Sunday 17 December 2017

The five-year all clear from breast cancer - it's a day I've long imagined

FOR 364 days of the year it feels a little surreal, almost as if it happened to someone else but, on that one single day every year, it's as real as if I had been diagnosed only yesterday.

This checkup though was a little different. When I walked through the hospital doors it would be five years since I had shown up for a mastectomy.

"Not just five years, Marie, but five years to the exact date" said Mike my consultant.

"Twenty- fourth of February, 2010," he confirmed from his notes. "Can you believe it?" he beamed at me.

No I couldn't. Five years is a milestone and one which I sometimes thought I would not make.


This had nothing to do with my physical condition and everything to do with my brain.

Ask any cancer survivor and they will tell you that the body will recover but the head lags far behind.

The trauma of a cancer diagnosis upsets your equilibrium and it takes a long time to get it back again.

For me the trauma manifested itself with sleepwalking. Many a night, over the first two years, I woke to find myself in the kitchen, frantically searching through the medicine box looking for my medication.

This was despite the fact that I had a triple negative tumor and there is no medication available for it. Often, I didn't get as far as the kitchen but, instead, literally fell out of the bed onto the floor, with my heart going at the rate of knots, started scrabbling around under the bed. Looking for what, I do not know.

Mike declared that, once again, I appeared fine but it was time for the annual mammogram.

My stomach flips over and my mouth dries at the thought of it. I suspect it will be ever thus.

Down at radiology I'm greeted as usual by Aileen whose own sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I don't know if this gives her extra empathy or is she's always been like that, but my spirits lift again when I see her. She hugs me and it's like I've seen her yesterday.

Mammogram over and it's time to wait for the results. Even though it's not cold, I always shiver in my hospital gown.


And then Gavin the radiologist arrives. His manner is so kind and direct that even if there is something wrong, he always makes me feel utterly safe.

"Everything is fine," he says. We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes with me grinning like a demented Cheshire cat. And then it's back to normality.

Five years. A milestone. It's great to be here.

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