There are some dates we never forget...
There are some dates that we never forget. Some are happy occasions, and make us smile,
and others remind us of how quickly our lives can be turned upside down and never quite
return to normal (whatever that is!).
Friday August 3rd 2012 early in the morning was when my life changed. As so many ladies do
I noticed that something was amiss in my left breast whilst taking a shower. My GP also
happened to be a close friend, and without hesitation he urged me to rush to the surgery
before normal appointments started.
A trip to the Olympic Games the next day was unforgettable for different reasons. We
travelled first class and drank champagne at Paddington Station. The sun shone, and all
around us people were smiling and happy – it was Super Saturday – the day when ‘our’
sportspeople won so many medals.
Ten days later things were so very different. I went to my appointment alone – after all, my husband had a busy day of patients booked (we are both dentists) and I wouldn’t want them to be inconvenienced for something that was merely a quick check. Nothing was really going to be seriously amiss….was it?
I had always attended my mammograms regularly. Having had a benign breast lump
removed some seventeen years earlier I had been called in for these checks at a much
younger age than normal, and they certainly didn’t worry me. I wasn’t quite prepared for
the look of alarm on the radiographers face as she checked the screen…..and then quickly
turned it off as she realised I had seen that cloudy mass in the middle of my left breast.
The rest of the morning was a blur of checks and re-checks, with other patients arriving,
being seen and leaving. Eventually I was the last patient in the waiting area, and I was
invited in to see the senior radiologist. I wondered if all consultants had a nurse sitting by
their side…and did they all have a box of tissues within easy reach? Did that piece of yellow
paper the nurse was holding have any significance? Was it for me?
“I may as well be straight with you, Mrs Prideaux. I’m 80% sure that you have a fairly
sizeable tumour which is going to need some serious treatment.”
So there we have it. I had joined the club of those with cancer. My ‘normal’ life had ended, and the series of treatments would start. The secret was known only to me, the consultant and the nurse. How do I tell my husband, my family and my parents what they are about to experience?
Very quickly the decision on the course of treatment was made, and plans to cease work for
a time were put in place. Long-held medical insurance policies were dusted off and put to
use, and a rota of family and friends made up to look after me after my surgery.
My surgeon had advised the most radical surgery – removal of the entire breast, along with
the lymph nodes around the area. The question of having reconstructive surgery seemed
far less important than the urgency to rid myself, as best I could, of this frightening
condition. I questioned the design of the incision with my surgeon, and we did discuss very
briefly the possibility of rebuilding the missing breast at some time in the future (something
which I later decided was too demanding in terms of financial resources for the Health
Service, and my ‘downtime’ for recovery)
Needing to buy new underwear is something that usually brings a smile. What colour?
Should we have matching panties? Padded or wired? Lacy or plain? For anyone facing life-
changing surgery the last thing we really need is to struggle to find suitable undies, for
heavens sake!!! Fortunately a couple of my contacts knew of a specially trained bra-fitter who had her own
shop. The bad news was that it was an hour’s drive away! Yet another slice of normal life
was scooped away, as I realised I would forevermore need to make a special effort to
purchase something I had always taken for granted. No such thing, as I quickly discovered,
as a choice of colour or style – merely size. Even then the particular size I apparently
needed wasn’t in stock, so I would need to return for a second trip before my surgery. On
the bright side (if there is one) because I was a genuine cancer patient requiring disfiguring
surgery to save my life I wouldn’t need to pay VAT on this ‘post-surgery’ wear…wooppee!!
Moving forward several years those early days are long behind me. I have, as the breast
care nurse promised, met some wonderful people and made firm friends who have all had
the same diagnosis. We live life to the full, as best we can, knowing how quickly the future
can be snatched away and changed unimaginably.
The support network that I helped to found some eight years ago has been an important
means of sharing problems and finding solutions. We have a good understanding of the
feelings and practical difficulties involved in our condition. One of the most challenging to
deal with is the loss of femininity. The drugs we take to prolong our lives can affect our hair,
our mood and our shape! The final straw can so often be the inability to easily find pretty,
supportive, reasonably priced underwear.
What a delight to find someone willing to work on a solution to our problem! Jemima has
been working on developing pretty, well-fitting, comfortable post-surgery bras and lingerie
since her Mum was diagnosed and unable to find suitable wear in most high street outlets.
We are delighted that something positive has come from what anyone would see as a
frightening situation. Research, design, trial, feedback, repeat. This is the cycle that Jemima
has so willingly taken on, and which is slowly developing into a line of lingerie which will
bring a new and positive normality into what could have been quite different. We really
wish her well and can hardly wait for the day her fitting-rooms are officially “Open”!!!!