So this post is a little different. Completely different, actually. As the title probably implies, this has nothing to do with photography, yet I am still posting it on my photography website, because it’s important.
I’ve been thinking about posting something like this for a while, from when a diagnosis was first received to considering putting it off for another five years, but something about now felt right. Maybe it’s because it’s six months down the line, but yet it still sits there, with an ability to sense fear and rear its ugly head.
Like most bad things in life, it started with a lump, next to the nipple on your chest. You found it, and thankfully told us and didn’t hesitate about going to the doctors. From there, you were given an emergency cancer referral.
The word that hits you like a train, even though you suspect it but still really don’t like to acknowledge, because that means that it has effected your family. Cancer was always something that effected other people- not us.
The day after your emergency referral I was listening to the radio at college when an advert for a wedding fayre came on. A simpering sweet little girl lisped over the radio “I can’t wait to get married so that Daddy can walk me down the aisle”, and that was the first time that I was terrified that maybe you might not actually be there to celebrate my eighteenth, never mind me getting married.
At the first appointment, you were told that it “was probably nothing” but you were still given a biopsy to be sure, thank god. Men didn’t get breast cancer. Well, men hardly ever got breast cancer. Hardly ever was a good statistic though, because that meant that you probably didn’t have cancer. Probably didn’t sounded promising.
The appointment about the results of your tests being brought forwards was less promising. Spending nearly four hours at the hospital for an hour-long appointment was slightly more panic inducing.
Being told your dad has cancer is a major shit* moment. More specifically, it’s a holy shit my world has just fallen apart moment. Men didn’t get breast cancer. I knew it existed but you couldn’t have cancer. But you did, and it was shit.
You had a grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which was treatable thanks to catching it quickly. We also was assigned a Macmillan nurse, which tore down the idea that you only got a Macmillan nurse if you were terminally ill. There was a book full of information, full of information orientated towards women because breast cancer in men was so rare. All of the diagrams we were provided with were on a woman’s body. It was oddly alienating, that we had to navigate your disease on the wrong body. Yes, men might have nipples, but it turns out that their only use to you is to metastasise a few cells from a possibe building site injury from maybe years ago into something that could potentially had the power to kill you.
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (or IDC) is the most common form of breast cancer in the UK. Over 80% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have IDC.
- IDC is a stage two cancer, where the tumour has broken free from itself and has quite literally, invaded the surrounding tissue.
- In the UK every year, over 40,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In comparison to this, only 350 men will be diagnosed with it.
- Like most cancers, early diagnosis is key- most men will leave it too late before seeking medical help, and the treatment isn’t guaranteed to work and is more likely to have developed into a cancer that isn’t IDC.
It was all so quick. We were told on the day of your diagnosis that your operation was booked in April and that it was less than a month away, that the cancer would be cut out of you with the form of a full mastectomy to your right breast and that the sentinel node and two other lymph nodes would be removed. The tumour would be set in wax (then sent back to us to be put on display, like at Madame Tussauds, I joked) and tested on. From there, the test results would be sent back to the hospital and further treatment (should it be needed) would be discussed from there.
And that was that. It was difficult not to be angry. I wasn’t angry with you but with the fact that you had to be one of those 350 men to actually get breast cancer. Why couldn’t it be someone else? Why couldn’t our family just stay as one of the lucky ones not effected by cancer? With the anger came the despair, and the sorrow, and the near-daily breakdowns. My mind turned to mush and my thoughts were muddled together. The world slowed down to a halt yet it was speeding along, all at once. I didn’t really cope with it very well because I couldn’t comprehend that you could be alright- cancer was just this terrifying disease that was very good at killing people.
Throughout it all I admired your resilience to the whole thing. I never doubted that you could fight it and that you would, regardless of what treatments could possibly entail. It was easier not to envisage treatment but to concentrate on the here & now, well, except you can’t concentrate and your head is a shed.
Then came the day of your operation. The battery on Mum’s car died and she called me in floods of tears, even though there was very little I could do about it- and, despite on our insistence to be left alone, we were hounded by relatives for news. Nevertheless, the thing inside you that, had it have been left for long enough, could have had the power to kill you. That power was being taken away. It was both a great and an awful day, and still the day we had all been waiting for.
You had a bad reaction to the morphine and had to stay in overnight, but we were grateful because you were a mess in the hospital and it wasn’t pleasant, and there wouldn’t have been a lot that me and mum could have done if you were in discomfort because, we’re not nurses.
Then you came home and you were fine and we got the date through for the results of the tests on the tumour, and we were all feeling reasonably optimistic.
We had good reason to be too, because you got the all clear.. kind of. There were no cancerous cells found in any of the lymph nodes, and there were no cancerous cells in the centimeter of tissue around the tumour, so you were good. Cancer-free in fact.
Now all we have to do is keep it that way.
You’ve been put on Tamoxifen for five years (and you have to take exactly 1,826 tablets) to stop any oestrogen-fueled cancers (like IDC) returning. Unfortunately, it won’t stop any other cancers but let’s not think about it like that.
The only problem is that so many people think you’re cured. The all-clear isn’t cured, I would be tempted to say isn’t far from it. You have to take the tamoxifen to stay in the all-clear. This hasn’t, naturally, stopped the paranoia, like when we thought that your scar tissue was another lump and that this of course meant that the cancer had returned.
Being in the all clear hasn’t exactly been plain sailing either, developing lymphoedema wasn’t something we were envisioning or anticipating. I know you weren’t expecting your recovery to take so long and in all honesty, neither were we.
Despite all the pain and the side effects that the Tamoxifen is causing, and although we joke about your hot flashes and the fact you are almost going through the menopause, none of that matters.
Absolutely none of that matters.
You might not be cured, but you’re still here, six months down the line.
Just another 1,675 tablets to go.
*sorry about the swearing, mum