It shouldn’t take too long, we’ll just get the results and then we can go get ready for the wedding. It had been a week since my friend had been to her breast clinic appointment, since that day we had talked about the results. Back and forth we debated whether the fact that they left her for a week was a good sign or not. From my point of view, I thought it was strange that she hadn’t got her answer straight away but I also thought it was odd that they hadn’t pre-warned her about the possibility of cancer. I felt that the word cancer should’ve at least been said.
The night before the appointment we had been to our friends henna party. It got late so my friend came to mine, we planned to go to the hospital together the next morning. I wanted to go with her because something at the back of my mind told me that this could be bad news. I kept thinking to myself, stop being the doctor and imagining the worst case scenario.
That night she showed me her lump. The lump felt hard and knobbly, my heart sank. Well it’s definitely not a cyst, I said to her and tried to reassure her that maybe it was just a fatty lump. I didn’t want her to worry, I was probably being paranoid, but my gut feeling wasn’t good. We got a few hours sleep and woke up looking worse for wear. We rushed straight to the hospital.
We got there a few minutes earlier than the appointment and sat down. A nurse came out and announced that there would be a 40 minute delay. We decided to ask at reception if we would have time to go grab a coffee, she didn’t look impressed and said no I think you should take a seat they won’t be long. We were sleep deprived, hungry and without our caffeine. We sat wondering what the worst they could say was, saying stupid things like, what if they say it is cancer and you have to have your boob taken off! I’ll tell them straight away I’m not having it and walk out, my friend laughed. Forget the boob what if they say my nipple’s coming off, never I’m not doing it! At that point the nurse came and called us in.
We were taken into a room and left to sit there for five minutes. Little did we realise, we were the 40 minute delay. I didn’t like being on this side of the door, I felt like I should be with the doctors and all the notes, in control. There was a knock at the door. In walked the consultant and a Macmillan nurse. They introduced themselves and sat down.
She looked quite young for a consultant and she had that look of a surgeon to her. Her tone was very calming and she spoke slowly, she seemed almost too nice. It all felt very formal, the consultant was talking to my friend.
She started with recapping what had happened the previous week,
so you came last week because you were worried about a lump?
yes we said,
…we felt the lump and we did some scans,
…and after the scans we did a small biopsy,
yes we replied again wanting her to get on with it,
…and we wanted you to come back this week for the results,
…she paused …a long pause,
…I’m really sorry…
but the biopsy results are back …
and it has shown …
it is cancer.
How do you react to that?! My friend took a moment and then put her head down and cried. I remember just looking at the consultant, then the nurse, then my friend, then back to the consultant in disbelief that this had just happened.
In all honesty the moment we were sat in that room and they walked in, I knew this was a classic breaking bad news scenario that we were trained to do. Then the way that she started to speak to my friend, I knew bad news was coming. But even then I was still thinking to myself, you’re just thinking the worst, it can’t be. Not until she said the word, cancer.
My friend took another deep breath, I was so impressed at how brave she was. She looked up at me and shrugged her shoulders. We both gave each other that look of, what on Earth just happened?! She turned to the consultant, right so what happens next?
The consultant asked why she seemed very shocked when she said cancer. Of course we were shocked we weren’t expecting it, and why would you send someone home for a week without telling them you thought this lump was potentially a cancer?
Anyway, we knew now and we wanted a plan. The consultant examined her and laid out the plan. I’m not convinced that my friend took much of it in but I was ready and I was listening.
She explained that the cancer would need removing as soon as possible and there were options of taking the lump out or removing the whole breast. The lump was very close to the nipple and so she recommended that the nipple be removed. The irony of how we had been talking in the waiting room only minutes before. She also advised that the lump was a decent size and therefore a lumpectomy might leave her with a large dent in her breast and therefore a mastectomy was a better option. She then went on to discuss the different types of mastectomy, so an implant or a reconstruction using her back muscle or the stomach fat.
Next she went over the results of the biopsy. This was a grade three tumour that was oestrogen and progesterone sensitive. I couldn’t remember at the time what grade three meant, was that better or worse than a grade one or two?
The scan of her underarm was negative so that was some good news, no spread. Then she told us that there would still have to be chemotherapy following the operation and also she would be on a tablet for 10 years.
That still wasn’t everything. She asked about children. My friend doesn’t have any children yet. We were told she would be eligible for egg preservation and freezing, as the chemo has a good chance of reducing fertility. She asked if my friend wanted this.
How do you decide all these things when you’ve just been told you have cancer. I was just about following and I’m a doctor. It was a lot of information, I asked a few questions to clarify.
We could tell my friend was still in shock. We agreed that it was a lot to take in and planned to meet again very soon, after she had chance to think. They took us to a separate room and we finally got our cups of coffee, not that we felt like drinking them any more. We sat in shock. Neither of us knew what to say or do. All we could keep saying was, how has this happened? And, I can’t believe it!
Everyone was waiting to find out the results, family and friends. How were we going to tell them…