On the horizon, looming ever larger and seemingly gathering pace are a clump of landmark days just ahead of me. In the midst of these is the big landmark day, the strange CANCERVERSARY. This is the term I keep hearing which denotes the anniversary of discovering you have cancer. In some ways I find I approach the day with a sense of eager anticipation as it serves as a reassurance that I have survived so far, as well as highlighting how far I have come since diagnosis. In other ways it is dreaded as it is an unwelcome reminder of the horrible cancer beast coming into my life, changing everything like an earthquake, causing the very ground under my feet to lose its solidity and familiarity.
In the approach to the landmark days, I remember this time last year that I was blissfully unaware of how much my life was going to change. I find it hard to imagine what it was really like then, as it feels impossible to rewind back to what it was like not to have been diagnosed.
The first of the landmark days will be on 23 September which marks one year from discovering the lump, and is rapidly followed by another important date which was when I consulted my Doctor here on 25 September. That saw the start of serious worry and loss of sleep as the possibility of the lump being sinister became firmer. There followed a strange week and a half during which I lurched between naive hope that there was an innocent explanation to the lump, and an aching pit of fear of the unknown if cancer was the cause of the lump.
There seem to be no Internationally Agreed Guidelines 😉 for designating the day of a Cancerversary. Some people choose the day of biopsy, some the day of diagnosis, some the day they discovered the sign or symptom which turns out to be cancer. I have chosen the next Landmark day, 2 October, as the day itself because for me it represents the day that everything changed.
October 2 is the day I travelled from Yangon with feeling sick with fear, and desperate for a sign of hope. It is the day I had the diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. It is the day I met Dr W and he pointed out the spaceship like mass on the screen, growing irregularly in different directions. It is the day my life changed, when I heard those words “highly suspicious of cancer”. I have no idea how I will mark the Cancerversary and I have no idea how I will feel on that day.
The Cancerversary is followed rapidly by a number of other Landmark days. On 4 October I will remember a year earlier having to break the news to close family and friends and my work about the impending surgery and almost certainty that it was cancer. I think that was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.
The 5 October is the day of the surgery and an important Landmark day as that is when cancer was confirmed and the radical surgery was carried out. Any tiny flicker of hope that the spaceship might be innocent was gone that day. Twang Arm came into existence that day. Every time I look in the mirror I am reminded of that day.
Although I knew that the lump was indeed a tumour and that there was lymph node involvement, I discovered the extent of the pathology on the next Landmark day – 8 October when I learned that 6 of the 15 nodes removed had a presence of cancer. A few days later, on 13 October I further learned that there had been no spread and that my tumour was Grade 2, and hormone receptive. I had entered a whole new world of terminology.
On 15 October I met Dr W2. Naively, I had no idea at that time how big a part of my life his larger than life character would become.
The next Landmark day is 23 October when I had the first dreaded chemo. I was terrified of the thought of chemo, the chemo itself and its toxicity, of the side effects and of the procedure. I had been re-admitted into hospital for minor surgery and I remember spending most of that day dreading the time when the porter would come to take me for the chemo. Every time the door opened my heart jumped and my stomach turned over. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed each time a nurse or auxiliary came in. The porter did come, later in the afternoon, and I duly had the first dreaded chemo.
One of the most difficult days will be marked on 17 November, although it was not a day of pain or obvious trauma like the other days. It is the day I lost my hair and met Dr Evil, who was to live in my mirror for months. My hair is still shorter than I would have it by choice, so the realisation that I have had nearly 10 months disliking my reflection in the mirror hits quite hard.
This means that October will see a number of days which will very strongly remind me of what happened a year ago. It will be a strange time and the fact that the Big Check is following soon after means that I know I will approach these days with some trepidation.
It will indeed be Breast Cancer Awareness month!