Thursday, August 15, 2013

Four little words

What are the four words you'd like most to hear?

If you're a mother, it's probably your child saying, "I love you, Mum."

Maybe it's your partner saying something similar: "I love you, darling."

It could be the tax office, telling you, "You have a refund."

For the shopaholics among us, "Absolutely everything half price!" is a winner.

Someone said four little words to me yesterday which lifted an enormous weight off my mind: "You don't have cancer."

A few weeks before I'd been for my first ever mammogram, and when I received a letter in the mail calling me back for a second appointment, I froze. That meant they'd found something, and that something could be anything or nothing.

The letter reassuringly said that 90% of women who were called for a second appointment were found not to have cancer.

The pessimist in me screamed, "What if I'm in the other 10%???!!!"

In the two weeks between receiving the letter and my tests yesterday, the "10%" hung in the back of my mind like a monster in a child's wardrobe; lurking and dark, just waiting to pop to the front of my mind, particularly around 2am each night.

I'd seen a close friend go through breast cancer treatment two years ago. I saw how exhausted she became as the chemicals damaged every organ in her body as they systemically killed the cancer cells. She had to paint her fingernails with dark polish to prevent them falling off, apparently. A thin woman, she became bloated around her middle. Her taste buds went on holiday. Despite using a 'cold cap' during treatment - which freezes your scalp and stops the chemo attacking the follicles - she lost patches of hair and, sadly, brought to mind a picture of a dog with mange. Even afterwards, when the hair grew back in, the effects of chemo were still making themselves known. A keen jogger, she found her legs turned to lead very quickly; even walking exhausted her leg muscles and still does. A side effect of the drugs was cataracts developing in both eyes, very quickly. Within six months she was almost legally blind. It can take five years to fully recover from chemo and all its side effects. It's a gruelling journey and the thought of taking that journey too chilled me.

Yesterday I had another squishy mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. I began to get my hopes up when the woman using the ultrasound was taking ages to find whatever it was she was looking for. She must have been swiping the machine up and down my right boob for a good ten minutes before making a satisfied noise and capturing several images.

"I'll just get the doctor," she said happily.

So you can imagine my relief when, after prodding my boob himself and doing some ultrasounding, the doctor told me, "You don't have cancer."  Four wonderful little words! A sweet little sentence! He decided the thing that was showing up was a cluster of tiny cysts, harmless enough.

"Relief" isn't a big enough word. I could almost physically feel worry floating out of my body. I swear I got dressed quicker than anyone on earth, quicker than a lover caught in bed by their rival. In between pulling my top on I breathed out hearty "thank you"s to everyone I could see.

I drove home grinning, delirious. I put The Beatles on the car stereo and sang along loudly. I was in the 90%.

For those of you in the 10%, you have my heartfelt sympathy, and my very warm wishes that your journey won't be too horrendous, and you'll get your life back sooner rather than later.  Please forgive me if I am so bloody overjoyed right now that I won't be joining you.

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