The first time they told me I had breast cancer was on the 24th December 2003. It had come as such a complete shock that it devastated me. I'd had a blocked duct removed two weeks earlier and I can still remember the breast surgeon saying, "Well at least you know its not cancer." How wrong he was. Christmas and New Year was spent in deep depression as I thought I was going to die. My gran had died from cancer, so for me cancer equated with death. My operation was set for the 19th January 2004, and after the op I had so many complications, resulting in me suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although I survived the whole unfortunate and unpleasant business, it was not something I would ever have liked to go through again.
In September I had a strong gut feeling. I didn't have a lump or anything nothing to merit my concern, but I just new that there was something wrong with my so-called healthy breast. I tried to find out about getting a mammogram done in Moshi, Tanzania where I live. The hospital down the road had a mammogram machine, but nobody who knew how to work the machine or read the films. In Arusha, 90km away, they had someone to work the macxhine but their machine was broken. During the October break I traveled to Nairobi to have a mammogram at Nairobi Hospital. Unfortunately, they lost the films somewhere between the hospital and the doctor. Obviously, there was nowhere in East Africa I could go to with any confidence.
Searching online for a breast specialist in Cape Town, South Africa, I stumbled upon Prof. Affelstaedt, whom I always refer to as Prof Apfelschnapps. The mammogram and ultrasound both showed a suspect area in the spray of calcifications they'd picked up in China in 2008. The good Prof immediately performed two fine needle aspirations. The results were inconclusive. The Prof suggested a core biopsy.
Having had a miserable festive season seven years earlier with the spectre of cancer looming over my head, I wanted to avoid having to go through that again, so I told the doctor that I'd have the core biopsy after the festive season. I think I just knew what they would find. The first results came back and they were only 70% sure. The pathologist had to stain the cells and then the results came back. 100%! Even though I'd been expecting it, even though I'd gone through it all once befiore, it was still a shock. My mom saw I was upset so took me shopping. The cure for all woes in her book. At first I handled the news that I'd need another mastectomy quite well. They can't do another tram-flap reconstruction, as they'd already used my stomach muscle the first time. This time, I'll be having an implant. As the time looms closer for the surgery, I can feel myself becoming more anxious. The Prof suspects that I carry the cancer gene as bilateral breast cancer in a woman under the age of fifty is not common.
Last time I went through it in a strange country with only my children for support. This time, I'll be surrounded by family and friends. Even though I know it won't be as bad as the first time, I still feel scared. I can feel myself disassociating as a way to cope. Like part of me is here going through the motions, but my spirit has gone to some zone to hang out until this is over. Like I'm an observer watching what is going on but I am no longer a part of it. I guess, that's just how I cope.