Just a Little Bit of Cancer

I can’t imagine there’s ever a convenient time for a cancer diagnosis, but mine felt particularly discommodious.

It was our last “fun” day before heading back to Qatar. I’d planned lunch with a girlfriend and for the first time in what seemed liked weeks of a grey and wet Adelaide winter, the sun came out over stunning blue skies. Saturday would be a day of packing and cleaning before flying out in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The fridge had been slowly cleared, and the last minute jobs were diminishing tick by tick from the list.

I drove into town for my mammogram reminding myself of what needed to be done in the next day. Pick up the barbecue cover from the hardware store on the way home, buy some vanilla essence at the supermarket, grab that last bit of dry-cleaning. I scored a rock star carpark at the front of the clinic and settled into the familiar waiting room, I’d been there for a mammogram a year or so ago.

The longer I waited the more agitated I became. I didn’t need to be here. I was sure there was nothing wrong. I was going to be late for lunch. And why were they making me have a mammogram when the GP had suggested an ultrasound?

As the radiographer arranged my bosom between the cold glass plates of the machine I made small talk. “So do you get your Mammograms done here?” I asked. She did. Her boss did them. I thought of all the things I’d done with various bosses over the years – no boob holding. As I stood shirtless reading the cartoons and health notices on the wall I thought about lunch, a glass of wine, and how beautiful it must be at the beach. I moved forward when asked, held my arm up when told, tilted to the right when instructed and winced as the glass plates were tightened. When it came time for the ultrasound the small talk extended. Kids, school, husbands. We found a connection, giggled at how small Adelaide could be, and then she went to get the doctor. The moment they walked back in I knew something was wrong.

A lump, 4mm, a fortuitous discovery. We’ll take a biopsy, but we’re pretty sure it’s cancer we’ve seen enough to know. Go back to your GP now she’s expecting you, I’ll make an appointment for you to see the breast surgeon this afternoon, the sooner we get onto this the better. There were so many more words in between the sentences but I’ve lost them. I know I said something about having to take my children back to school in Qatar but the minute I said children my voice changed. I said something about my husband, it was the weekend for him, a bike ride, a birthday brunch of a good friend, I was about to ruin his day. And Penny, she was on her way to my house for lunch, we’d talked about it the night before, it was going to be fantastic. Can I just text my friend Penny.

Penny it’s not good, they’ve found something. Can you cancel lunch, tell them I’m sorry. I have to go to see my GP.

She got straight in the car and spent the afternoon with my kids. She made dinner. She read the paper at the table as if nothing was happening. She was there when I got home. She was Penny. She was perfect.

I parked outside the GP’s office, the same GP’s office I’d gone to at age 20 for a prescription for the pill. The same office I’d arrived at in four different stages of four pregnancies. The office I’d been in yesterday with my children and no cancer, except I did have cancer, I just didn’t know.

“Of all the cancers to have breast is the best one, and it’s small and we’ve got it early.” my GP said.

“I’m meant to be at lunch at The Star of Greece. I’m meant to be sitting in the sunshine with a bottle of wine? I’m meant to be getting on a plane in less than 48 hours?”

“I know, it’s a shock, I’m sorry.” She genuinely meant it. The next day she texted me “How are you going? Call me anytime”. I think I may have the best GP in the world. The world.

The first tears came when I spoke to G. Should he come home? Should I still get on the plane? Should we meet half way. What do we tell the kids? They need to get back. They need the routine. My brain began to fog. I have to go to the breast surgeon, I’m driving over there now, let me see him and then we can talk more. Talk to Kristina about flights, see what she can do with the bookings.

“We need to take another biopsy and we need to get you a MRI to make sure it isn’t anywhere else.” The breast surgeon was gentle, kind. I thought of my friend Darien and his liver cancer and started to giggle. I was going to ring him and tell him I was sick of him being the centre of attention, that I wanted my own spread sheet with radiography and chemo appointments. It wasn’t funny, but I knew he’d get it and laugh.

And so, here I am, 48 hours later. G is here, he got on a plane and came home. The children are aware of what’s going on, I told them at the kitchen table on a sunny Saturday afternoon. “We’re not going on a plane tomorrow guys, Dad’s on his way home.” They cheered at the news.

“Yesterday when I went to the doctors they found a lump, they need to take it out and Dad wants to be here to find out more about it and what we have to do next”.

“It’s not like its cancer or anything though” said the smallest voice with more of a statement than a question.

“Well, it seems like it is. But just a little bit of cancer. Nothing big, just 4 mm, tiny, just a little tiny bit.”

There were more questions, there were jokes, they were disappointed to not be going back to Qatar but excited to think that G was on a plane.

“We’ll look after you Mum”,

“We’ll buy you new boobs for your birthday if you end up needing them”.

“Did you get rid of my ponytail when we cut it off? You can have it if you like.”

We’re all okay. We’re all positive. We’re all going to do this together. I’m lucky, I truly believe that. I could have not had the mammogram, I could be back in Doha with no idea that I have breast cancer. I’m so so lucky.

It’s just a little bit of cancer.

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