The week that followed after the ‘parting shot’ was a bit shit to say the least. I was in limbo. I had to tell my family I probably had breast cancer but I wasn’t sure, I didn’t have a diagnosis yet. I didn’t know what type of breast cancer it was but from googling, I knew I didn’t want the triple negative type. It was less responsive to chemo than hormone driven breast cancers, it was aggressive and it had the worst prognosis of all. What about the survival rates? What were my chances if let’s say, I got the worst possible news? Stage 4 breast cancer has a 5 year survival rate of 22%. That was pretty poor (more on 5 year survival rates later and why it grinds my gears). I decided that if I had anything less than a stage 3 diagnosis and that if I didn’t have triple negative, I’d be so lucky and grateful. I remember thinking it would be a better feeling than winning the lotto.
I knew it was very likely that I had cancer by this stage. It came out of nowhere. What was I going to do? With my life? With my job? I lived in a rental house in Dublin with Paul, Ali and our friend Anita. Would I be able to stay in Dublin? Would I be able to keep my job? How sick was I going to get? I really didn’t know what was ahead of me but I thought I should probably tell my boss that I was expecting bad news and depending on how bad, I might have to leave my job. She was so supportive and kind about it, which I knew she would be.
After I left the hospital that day, August the 11th 2016, a date which would prove significant much later on, I went home to Roscommon. I told my mother and sister that I had been for a biopsy and that they found something suspicious. I told them that I thought it was cancer. They both said, ‘it might not be, you don’t know that yet, wait and see’, which is a completely normal reaction, no one wants to believe or accept that it might be true! I knew it though and it was a devastating blow which I couldn’t really share because I had no proof, yet! I would have to wait the week and then I could share my diagnosis, then I could be sad about it, then I could stop mulling over the ‘maybe it’s a cyst, maybe it’s nothing, maybe his suspicions were wrong’. Maybe I could stop lying to myself. What would the diagnosis be? How would people take it? How was I going to tell everyone? Would I tell everyone or keep it quiet and in the family? What do people do in this situation? I had never been here before, what’s the protocol? There’s no rule book for this kind of stuff.
I got diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer on the 18th of August. Great, it was the worst one, TNBC for short. The most aggressive type with the worst prognosis. The professor I had seen the week previously who had left me with the ‘parting shot’, told me he could cure me. I would have 5 months of chemotherapy, then surgery to remove the tumours, and then radiation. I would lose my hair in the first few weeks, it usually happens pretty quickly, he said. I would be in the Mater every week for a chemotherapy infusion. I would have a port inserted into my chest so the drugs could go straight to my heart to be pumped around. It would make me feel sick. It would make me look sick. I hated the thoughts of that. I had two holidays booked for the following few months, one to Tenerife with my mam and aunt and one to America in November to visit my brothers. I was told to forget about them, it would be unlikely I’d be well enough to go. And they would disrupt my treatment plan too much. Best to cancel any plans I had for the foreseeable future. That was shit. We were going to Electric Picnic a couple of weeks later. We went every year, we had it all planned, we were doing the boutique camping and had our 8 man tent booked with our friends. I had outfits chosen for each day and bands, DJs and performances picked out since the line-up was announced, months earlier. Taking Electric Picnic and my holidays away from me really annoyed me. It might sound pathetic, after all, it’s just a holiday and I’ve been to the festival 10 times. What was I going to miss? America and Electric Picnic would be there when I was better, wouldn’t they? It wasn’t actually the events in particular I was pissed off about missing out on. It was having my life, plans, holidays, good times just cut out completely while I had to give in to this new, alien process I was feeling so resistant to. Everything had to stop and I had to become a vessel for toxic chemicals to invade my blood stream and kill every living cell, both cancerous and healthy. I hated the thoughts of it. It sounded horrific.
I was told not to google anything, not to worry myself. I would be cured and they would save me. I went home and immediately started researching triple negative breast cancer. Of course I was going to google it. My father had always encouraged me not to take things as they were, to question people and things, to be curious. When I was told that my cancer could be cured, I thought that I would have been mad not to have gone for that option. I felt pressure from my nearest and dearest to do what the doctors said. They can cure me, why wouldn’t I go for that? I had been aware of the risks of chemotherapy and radiation. I had seen people get very sick and die from using it. And I had known people who made recoveries too. I had quite a lot of turmoil in my life that week, it was a real rollercoaster.
I had been looking in to natural cures. Was there any way to do it that wouldn’t harm my body? I thought of Steve Jobs. He had all the money in the world and he couldn’t cure himself. What hope was there for me? It was around this time that my brother Barry rang me from America. We talked about changing my diet and making some lifestyle changes, about removing toxins from my life and going ‘green’. I had dabbled with it in the past but wasn’t a ‘full blown hipster’ as my friend Jackie would later refer to my clean living ways. He asked me if I thought about cannabis oil as an option. I said of course I have, I’ve thought of every option. They can cure me, I’d be mad not to do what they say. I can fully recover from this if I do what they say, even though I really didn’t want to go through the process. I didn’t want to lose my hair (how shallow! I would have my life back! It would be a small sacrifice), I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t feel sick, how could I be so sick and not know? Barry planted the idea about cannabis oil and when I got off the phone, I started to research. I read lots of survivor stories and anecdotes of people who had healed stage 4 cancer from cannabis oil. It could be done! There was hope! There was so much information out there that I could access through google, the very thing I was told not to do. I really wanted to try an alternative way, a way that wouldn’t damage my body in the process but with the doctors saying they could cure me, how could I take a riskier road with an unknown outcome. Would cannabis oil cure me? Would a diet and lifestyle change cure me? I had no idea but I wanted to try. I was afraid to say to Paul that I wanted to do that. He had lost his father to cancer only 2 years previously. We saw him go through the chemo process and how ill it made him in such a short period of time. We had Ali who wasn’t even 2 at the time. How could I take this path and risk leaving him as a single parent? Something we had joked about earlier, it wasn’t at all funny now that it was staring us in the face. How could I risk her growing up without a mother? It would be such a selfish option to take. They were offering me a cure. I had to take it. Even though I didn’t want to. I had a really bad feeling about chemotherapy. The idea didn’t sit well with me at all. I’m not sure it sits well with anyone but my body and mind and my gut were all screaming NO! Don’t do it!
Coming up in Diagnosis: Part III… Misinterpretation of a PET scan, hearing the word ‘incurable’, and the lightbulb moment