they found were hormone receptive I wanted it gone.

I left my husband to do the hard task – telling the kids! My daughter cried, my son just went quite.

Tonight we have a rehearsal for a friend’s wedding. My husband and I are both playing in a small group at the ceremony – one of my rare outings playing a drum kit. I will try not to take my emotions out on the drums, especially as I am using someone else’s, but today might feel like giving them a real battering.


Mammogram time

So Monday 20 July 2015 I attended the Breast Clinic at City Hospital in Nottingham.

First a physical exam. The doctor thought she had found a lump but wasn’t sure. She was surprised that she could see my ribs – I was skinny then!

No-one warned me about the mammogram. I’m not very big and they don’t half squish you. You have to be a bit of a contortionist as well.

Back to the waiting room then biopsy time. I had two biopsies of the lymph nodes. Again not pleasant but a very nice nurse held my hand tightly throughout. The first of what was going to be many needles.

I arranged to go back for the results on Friday 24th. I could have had them the day before  but I insisted I had to be at work that day. Waiting a day won’t make a difference, I was fine after all wasn’t I?

One the way home I popped into my office – I needed a wee. The girls asked me how it went. Fine, I say, but the biopsies hurt a bit. There was some surprise at that point, out of all my work colleagues who had routine or referred mammograms none had had a biopsy as well. Was I worried? I didn’t think so but apparently I was distracted at work the next couple of days. Luckily it was school holidays so I was only working 2 days a week.

Back to 2012 and we spent 21 July watching Bradley Wiggins win the penultimate stage of the Tour de France. As was our normal at the time there were 6 of us were on holiday in France, me, my husband, 2 kids, my mum and her partner – along with our bikes, fishing rods and musical instruments! My son, husband and myself went to see the tour whilst the others watched it on the tv. The day3032100438 ended with a trip to the local chemist as my son had been led on the grass taking photos and both arms came up in an allergic reaction.


Unfortunately no trip to France planned for this year so keeping up with the Tour on the tv his year.

First Appointment

As I mentioned in my last blog I was starting to get a bit twitchy about waiting for my doctor’s appointment so I phoned for a “48 hour access” appointment. Luckily I managed to get this with the doctor who specialised in skin cancer.

So I go to see the doctor and ask him to check an itchy mole on my left breast. He took one look and declared that there was nothing wrong there. Hooray.

Then I asked, while I’m here can you just check these funny bumps in my armpit”

He did.

“I don’t think it is anything to worry about. I am sure they are just cysts but I will make an appointment with the breast clinic just to make sure”

While he typed into the computer to send off my details we chatted about our kids and schools. Quite civilised.

So that was the Monday. The next day at work I had a call from the breast clinic making an appointment for me to attend an appointment 2 weeks later. Bit surprised it was that quick (I didn’t know then about the 2 week rule). I mentioned it to my boss – “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about but I have to go to hospital for a mammogram” Turns out I am probably the only girl in our group who hadn’t had one. Apparently it is nothing to worry about.

Back at the doctors again next week. In order to see a particular doctor I made the appointment a month ago! It’s not urgent so I am not complaining. My surgery have always been very good if you have the need to see someone quickly, you just don’t necessarily get the choice of who.

At this point I would just like to remind all you ladies and gents to check for bumps and lumps and, if you find something out of the ordinary, please make that appointment with the doctors. Early detection is key.


Big and Little Audiences

On Sunday my band played in a bandstand in a park – well that’s what we do in the summer.

In was a beautiful day. Hot. We had a car full to get there – 5 people, 3 of whom had to nurse a suitcase and instrument on their laps – and no air conditioning. Hot and bothered we arrived and set up.

Unusually there was no audience. We had a few of our faithful followers (mums, dads, grandads, you get the picture) and around 5 people we didn’t know. Why? England were playing, and winning, a football match while we sat there playing and trying to avoid finding out the score!

Time hop back to 2012. London Olympics and the Olympic torch relay.

The band was lucky enough to be invited to play for the Olympic torch in an event at the Nottingham ice stadium, along with the Nottingham Lace City Chorus, where Torvill and Dean were skating with the torch. Audience approximately 6,000

So what has this to do with cancer. Not a lot I suppose. It shows that life does return to normal. This time 3 years ago I had got around to making an appointment with the doctors about a mole on my left breast. As I mentioned before I was prompted to do this after reading my friends blog. The appointment was not for another few weeks though and I was becoming a bit agitated about it.

Funnily enough I have another upcoming doctors appointment, well in 2 weeks time, that I booked 3 weeks ago – the first available appointment.

Luckily 3 years ago I decided not to wait but to get an “emergency” appointment – more about that next week – my upcoming one is routine so will sit and wait.

Exam Time

Exam time is stressful. Unfortunately for my two kids my cancer diagnosis was at the beginning of two very important academic years, GCESs and A Levels.

We were very open with the kids about my diagnosis (more abut this in future weeks). In fact I think I probably discussed reconstruction options with my son (then 18) a bit too much. I was however worried about them possibly being compromised by outside factors during their exams.

509430532We contacted the school in advance of their exams and explained the situation. They were great. From a pastoral point of view they would keep an eye on the kids in case they had a melt down and they would let the examination boards know that during the exam period I was undergoing radiotherapy.

Whether or not they were given an uplift in their grades we don’t know (and don’t want to know) that is not why we disclosed the information. It was more that during such a stressful time for them at school that those who care for them at school were aware.

Two years on and the eldest has just finished his second year uni exams and will shortly be home for the summer. Unfortunately the youngest still has 6 exams to go over this week and next – but at least this time I am around and able to support her.

Schools and universities need to know if a parent or other relative is going through cancer treatment. There is no point in saying after an exam that their preparation/concentration was affected by external factors. They will be supportive and, if necessary, contact exam boards.

Good luck to everyone taking exams.

Raising Awareness

Some people wonder why I talk about my cancer experience so much. The simple reason is that it saves lives.

Back in June 2015 I contacted a friend of mine to see if she could teach my 17 year old to drive. I had met Donna earlier that year at a brass band contest (yes brass bands again) and I told her I would be in touch later in the year.

Anyway when I phoned she told me that she was no longer teaching and in fact was about to undergo a double mastectomy. Rather than going into the details she then directed me to her blog – Just Get Rid

Of course I knew people, usually friends of friends, who had had breast cancer. Indeed I remember speaking to a colleague at work not long before this about a funeral she was going to for a friend who sadly died of breast cancer. These things always happed to someone else right?

Donna’s blog struck a chord with me though and something in the back of my mind started to nag. Then of course you wonder whether you are being a hypochondriac. The lump on my head was just some sort of cyst. Maybe the flu I had earlier in the year was a different strain to the one I had a vaccine for. My itchy mole on my left breast was a figment of my imagination.  The weird lumps in my armpit were just weird lumps – yes I was aware of them then.

iuWKVI4TS3These things whizzed round in my head – and I did nothing about it – I was an ostrich

This last week I have had headaches and dizziness. Again you get the “I’m just being a hypochondriac”  thoughts – recovering from my late night last week, too much sun, etc

Is my new normal to worry about every little thing. How do you know which little thing to worry about and which to ignore? Do you go to the doctors to be dismissed and then possible not return when there really is an issue. Do you go to the doctors and go through the worry of tests and results or do you bury you head in the sand and wait to see how you feel next week? (and I am feeling fine now!)

I am being an ostrich for the time being.