The Year I’ve Had: Knowing your Body & Recognising Cancer //
What better resolution for the rest of 2017 than caring for your body inside out? Firuze tells us how knowing her body so well meant she knew when something was wrong, and caught her cancer early from recognising the signs.
I feel like I have to tell this story. Not a story, a biography. A little snippet of what the last year has been like. To Work or Play has been somewhere that I can write freely, but this isn’t work. And it isn’t play. This is me reaching out to all of our readers to tell you what you could miss if you’re not careful. If you’re not aware of your body. If you think this couldn’t happen to you in your twenties, or your thirties, you’re wrong. I am trying to scare you. I’m trying to terrify you into checking your body and knowing it inside out, and caring for it. What better resolution could you have for 2017?
On the 1st December 2015 I wrote this in my diary:
“I have cancer. Actually, I have cancer… again.”
When I was 11 I had bone cancer, so needed 10 months of chemotherapy and my shoulder blade removed. This bone cancer is Ewing Sarcoma, and is hormone related, so unpreventable. This was definitely the worst time in my life, and I wouldn’t wish chemotherapy on my worst enemy.
At 27, I found a lump in my right breast. I’ve found lumps before and always had them checked out, plus I had breast lumps before and kept an eye on them, but this one didn’t go away. This one got bigger. And harder. Then two more appeared and felt like small metal pellets. There are lots of signs of breast cancer (see here), but when it feels hard like a stone that’s when you should realise there is something wrong.
After an emergency appointment with the GP I was referred to the Rapid Diagnostic and Assessment Clinic. If your GP refers you, the NHS are required to make sure you’re seen within the next 2 weeks. Normally they wouldn’t refer a 27 year old, because breast lumps are breast lumps and most GP’s will tell you they’re normal (in fact, two told me they were just cysts), but because of my history, I insisted. If you have a funny feeling about it, and they’ve not gone away or calmed down after 2 months, insist on being referred. Getting it checked out is worth it.
At the first appointment I was anxious, and after a physical exam they asked me to have an ultrasound. The first lump I had found came up under the ultrasound as nothing, just breast tissue. The second lump came up as a cyst, so that was aspirated (which means they put a needle in and remove the fluid). The third, larger lump was harder and came up dark on the ultrasound. They decided to do a biopsy there and then. I asked a few questions and the radiologist reassured me, saying it didn’t look scary and it would most likely be a fibroadenoma, a benign tumour. They asked me to come back a week later for the results.
Feeling fairly positive that it would be benign and I would be fine, I asked my mum to drive me to the hospital a week later. The appointment was nearly an hour late and when I got up to ask what was going on, the radiologist who took my biopsy came out into the consultation room. I tried to catch her eye and smile, but she wouldn’t look me in the eyes. Then they called me in.
Miss Shenton introduced herself and said they had had a look at the biopsy results. The next sentence hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Unfortunately we have found some abnormal cells.”
I couldn’t breathe. I sobbed dry air until I could let out a wail. I knew what it meant immediately and cried so hard in my mum’s arms as she sobbed that it wasn’t fair. I tear up every time I think of this moment in my life. I’m crying as I write it, feeling sorry for myself. I’d been dreading it for 15 years, always feeling like it was coming, and never knowing how to prepare for it. No one knows how to prepare for it, and no one knows what it’s like until it happens, or until you hear that someone close to you has been diagnosed. Doctors rarely use the word ‘cancer’. When I was 11 it was ‘bad cells’. When I was 27 it was ‘abnormal cells.’ Then they give you a leaflet saying ‘how to deal with cancer’ and that’s how you know. You have cancer. After doctors reassured me it was nothing, radiologists reassured me it was nothing, and after all my friends and family hoped it was nothing, it wasn’t nothing. You won’t know unless they check.
In the next series of posts I’m going to write a little more about what it’s been like to go through and the year I’ve had. Maybe it’ll prepare you for a tough time in your life, maybe it’ll make you appreciate life, maybe it’ll make you realise just how many people are going through this right now, and how we need to know more about cancer. If all you get from this post is an incentive to check your bits, I’m happy with that. If you want to go a little further, I urge you to do two things:
1) Know the signs. The best hope for treating cancer is spotting it early. If you or a loved one need more information on cancer and how you can spot the signs to talk with your GP about, I would recommend Macmillan.
2) Help beat cancer sooner. While there are lots of charities that provide support, Cancer Research is a charity that funds research for the prevention, diagnosis and new ways of treating the disease, and works to raise awareness to help you spot cancer early. If you’d like to donate, my friends Jay (Nat’s brother) and Rael are running the Paris Marathon 2017 this April on my behalf for Cancer Research. You can sponsor them here: justgiving.com/fundraising/raeljayparis
More posts to come. Watch this space.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer or have any questions please email email@example.com.
Words by – Firuze French
Images © To Work or Play