A version of this was posted on my blog in July 2009. I have thought I would re-release it, in light of the Sunday Times article I was involved in on 25 April 2010.
I tend to assume that everyone knows that I had cancer, it's not a secret. I have discussed it many times and am happy to do so, if it helps anyone affected by this dreadful disease.
Cancer is devious. It hides, infesting and nesting in your body, allowing you to feel fit and well, while it grows and spreads. I had breast cancer. As a lotions and potions gal, I would daub myself in oily goo after every shower. One Saturday morning I was doing just this in the bathroom when I noticed a strange outline in the lower, outer side of my left breast. I showed my husband, I wasn't worried. I would go and see our surgery's token female doctor and see what she said. The wait for an appointment with her would only be a couple of weeks. My husband spoke slowly and firmly, telling me that I would go on Monday, I would see whichever Doctor was free and I would get it checked out. I huffed but agreed.
My GP said that he didn't think it felt like anything nasty but as he wasn't qualified to make that sort of judgement and as there was definitely something there, he was happy to refer me for further investigation.
A few days later, I went to see the consultant. We parked right outside the door and as I entered the clinic I was immediately impressed with the facilities. The decor was warm and welcoming, there were lovely works of art on the walls, it was obviously very clean. There was a lovely lady at the concierge desk who directed me towards the reception area, where I was to book in. I sat next to my husband in a comfortable chair as we waited and very quickly a very nice lady came to show me through to where I would meet my consultant. I was nervous but pleased, yes, I had definitely made the right choice of clinic. The Consultant certainly didn't disappoint; a genuine, caring man, who greeted us with a smile, shook our hands and indicated for us to sit next to his large desk. He examined me and explained that he would like to start off with a mammogram and when he had checked that, possibly some other tests. The nurse would take me through to the mammogram suite and my husband was taken to the waiting area nearby, with its tea, coffee and biscuits, books and magazines.
I had the mammogram, which was examined by my Consultant immediately and that very same day I was given an ultrasound examination - also analysed immediately. This was followed by 5 core biopsies. All done in one day, no waiting for results between each test, no delays, just cups of tea and staff who regularly came to check if there was anything I needed.
Just a week later, my results were ready and we returned to the clinic to hear the verdict. Again the ambiance was calming and my husband and I were quite relaxed as we waited, I was convinced that there was nothing to worry about, I was far too young for it to be anything serious and I knew clinics like this did lots of tests just to make sure that everything was OK. A nurse came to escort us to the Consultant's room and we were ushered in; again he shook our hands and greeted us warmly. Another Consultant was also in the room, along with a nurse and a lady who was not in uniform, she introduced herself as Jayne. My Consultant was such a lovely man. The type of man who can give you the most dreadful news with a warm and reassuring smile, and that is exactly what he did. I had cancer. Suddenly the people in the room made sense. Jayne was a specialist Nurse and the other Consultant was a Surgeon, he would be doing the operation that the Consultant said I needed. A radical mastectomy.
The Consultant reached for his diary. "When would you like to come in?" he asked.
I looked at my husband. "As soon as possible?" He nodded.
The Consultant flipped a couple of pages and looked up, "Wednesday?"
That was it. Less than a week from the results and just 3 weeks and 5 days after finding it, my cancer was removed by mastectomy with ancillary clearance.
My stay as an in-patient following surgery was comfortable and my care was thorough. I had my own room, I know there were other mastectomy patients in other rooms but at that stage wasn't really up to talking about it, so was glad of the solitude. Nurses and care assistants regularly came into my room to check that I was comfortable and I had a television, telephone and was able to have my electronic games and mobile phone with me. My husband would visit and was able to stay with me as late as he wanted to, no strict visiting hours were inflicted upon us - a good thing too as it was a very traumatic time and I really needed my husband to be around.
It was the same story with my aftercare, comfortable surroundings, thorough attention, absolute dignity and respect from start to finish. The pathology was discussed with us fully and the recommended course of treatment was chemotherapy but this could not begin until I was recovered enough from the surgery.
I was taken to see the chemo suite, where there was a side room for private consultation with 'the wig lady'. Complementary therapies were offered and I would be able to have aromatherapy, shiatsu massage and reflexology. The chemo was given in a small room, with reclining chairs and home comforts. Tea and biscuits were brought before treatment commenced for patients and their partners and it was all very... well, nice!
Cancer is a life changing ordeal. It is often described as a journey and that begs the question - how would you prefer to take a journey, on the bus or in a taxi? My journey was made much easier by the care I was lucky enough to receive, I'm not ashamed to admit that I would make exactly the same choice again, should I ever be unfortunate enough to need to.
We have all seen the adverts for private healthcare and my experience certainly lived up to everything they say. I could not recommend my choice highly enough. Where did I go? Barnsley Hospital NHS Trust. The NHS, it saved my life. The staff in the NHS - they made the experience easier to bear, more comfortable to endure and less traumatic for me and my family. They are heroes and I thank God for them every single day, when I look at my children's smiling faces and appreciate being alive.