Up until a few weeks ago, in my world BC stood for either those years before Jesus Christ was born or that beautiful province in western Canada, British Columbia.
Now it also stands for breast cancer.
I’d signed up to do a four-day, 270-mile bike ride from London to Brussels with work colleagues in September. I needed a fitness certificate from my GP and so made an appointment, for the morning of Monday 13 July. But at some point between making the appointment and actually going, something clicked in my head and I decided I’d ask him instead to check my right breast.
Things happened quickly. I was referred to a consultant breast surgeon and later that same day I had a mammogram, an ultrasound of the breast and armpit, a fine needle aspiration and a core biopsy. Before I knew it, the consultant was using words like “concerning”, “worrying” and “suspicious” and telling me that we were “at the start of a journey”. He said it in the nicest possible way but you’d have to have been pretty dumb not to work out what he was telling me. For good measure, he added, “the worst-case scenario is breast cancer”. He knew, and I knew, and a short while later, my husband knew too. We decided not to say anything to our two boys until we had more information.
I walked out of the hospital feeling I was involved in some out-of-life experience. I got into the car and turned on the radio… to hear Shania Twain busting out Man! I Feel Like a Woman. I could have cried, but I laughed and joined in. (I still need to work out whether that song is a feminist anthem or just the opposite. With lyrics like “The best thing about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun”, I suspect it’s the latter but that’s a debate for another time!)
A couple of days later, breast cancer was indeed officially confirmed. Subsequent tests – including a bone scan, a full-body CT scan and hormone receptor tests – showed it was primary breast cancer, in that it hasn’t spread beyond the right breast and the right axillary lymph nodes. This is GREAT NEWS. Treatment will be pretty brutal, but I do consider myself lucky. I almost danced out of the clinic after the consultant said things were as “good as they could possibly be” under the circumstances and confirmed they’d be treating me/the cancer “with curative intent”. That was a horrible clinical phrase, he said, but I told him that to me it sounded just lovely. I swear the headache I’d had for two days disappeared as he said it.
I’ve racked my brains so many times since my diagnosis trying to work out whether I should have gone to see my GP earlier, and if so when. I can’t honestly answer the question. The fact I’d had a clear mammogram last October certainly didn’t help. I just know I’m glad I signed up for that bike ride.