Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Big C

Under the microscope... cancer cells

Cancer. It's a word society automatically associates with death and suffering. Yet, terrifyingly, a third of us will now contract the disease at some point in our lives.

Despite the statistics I naively thought it would never affect my family and instead cast it aside as being a terrible illness that only affected other people. The high-profile death of celebrities such as Jade Goody, Patrick Swayze and Farrah Fawcett saddened me greatly, yet I still failed to register the shocking prevalence of the disease.

So, when my mum found a breast lump on the same day news reports announced one in eight women get breast cancer, I wasn't worried. I explained the lump away in my head; surely it would just be a benign cyst, a fatty lump, a bit of muscle. Anything but face up to the possibility it could be cancer. 

Looking back, I was in denial. I genuinely thought mum was indestructible. On the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer the news didn't really sink in. That very evening I attended a friend's birthday party as normal. Then the next day I went shopping. Whilst browsing the rails in River Island I spotted a lady with a scarf covering her head - she was clearly a cancer sufferer. I felt like I'd been smacked in the face as the enormity of what was happening to mum suddenly hit me.

 Samantha Jones' inspirational speech on SATC is a light-hearted take on cancer

The truth was, she could die. Tears streamed down my face as I contemplated life without her. Would she see me get married? Would she ever meet my children and see them grow up? The thought of losing her was more than I could bear.

But I had to stay strong for her so instead threw myself into learning about the disease. To my surprise, it has a very high survival rate and is easily treatable if caught early. Until mum had her lumpectomy we wouldn't know how advanced the cancer was or how far it had spread, so it was, quite literally, a waiting game. 

The lump was clearly visible by the time mum had surgery. I couldn't bring myself to look at it. Every time I did I thought of the cancer eating away at her which was just heart wrenching. Yet mum was so brave. She never once complained, even after surgery when her breast looked like something out of a horror movie. In fact, she held us all together - comforting my family when she must have been absolutely terrified herself.

Tragic... Jade's death encouraged young women to check for cancer
A week later we received results and discovered the cancer cells hadn't spread. Luckily it had been caught early and mum wouldn't need a mastectomy. A huge feeling of relief washed over me as I realised I wasn't going to lose her.

Six weeks on and mum has just had her second chemotherapy session. Chemo has been even more traumatising than surgery for mum, as losing her hair has been devastating. It had been falling out rapidly in chunks for days until eventually she decided to have it all shaved off. I was shocked to see her without hair, but I understand it's an unfortunate side-effect of a drug that will help her beat this horrific disease.

As always, there's a moral to my story. Don't ever take your mum (or your health) for granted. You never know when either could be taken away from you.

Happy mother's day mum. Get well soon. xxx

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