After another week of turbulence, it is weekend again. Last Sunday, Lise left for a horse riding vacation at the beach with her friends. We made the reservations last year in November, and it’s been their talk of the town ever since. On Sunday, with tons of luggage, they set off with one of the moms, all smily faces. Very different from the dressage and jumping camp last week that focuses on improving riding skills. On ponies, they galop barefooted without saddles through the water. Waves are splashing high around them. They have bikes to get around the domain. In the evenings, they cook together. Another week of ultimate joy. And it means that Lise is well shielded from the stress that Ian and I are living through. Nevertheless, in the middle of the week, she called me at the verge of tears.
” I’m worried for you mom”. Mom, not Beige.
” Aren’t you with the rest of your friends?”
” No, I don’t want them to see me cry.”
“Why don’t you talk to your friend Amelie? Share your feelings, she’ll understand and you will feel better.”
“I don’t won’t to spoil her vacation mom.”
On Monday, I called our doctor who had taken a blood sample last week to check my tumor marker. There is quite some criticism on this test, that can produce both false positives and false negatives. The marker was quite low, and I take the news as encouraging.
From Tuesday through Thursday, Aidan had his last three days of training to be a horse riding instructor. His good results at the competition last weekend are known. He continuously gets into a row about horses with one of the girls at the training, who doesn’t ride competition. Aidan has had his share of disappointments at competitions. He doesn’t brag about his achievements. By now he knows what it takes to get results: talent, a good horse, a good instructor, and loads of practice. The rows cast a shadow over his happy mood from this weekend, and I feel a bit sorry for him.
On Wednesday, finally, finally, I got the results from the biopsy. I have passed this waiting area gynaecologie-oncology many times. It is at the end of a long and gloomy corridor, and has a glass wall, partially fumed. From the corridor, you can see the feet of the unlucky inside. I was always grateful not to have an appointment in there. Ian accompanies me. I took something to read, but I have difficulty concentrating. I look at the other people, assessing their age. People are of all ages, but most of them are older than me. Every time a person gets called in, we hear a beep, and the picture of the person appears on the screens. “A steady broadcast of the unfortunate” I think by myself. Finally my picture appears. We sit down at the small desk in the little examination room. A young assistant-doctor starts by asking me a long list of questions on the medical history of my family, and then moves on to me. “What contraceptives did you use?” she asks. “I took the pill from the age of sixteen, and since I gave birth to Lise, I have had a hormonal spiral.” I reply. “Did you smoke?” she continues. My dad being a heavy smoker, I breathed secondary smoke from the moment I was borne. I remember our vacation trips to the south by car, my brother, my sister and myself squeezed together in the backseat. Time and again, my dad would lit up a cigarette. My mom was opposed to opening a window, for fear we might catch a cold. Those were the seventies and the eighties, we know better now. From the age of sixteen, I started smoking myself, off and on. I didn’t smoke neither during the pregnancy of Aidan, nor during the four months I was breastfeeding him. Yet afterwards, I started again, also because Ian was still smoking. A year later both Ian and myself finally gave up this filthy habit. I took the decision to quit and then stuck to it, without need for medication or other forms of help. Yet it took years for the sweet sentiment of fiddling a cigarette out of a package and litting it up had really left me.
After completing her long list of questions, the assistant-doctor moves on to explain the results of the biopsy, echo and mammogram. I’m at the edge of my chair. While doing so, she makes a drawing of the inside of a breast. The tumor is about 2cm. It is hormone-sensitive, which is very common. This is positive news she tells us, because there’s medication to stop or at least significantly slow down any similar tumors from developing. Because the tumor is small and unique, and also because it is the first time, it will be a breast-saving surgery. I’m grateful to hear this, yet it is not the most important thing on my mind. I want to be healthy again. I still have so much to live for.
She then takes a new sheet, and draws a vertical line in the middle of the paper. Left is ‘just this tumor’. “Then, in addition to the surgery, there will be radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is a question mark, yet to be discussed by the medical team.” she explains. My relatively young age of forty seven pleads in favor of chemotherapy. Right is ‘more than just this tumor’. “Then the treatment will be systemic, and will depend on what is detected. In this case, chemotherapy will be a certainty.” “Better be on the left side of the sheet”, I put in. “At this moment there is no indication you are on the right side of the sheet. We will schedule a number of medical exams for you in the coming weeks to rule out any further issues that we observe most.” she says.
She then invites me to take place on the examination table and palpates the tumor. I don’t see the use, because there are ample visual images available. I hate someone palpating my breasts now. In addition, since I know it’s a tumor, it hurts twice as much. Then we have to wait for her supervisor, who will be my surgeon. While left alone waiting, Ian and I talk through what we learned, and we both have good hopes. “It’s been detected in time.” we conclude.
After what seems a long wait, the surgeon walks in, together with the assistant-doctor. She pretty much replicates what the assistant-doctor already told us, including another uncomfortable palpation. “Do you have any questions?” she asks us. A zillion questions race through our heads, including one burning question: “Why?” “There is no unique answer to your question. It is a very common tumor. Many years of hormonal contraception and smoking are the most obvious contributors, but there’s no firm answer. Your hormonal spiral will need to be removed. We’ll do this during the surgery.” she says. All my hopes are on her, she will be my surgeon. I hope she is a super qualified surgeon, and I have no indications to think differently. The fact that she holds this job in an excellent hospital adds to my comfort. She stands up, getting ready to leave. And she gently pats me on my shoulder. “We’ll cure you”, she says. Just this gentle touch of her, and I lose my all-composed-will-deal attitude. After she walks out, the assistant-doctor asks if I have any further questions. I’m in tears behind my face mask. Ian doesn’t understand why I’m crying while I seemed fine up to one minute ago.
When we go back into the waiting area, it’s past noon. A nurse will book my appointments. My picture again appears on the screen, me smiling in better times. The nurse tells me that if I can stay a bit longer, they will take an x-ray of my lungs right away, followed by an echographie of my abdomen. On August 5 I’ll have a scan of my bones, and on August 13 an MRI of my breasts. After, I will have the appointment to discuss the results, and then we’ll book the surgery, that will take place probably early September. “My goodness, this takes an eternity” I think. At the same time, I see it as a sign that the doctors are not overly worried.
Ian and I walk over to the where I’ll have the two medical exams. Due to COVID, he is not allowed to accompany me into the waiting area. So we part. Ian will wait for me outside, where a beautiful summer day is at its best. I feel trapped inside. Luckily, the two examinations are quick. I already obtain the confirmation that no issues were detected following the echo of my abdomen. More encouraging news. I’m relieved to walk outside a little after 2pm to join Ian. He was just on his way to Aidan, whose class has finished for the day. He drives back, picks me up, and together we go drive to get Aidan.
We decide to have a late lunch at one of our favorite places, close to where Aidan’s training is taking place. The three of us sit down in the shade of one of the old trees. The terrace is peaceful, feet in the sand, the quiet talk of people surrounding us. We order pastas and drinks, and engage in cosy conversation with Aidan. After the morning events, I sink into a state of safe relaxation.
We get home only after 4pm. Tomorrow is Thursday again, my second attempt to work in the office of my new employer for the first time, and meet my colleagues. Around 5.30pm, the surgeon calls me. She asks if I can be available for an echo of my heart on Thursday. Of course I can, it is my number one priority. How on earth am I going to explain to my new employer on a Wednesday evening, that I will be absent on Thursday, while in the morning I had confirmed I would be there. I already took Wednesday off. In addition, with all the additional examinations planned, I cannot go on taking vacation without offering any explanations. So I call my boss. He is a most friendly man. Exactly what I don’t need if I wish to remain composed. But exactly what I need, and what I have missed during the past six years. In tears I explain to him how since July 8 I have been on a roller coaster. His wife went through breast cancer treatment in the same hospital a couple of years ago. She is healthy and well. I apologize for letting the team down, right after being hired. “You are not to blame, you didn’t choose this. We’ll wait for you.” His words are genuine and comfort me.
On Thursday, another trip to the hospital. My heart was barely visible on the echo. I muse that it went into hiding because it is scared. But no issues were detected. Another encouraging bit of news.
I decide I cannot wait until I have the surgery to have the spiral removed. It accommodates the development of the tumor so I want it gone as soon as possible. There is a slot available next Monday, which I gladly take. In the evening, I call my friend Grace who works at the hospital. Her daughter Camille and Lise have been classmates since they were three years old. Countless parties and sleepovers further, at the age of fifteen, they are still in the same class and close friends. Camille’s horse is boarded at the same stables as Desert, Daydream and Po. As a result, Grace and I see each other a couple of times a week. I tell her what I already know and the dates of the examinations that are yet to come. She is surprised it will take such a long time to get a complete picture, and promises me she’ll look into whether the dates can be moved forward. I gratefully accept her offer. The sooner this tumor is removed, the less damage it can cause.
On Friday I received confirmation that the x-ray of my lungs revealed no issues. Again positive news. But so much uncertainty is still ahead of me. As my sister and I used to say mockingly when we were young: “Only calm can save you.” Elisabeth tells me the emotional storm calms down once you have a Plan.
Around noon, Grace calls me. The scan of the bones has been moved to July 29, the MRI to August 2, and on August 3 I will discuss the results with the surgeon. It will be a different surgeon, but one she highly recommends. I cannot thank her enough.
Yesterday, Ian and I woke up early and had our morning coffee on the sundeck. After breakfast, Ian leaves to pick up Lise and her friends after their vacation. I have a dressage lesson with Desert before the heat kicks in. It goes really well. I get so much positive energy from a great ride with Desert, it puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.
Today is Sunday. Lise and I take the scooter to drive to the stables. I bought the scooter only a month ago. It is a dark blue Vespa with a beige leather seat, and a great means of transportation during summer. We have baptized it “Groover”. Lise hasn’t seen her horses Daydream and Po in a week, so she is eager to get there. Once arrived, we are not in a hurry, and I take my time with Desert. On our way back, we stop to have an ice scream. How good life can be. Next week, there will be another couple of rounds.