Thursday, 31 March 2011

Number Three: The Why Me?

I won’t say I wasn’t a little shocked when the cancer was confirmed. I was. But really only a little! I swear I knew… some say I would have known my own body and could tell that something wasn’t right. Some say the fact I’d had no energy for several months (years) was an indication but I say it was all down to the lady who did my ultrasound. All normal one minute and then just a flicker of change in her tone before she reverted back to normal again. (I like to think I’m quite good at reading people and I read her!)

Once the news had sunk in and I had told the necessary people (and a few unnecessary people)  I was confronted with a text message: ‘I know you must be so angry right now, asking Why Me?’ Nope, I thought. I had actually been thinking why not me? If one in every seven or eight women are to get breast cancer then why wouldn’t I be one of them? I was in actual fact looking at strangers in the street thinking- you’ve probably got it too, you just don’t know yet. I think of cancer as a bit of a lurker in that way- I look at others and wonder where theirs will be! Morbid? I had started thinking the exact opposite of what had been text to me. I’d even compiled a mental list of all the reasons I actually made a really good cancer candidate! (Imagine if you will, the beginning of The Apprentice… but instead of why I should be Lord Sugar’s next apprentice, I list my cancer surviving attributes!)

Firstly and by far most importantly… the hair thing. I have had really short hair before- through actual choice! I know what I look like with very little hair. This can only be a good thing when being faced with losing my hair. In your face other candidates! I always want to change my hair style and have had many many different styles over the years… baldness is just one style I hadn’t been hoping to add to the list!

Secondly, (and in a serious way, most importantly) my husband! I’ve stood at the school gates so many times and listened to other mums go on about how useless the fathers of their children are. They don’t help around the house, they don’t cook, they don’t do night feeds; the list goes on. I’m happy to say that none of this is true of the wonderful father of my children. (I’m a little ashamed to say that this is not something I let on at the school gates- I even join in with the moaning about the other halves sometimes- It must be peer pressure I think!) My husband is ‘capable’ and thank god under the current circumstances that he is! It sickens me at admit this but whilst I struggle to control temper tantrums, clear up sick and change nappies as well as maintaining a tidy house with three meals on the table, my husband seems to do all of the above with ease! (Annoyingly he even seems to find time to enjoy it! Bleugh!) I do know how lucky I am to have a husband that copes so well. And if I ever forget how lucky I am, I  just need to keep an ear out on the next school run or pop along to mums and toddlers to remind myself!

Thirdly, I was never that feminine anyway! Old friends will tell you how at school when playing imaginary games I was always Adam. I was always always always the boy. I hated dolls, dresses and pink. Once at middle school we had Barclays School Bank and much to my sister and her friend’s amusement Barclays confused me with an actual boy and sent me statements addressed to Master E Rogers ESQ. I could later admit that these tomboyish tendencies were actually a ploy to get closer to boys and hide the fact that I was in actual fact just flirting!

Finally, there is my personality in general… I love a drama. I actually told my mum before this thing was confirmed that if she had been wondering where the next family drama was coming from I thought it might be me! Some people are very private, particularly about personal issues… not me! Oh no I love to share… not a private bone in this body. Don’t care if you screw your face up and make it oh so clear that you really don’t want to know- that just makes it more fun to divulge the embarrassing details! And then there’s the fact that I’m very faddy. (Yep- how long will this blogging really last?) I love a new project. In the past it’s been ebaying, sewing, the gym, tap dancing, baking cakes, some of you will recall touch rugby! Even some boyfriends would be better described as a fad! I’d recently felt I was done with the baby thing and was wondering what new direction my life was going to take when cancer landed in my lap (or in my boob- twice). So this was the new project? Surviving cancer. OK I’m up for that! Shame it’s not a fad that can be dropped as easily as rugby or an ex-boyfriend… it turns out that cancer is slightly more of a commitment than your average fad- if it wasn’t I’d probably be on to the next thing by now!
(I have just realised that there are a certain few that may think it’s funny to add fiancés to my list of fads- total over exaggeration so I’m setting the record straight before the funny comments start!)

Finally finally-Thank goodness my boys are as capable as my husband… hate to brag but they are fantastic sleepers, eaters and on the whole I’m really hoping they are just too young for this to affect them at all.

Now, I’ll just end by making it clear why it should not be me… I’m too young, I have tiny children to look after, my husband deserves the healthy wife he married and above all before this I had fab boobs! (When those mums aren’t moaning about their men they’re complaining that their boobs are too big/small/droopy.) Mine were ace and should not have been at all cancerous! Ha! Said it!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Number Two: The Reactions.

Now as a primary school teacher I feel like I should be making this next post into a little cut and sick matching activity for the less able in the class… Can you match the reaction to my news with the correct person in my life? But I’ll try not to be too much of a teacher dick and just get on with my story!

So when you’re told it IS cancer you get to go to ‘The room with the leather sofas and artwork and tissue boxes.’ I imagine it would be normal to sob a bit and hug your loved one and ask ‘Why me?’ I do not think I’m very normal… apart from worry instantly about losing my hair I quickly moved on to- there are so many people waiting to hear my news/I’ve got a lot of phone calls to make/I don’t want to upset my mum/can I put this as my facebook status? 

I first phoned my mum- although she needed to know, I didn’t want to tell her…it would upset her. I didn’t want to be the one who made her sad. So I summoned my most bright and breezy voice and ‘Mum, I’m fine, it is cancer but I’m fine so you’re not to be upset. OK?’ It didn’t work she was obviously devastated. I would just have to plough on with my positivity until she realised that I was in actual fact fine! (Maybe in need of an early night but fine!) When I saw mum the next day, still trying to convince her that I would be ‘fine’ she seemed a little cross with me and said ‘It IS serious Erin!’ Obviously I knew this but was taking the road of positivity and thought she might like to join me- apparently it’s the best way to face these things and as quite the optimist it thought it the best route for me!

People’s reactions are funny. There is no non-serious way to say ‘Actually I have cancer.’ I’ve tried: upbeat and breezy. I’ve tried: drop it into conversation and hope it’s registered but not blown up into ‘something serious’. I’ve tried: say it really quickly! But still the news stuns listeners. It just such a serious sentence! It’s a bit like you need them to know without actually having to tell them- somehow they find out by osmosis maybe? They know, they understand, they behave accordingly. (Recently at a children’s birthday party another mum spent a good hour urging me to have another baby ‘There’s no better time to try for number three you know… have them close together, it’s the best way. At what point should I have mentioned to this almost perfect stranger that I was booked in for a mastectomy on Monday?) I’ve never been one for keeping things private- I’m happy to share even my most embarrassing stories with the world but this cancer news is an awkward one- when do you divulge the information? I don’t want to put other mothers off their mums and toddlers business but equally I do not want to get drawn into long conversations about more babies, moving house or my next career step!

My youngest sister’s reaction made me smile- after the initial shock had worn off and she was on board the positivity train with me she said ‘At least it makes you a more interesting person, having cancer I mean… It gives you something to talk about.’ Having something to talk about has never been a problem for me in the past- just try shutting me up most of the time! So thank you very much cancer but if that’s why you’ve chosen me you can jolly along to someone who has less to say… me, I’m more of the verbal diarrhoea type anyway.  

My closest friends seemed to take the news very well- they text back encouraging positive messages as soon as they received their blanket text explaining my news (much nicer when the blanket text explains your new baby’s sex, weight, name and time of delivery but hey they’ve had their fair share of those!) I was pleased that rather than get all doom and gloom on me that they were confident this was something I could in fact beat! Or so I thought! It later transpired that on hearing my news they all met together and sobbed… I phoned one of them and realised they were together having a ‘Cancer Conference’ without me! How RUDE! I wanted to go round and join them but at the same time I felt I should stay with my husband who was also understandably shocked. (Plus as usual I was in my pyjamas by 7.30pm.)

The rest of the people you tell fall into one of two categories…
One: so shocked and dismayed that you have to convince them it's really not that bad.
And Two: The blasé folk who know a million people who have survived and are here to tell the tale! (To them I want to yell ‘It IS cancer you know!’ and shake them a little bit.)

So there is no right reaction. React however you like but if you’re coming along for the ride you better hop on the positivity train and be prepared to laugh along the way because we’re not taking any mopers!

Number One: The Background.

When I was little there was nothing that an early night could not cure… or so my mum would insist. I would have to be at death’s actual door in order to get a day off school! No matter what my complaint, injury, ailment… ‘You just need an early night… you’ll feel better in the morning.’ (This tactic did get me through secondary school with 100% attendance so maybe there was something in it!) My parents tell a story of how aged 2, I claimed I couldn’t walk because my leg hurt… cue the early night! Although quite the young actress this had apparently not been the act my mum and dad thought I was putting on. (My dad spied on me the following morning as I fell out of bed still unable to walk!) I then spent a week in hospital with my leg in traction. This particular story ends with me crying that I had to leave hospital and come home… apparently I liked being in hospital. (This may come in handy later in our story!)

This ‘early night’ approach has definitely left me with a suspicion of illness. I, like my mum, need proof when people claim they are ill. Nothing too dramatic- just the odd, rash, swelling, plaster cast or the like.

Primary school teachers everywhere will tell you that a glass of water and a wet paper towel will cure most classroom ailments and so I found myself several years later stood at the front of a classroom fully equipped with my mum’s attitude to illness telling children with headaches, grazed knees, poorly tummies that an early night would do them wonders! (Now that I’m a parent I am fully aware that the early night is in fact for the parent’s benefit! Thanks mum!) But funnily enough I continue to apply this suspicious attitude to illness to myself! Yep- every time I sit in a doctor’s waiting room I feel intensely guilty about wasting their time… I rehearse what I am going to say… hope for physical symptoms to serve as proof and generally get very nervous and sweaty and hope to God they don’t just say I need an early night!

This may just be a very long winded way of explaining why it took so long for me to tell anyone in the medical profession that I had a lump in my left breast. I was only just in my twenties… too young… just imagining it… had had a late night? I then promptly forgot about the lump and got on with getting through my twenties. Career? Check! Husband? Check! House? Check! Baby? Check! New baby? Check! So fast forward to Boxing day 2010 (empty sagging breasts from having finished feeding baby number two) and suddenly whilst washing I rediscover the lump… this time I feel a very urgent need to tell a member of the medical profession (but I do still get my husband to check he can feel it too so I can be sure I’m not imagining it! See? Suspicious- even of my own symptoms!) But it’s Boxing Day, I’m at my in-laws, Drs are closed and I’m not home even if they were open. So I wait….and when I finally do get into a room with a doctor a couple of days later I am promptly told it’s nothing and doesn’t even need investigating any further. Maybe I looked horrified but the doctor quickly followed this advice up with ‘Well, if it would help you- for your own peace of mind, you could get it seen by a specialist.’ Great! I thought. Someone else doesn’t believe me and now I feel like I’m making a fuss about nothing all over again! But I calmly said that ‘Yes, I would like it looked into a little further please.’ And thank God I did! Because here I now sit with just the one breast having had the cancerous one removed two days ago!  Yep aged 31 with a three year old and a nine month old baby, in my prime! Career to continue, house to up size…I have breast cancer! 

So please even if you think you’re too young… go and see a doctor if you think you have a lump! (And take it further even if a doctor makes you feel like you are making a fuss!)