Diagnosed with breast cancer, Aoife Read finds herself being led down the dimly lit back corridors of a hospital, to a room where Suzanne Vega brings on a panic attack.
I have always been afraid that my breasts were what defined me in most people’s eyes. Now my fear has been realised. I’m not just the girl with the unfeasibly large breasts anymore; I’m the girl with breast cancer. It’s a thing that defines a whole faction of people, while at the same time keeping us faceless, nameless. Breast cancer, it’s all pink ribbons and inspirational slogans.
People keep looking at me with pitying eyes and doleful faces. She’s so young, they’re thinking.
My hospital visit to get my isotope injection the day before surgery saw a whole host of nurses explaining procedures and talking directly to my mother. They think it’s her, I thought. Each time I corrected them and told them it was me who was getting the procedure, I was met with that look. That ‘I’m so sorry, you poor thing, how old are you anyway?’ look. It’s understandable I suppose – it’s how I would have looked at me before all of this. It doesn’t make it any easier to accept, though.
It’s now four days after my surgery and the wait has become all there is. It seems insurmountable.
My surgery was a success as far as it goes. I had a bilateral partial mastectomy and a sentinel lymph node removal. So, there are two separate incision sites. I’m healing nicely, albeit in a hell of a lot of pain. Thankfully the good people of Beaumont saw fit to prescribe some lovely strong painkillers, so I’m managing.
The surgery wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be. Mind you, anything would have been better than what I imagined. I was convinced I wasn’t going to wake up from it.
I went in at 7.30 in the morning and was down in the anaesthetist’s room by 8.40. Having been walked through the dimly lit back corridors of Beaumont, the door was opened to a room, and I was told to sit. On a small wall-mounted TV, Suzanne Vega was singing ‘Tom’s Diner’, its chorus eerily haunting the empty room, my fear rising as her voice swelled. I began to experience sheer panic. I’ve never even so much as taken a sleeping tablet, so the prospect of going under was filling me with a kind of raw fear I’ve never felt before. But the anaesthetic team, when I eventually met them, were lovely. They calmed me down.
It’s the weirdest feeling going under anaesthetic. You literally loose control. After they hooked up my IV the doctor told me I’d be asleep in 20 seconds. The next thing I knew I was in the recovery room, being woken by a student nurse. I woke up babbling about taking a maths test I didn’t know any of the answers to. It was completely disorientating. But that was it. It was done.
I was brought back up the day ward to be monitored, and my mother and girlfriend were called. They were allowed sit with me until I was discharged.
When the surgeon came around, I was still slightly doped up. He told me that the operation had been a success and based on the x-ray that they took of the lymph node, lump and surrounding breast tissue, to the naked eye, it doesn’t look like the cancer has spread. However they won’t know until the results come back from the tissue analysis.
Ten days after the surgery is when the results come in. That’s seven days from today. Seven days to find out if it’s gone or not and what kind of treatment I will need. I will definitely need treatment but what it will be all depends on these results. Will I need chemotherapy? Radium? Hormone therapy? More surgery? What combination of those things will I need? Will I need all of those things?
It’s the longest heaviest wait of my life, and all I can do is sit and rest up and recover and try to brace myself for what is still to come.
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