Introducing ‘ME’. Your host for this book.
Hi, I’m Emma. Married to Darren and co-owner of two small humans, Toby (six) and Chloe (two), and Beagle Arthur (eight).
Jack of all trades, master of some, I’ve had many jobs over the years. Initially I gained a degree in Tourism Management (or my deckchair degree as Darren likes to refer to it) but never worked a day in the industry. I later requalified as a Chartered Legal Executive and since 2011 I’ve been defending nurses going through fitness to practice proceedings.
I’ve been with Darren for thirteen years (unlucky for some!) and married for eight, having met in a nightclub in Torquay. We started off slowly, building our way up through the ranks of pot plant, hamster, beagle, second beagle, before embarking on small humans. The hamster has been the easiest.
What do I do for shits and giggles? I love:
- Reading – criminal and psychological thrillers (anything a bit dark and stabby), legal thrillers.
- Music – anything, especially dance, trance and happy hardcore but definitely not loud shouty stuff.
- Driving, travelling, comedy, laughter, cuddles.
- Cosy nights in watching films and getting heavily involved with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
- The occasional night out when I know I’ve definitely got a sleep-in babysitter (mum(s)).
- Getting outside in the fresh air.
So 2019, after enjoying fourteen months off with Chloe, I returned to work in January. That was a bit of a shock to the system, but I was ready to locate my brain and get back on it. I was quickly thrown into the daily hectic sandwich of small human drop off, attempt to be a professional and do a bit of lawyering, small human pick up.
In April I turned forty. I wasn’t quite sure how that was happening to me as I remember my parent’s fortieth birthdays. I think the secret is having children later in life so with two young small humans I’m in complete denial about how old I actually am. I think I stopped at twenty-five, until I look in the mirror!
I’m a bit like the Queen and like a week of celebrations, so we marked the occasion by spending the week in a Haven caravan in Cornwall. It was hard work, but it was good fun.
It was also good fun to have a joint fortieth birthday party with my long-term mate from school Mel. We hired out a bar, invited a load of people, and spent the evening drinking and dancing. Less hard work than the caravan holiday but also good fun.
I’d devised a list of forty things at forty. A bit of a bucket list if you like. They ranged from a big family holiday to Menorca, Edinburgh Tattoo to celebrate Dad’s seventieth, city break with Darren to buying some matching underwear, fly a kite with the kids, go to a comedy night. And then things like learn to take a compliment, just be me, don’t worry about saying ‘No’ more often.
It was also the year that I wanted to address my ridiculous relationship with food and exercise more. It wasn’t about fitting into a certain size, but I knew I was overweight and didn’t want to set a bad example to the kids with my ‘sneaky fatty eating’.
Come June, two out of the three breaks had been booked and I was making good headway through the list.
I was just getting into the swing of things and enjoying being in my forties when on the 14th June 2019 I woke up and found a lump under my right breast. That’s when my year unexpectedly changed dramatically and ‘Operation Evict Lumpy’ commenced.
Before you think “blimey she enjoys talking about herself” I wanted to show you a little bit of Emma pre-cancer. I’m not Emma who had cancer. I’m just Emma who was an average forty-year-old enjoying life before cancer rudely interrupted.
So what’s in the book?
This is my story following my unwanted partnership with ‘lumpy’. It documents the journey I’ve gone through to kill him off. The highs, the lows and everything in-between. Some of it was written on the same day so you get my raw emotions. Some of it was written later looking back at notes I’d made.
I’ve included messages from friends and family, so again you not only get my raw emotions but also the raw emotions of my nearest and dearest. Some of my willing proofreaders said they loved them, others said they interrupted the flow. I’ll let you be the judge of that. I’ve trimmed them down a bit but there are lots! These bits are in italics, so if they don’t resonate with you, you can just skip on by to the next diary entry.
There are also entries from a few friends and family who explain what it was like when someone drops the C-bomb on them.
I’ve faced every scenario in life with humour and I knew early on I didn’t want this any other way. I quickly set the ground rules that I didn’t want people to worry about minding their words or ‘Ps & Qs’ with me. You’ll soon come to realise that I have a quirky sense of humour and I’m also a bit sweary. If you’re easily offended this might not be the book for you! I’m in no way trivialising cancer but joking and laughing was my way of getting through the situation.
I’m not medically qualified, so this book isn’t intended to provide a factually documented account of breast cancer. If in doubt go see a clever medically qualified person to check it out. Indeed, I’ve learnt that there are multiple types of breast cancer and this book details my specific cancer. Anything mentioned of a medical nature is from information I’ve been given or is my understanding of it. I’ve learnt so much about breast cancer in a short period of time and I hope my journey will equip you with tips for your own if you’re going through it too.
I also know that everybody is different, and you will develop your own way of dealing with your diagnosis and journey. I wanted to surround myself with people and keep things as normal as possible. Other people I’ve met along the way have preferred to take themselves off quietly and then emerge when they’re feeling better. We might both have/have had cancer but only YOU will know exactly how you’re feeling. Do what’s right for you.
Being a mum to two young children, one of my biggest concerns was how they would react and deal with the changes thrown upon us as a family. Along the way, I’ll look at how I communicated ‘the booby bug’ and any changes to Toby. Being one, Chloe was a bit indifferent to the whole process!
Fortunately, prior to my diagnosis, I’d done a lot of work on my mindset. Ironically, I was in the best shape of my life both physically and mentally going into treatment. So, I’ll also mention along the way how I’ve tried to retain a positive mindset and look for the positives in this scenario.
Now I know these usually go at the end, but I’ve developed a few ‘Emmarisms’ along the way. You’ll have absolutely bugger all idea what I’m banging on about, so I thought I ought to pop this here to at least give you a fighting chance.
Booby Bug – Alternative description of breast cancer.
Booby Cases – Your bra of course (how I laughed the day Toby first came out with this little nugget).
Booby Doctor – My amazing breast consultant.
Bum Doctor – Self-explanatory if you see above.
Cancer Admin – A file containing a small rainforest of appointment invites and procedural information.
Cancer Comms – The real-time exchange between friends and family.
The C Card – Curve your right thumb and index finger to form a C. Present this to someone’s face to get your own way in light of the fact that you have cancer.
Chemo Cupboard – A space you need to make to house all the generous cancer-related gifts your mates buy you. Mine includes lots of hand-cream, chocolate, Werther’s Originals, anti-sickness sweets, Gaviscon, fruity teabags, biscuits, lip balm, mints.
Chemo Sitters – Fricking awesome people who give up their time to spend it with you whilst you are pumped with poison. Must have a flare for creating amusement. Usually mums, they will fall over themselves to sit with you for hours on end, have cups of tea brought to them, and actually finish a conversation.
The Chop – Surgery.
Dad’s Chemo Cab – A white transit van, driven by Dad, taking me in style to my chemo appointments.
Emily and Tracey’s Little Jar of Cards – A jar of cards where my mates Emily and Tracey had written either funny stories of past experiences or quite lovely words about our friendship. I usually saved these for after chemo treatment to give me a little boost.
The Frying – Radiotherapy.
“Happy Chemo Tuesday” – Popular phrase messaged to me on a regular basis once everyone realised I was actually having quite a bit of fun on a Tuesday!
Lumpy – Further alternative description of breast cancer.
Melon Coffee Morning – Macmillan Coffee Morning (as misheard by a six year old)
Mummy’s Magical Medicine – Chemotherapy drugs.
Nemo Chemo Bag – A bag containing useful bits for your chemo sessions. The Nemo bit is not compulsory. My comedian of a husband purchased a kid’s Finding Nemo backpack for my supplies as it rhymes nicely with chemo. Other bags are available.
Strudwick – My maiden name was Strudwick. Any reference to Strudwick, Strudders, Strudel is me!
Wanky Week – the first week after treatment on phase two of the poisoning when I felt proper shite.
Wonderful Week – the third week after treatment on phase two when I felt fricking awesome again. Only to be poisoned again.
Friday 28th June 2019
YOU HAVE CANCER.
Bugger – didn’t see that one coming.
But I can’t just jump in there, let me rewind two weeks to when I found ‘lumpy’. Yes, I named the bloody thing. I declared it male and that he was getting right on my tits (literally my right tit).
Friday 14th June
Wake up. Yawn. Stretch. Happen to rub my chest and…
“What the fuck is that?”
That’s pretty much how lumpy was discovered.
It didn’t feel right and the look on Darren’s face said it didn’t look right either. Straight onto the surgery online booking system and I had a GP appointment for 10.30. Luckily, I was meeting my good friends Becky and Nicola that day so they kindly looked after Chloe whilst I went to bare my boob to my lovely GP. Just the week before I had had to bear my arse to her as I’d had enough of the ongoing ‘Paul the pile’ situation. Since having children though I really don’t care. These things need fixing and they’ve seen it all before, no doubt in varying degrees of shapes and sizes.
Clearly my GP didn’t like the look of it either and a referral was made to the breast clinic with advice that I would receive an appointment within two weeks.
And indeed, an appointment within two weeks materialised very quickly.
Did I worry myself silly during that two-week period? I did think about it occasionally, but I’m not medically qualified. I wasn’t going to turn to Dr Google and scare myself silly diagnosing myself with all sorts of nasties. The last time I googled ‘ringing in my ears’ I’d self-diagnosed a brain tumour when what I had was tinnitus. Annoying, but it’s not going to kill me.
In the main it was just business as usual and I was content that it couldn’t have been there for long and I had taken immediate action. The wheels were in motion and there was nothing more I could do, so there was no point worrying about it.
Friday 28th June
So back to the day the arse end fell out of my world. Well not literally, but it felt like everything had been turned on its head. Suddenly all the plans for the six weeks of summer holiday stretching out ahead of us, painstakingly planned with military precision around annual leave allowances, was out of the window.
Today was my first appointment at the Breast Care Clinic at The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E).
After donning the attractive-looking cape I started out all jovial when the booby consultant came in to see me. She wasn’t wearing her poker face and immediately she told me she did not like the look of what she saw.
Firstly, I went off for a mammogram. The first of many scans/tests I would now experience. Interesting bit of kit that basically squashes your tits until you think they can’t be squashed anymore.
At one point I misheard the radiographer and thought she had told me to put my other hand on my tit. So, I was standing there with my left hand on my left tit. She had said ‘hip’.
Next stop was for an ultrasound. By this point I’m still quite happy. Nothing too bad has happened. I’m completely oblivious to what is growing in my right breast. I even strike up a conversation with another patient sitting beside me who was looking a little lost. Turns out she was a nurse for forty years and when I tell her I support nurses in my day job we strike up a good conversation about her career. I’m almost disappointed when I’m called away.
I whip my boobs out again for yet new faces. This time for the ultrasound of ‘the lump’ and a biopsy. I’m still quite happily talking away to the assistant. That is until I’m told there appears to be a second lump and they’re going to need a biopsy of that as well. Suddenly everything seems to be getting quite overwhelming. Two lumps in my breast, what else could be in me?
Thank goodness Darren is with me as we traipse back downstairs to see the consultant. The mood has definitely changed now, and I’m quickly told that the first lump is cancer. Now I’m a logical, practical person but, in that moment, I started shaking like a shitting dog and firing off multiple questions to the consultant but not listening to the answers. Luckily for me, Darren sat there quietly taking it all in and it was him who would later fill in the gaps for me.
I was told that the lump I had found was cancer and the biopsy results would be needed to determine what type. The second lump was my lymph node and again the biopsy results would determine whether the cancer had spread there.
By this point it’s 5pm on a Friday. All admin has shut down in the hospital. I’m told that the consultant’s clinic is fully booked for next Friday, but an appointment will be made for the following Friday. How can I wait two weeks after this bombshell has been dropped on me? The consultant promises she will ask her secretary on Monday to try and book an earlier appointment. A multi-disciplinary team meeting will take place on Tuesday where a treatment plan will be discussed. Treatment. She said ‘Treatment’. This word makes me feel a tiny bit better. There is mention of chemotherapy, operations, radiotherapy, but to be honest I’m not taking any of it in.
My consultant passes me a card with the contact details of the breast care nurse team. One of her nurses is a friend I knew from when I was younger. I laugh as I tell her I’ll have her as we went to Ibiza in our twenties. What goes on tour stays on tour, though, so I won’t be divulging any details of our antics!
The lovely Health Care Assistant (HCA) takes us to a more comfortable room and offers us both a cup of tea. Funny how a cup of tea accompanies most situations. I was given a sugary cup of tea after the birth of both my children. I’m now being given another one at the start of a journey that will aim to get something else out of me.
She leaves and I let out the most heart-wrenching sound I think has ever come out of my body. All I can think about is that I’m going to die. I’ve got two young children who are going to grow up without their mummy. I’m not going to know anything about it, but they’ll always have that missing from their lives. I feel numb.
The HCA returns with the teas and news that she’s booked an appointment for Wednesday. I’m so grateful that instead of a two-week wait I’ve only got to wait five days. “Is this because it’s more serious than they thought or them being efficient?” I ask. It’s them being efficient. …