I remember the moment I discovered the first lump in my breast. I was at Phil’s unit for the long weekend. He lived in Sydney, and I in Brisbane. We were commuting regularly to spend time with each other, enjoying our romance. In hindsight, it was just as well I was at his place. It was his bathroom mirror, you see. It was large and modern, well lit, with those fancy lights you see in film stars’ dressing rooms. Sitting just above the vanity basin, you could see yourself from the waist up. Whereas my mirror at home was small and old-fashioned, in front of a white medicine cabinet. All you could see was your face. There I was, bending over the vanity, brushing my teeth. Dressed in only my underwear, I looked up and noticed a raised lump sitting high in my left breast, above the bra. I stopped brushing and looked across at my right breast. Nothing like it on that side. My fingers felt the lump. It felt like a bubble – not hard, but soft and fluid.
I showed the bubble to Phil. He could feel and see it too. we were certain it was nothing to worry about – just a cyst or something. But, we agreed I should see my GP as soon as I got home.
A few days later, Phil rang and asked if I’d been to the GP yet. I said no, as I’d been too busy with teaching and looking after my ten-year-old daughter. He insisted I go.
My GP is about my age – forty at that time, and his son is the same age as my daughter. He had heard about my marriage breakdown. Bad news always travels fast! I excitedly told him of the new man in my life. He looked at the lump and examined me. It was probably nothing, but to be on the safe side he’d send me for a mammogram. My first mammogram.
I had to leave school for a few hours in the morning. It was the only appointment I could get. At the clinic I was asked to change into a gown (green or pink) and then wait in a room with tables and chairs with about 20 other women, all in coloured gowns, drinking coffee and reading magazines. A volunteer came and asked me if I’d like a tea or coffee.
I had my mammogram and waited. I had an ultrasound. Then I waited again. The waiting room started to empty. I got anxious. The volunteer chatted to distract me. Why did they want me to stay, when most other people had left? Eventually, a doctor came and told me to stay and see the specialist. I was really worried now.
The specialist had my mammogram x-ray up on the light board. He told me there were two suspicious areas in the left breast and they were almost certain it was breast cancer. He asked me if there was any family history. None I was aware of. He advised me to see my GP for a referral to a breast surgeon as soon as possible.
I drove back to work, stunned. At school, it was difficult to act as if there was nothing wrong. I confided in my good friend and told the head of department. I packed my briefcase and off-loaded some marking onto my colleagues. Little did I know then I would not return to work for six months.
A few weeks later, after the mastectomy and the commencement of chemotherapy, one of my colleagues visited me at home. He had a beautiful bunch of flowers and a card. He kept asking me to open the card, but I said I’d open it later, as I thought I might cry reading their messages. Later, when he’d gone, I opened the card. I was absolutely flabbergasted to find over $1,000 cash!
My colleagues (there were over one hundred and fifty teachers at the school) had taken up a collection to buy a present for me. They told me people just kept comming up and giving them money, so they decided to give me the cash instead. It certainly amazed and touched me. It is one of those moments which stays with me always.
This has been reproduced with persmission from the author and publisher. Taken from the book Armed with Chocolate Frogs – Living with advanced breast cancer. Kate Carey Productions