Quite by chance, after a few months relatively free of medical appointments, I saw my breast surgeon and my oncologist in the space of two days last week. In between appointments, I got very little done. I’ve been trying to run a bit, but I’ve torn a ligament, so I can’t do it at the moment. Writing was slow. I kept drifting about the house, a bit aimlessly. And I realised that it was because I felt like I was back there, in the middle of it all. It was disconcerting. The last time I saw my breast surgeon, we talked about how I hate the results of the reconstruction, and he said he’d see me in three months to find out whether I felt any differently. I don’t. So he ran me through the options for further surgery. I could have my expander implants swapped for traditional implants, which might or might not make a difference to the shape and feel of the breasts but is a fairly simple procedure. I could have tissue taken from my tummy, which is what I wanted initially, but that’s another big operation with a lengthy recovery time. No decisions were made. I’m seeing the plastic surgeon in a few weeks to discuss it with him.
The following day, I drove to the hospital where I had my chemo to see my oncologist for a six-monthly check. It was truly like driving to the past. It didn’t help that, just before I left the house, Mum and I had both got upset, as we often do when we talk about Rachel, and I spent the first half of the journey trying to get myself under control. The drive took me past the hospital where Rach spent many months after her stroke. This time last year, I could do that journey without thinking. I drove it all the time, and every time I did, I was so heavy with sadness. Fleetingly, as I passed the turn-off for that hospital, I thought that it’s where Elodie was born. But that will never be how I remember it.
I was composed when I arrived for the appointment, but then I was assaulted by the sights and smells of that ward, and I thought about going to the toilet with my chemo drip attached, and the way it felt to have that freezing cold cap on my head, and how tired I was every time I called in to get new symptoms checked. I could have cried. But I didn’t, because the nurses and receptionists there are some of the kindest women I’ve ever met, and they always greet me like an old friend, and ask to see pictures of my children, and make me smile.
I left half an hour later, and the relief I felt was palpable. It felt so good to be driving away from that place once more, with no plans to go back for another six months. To be putting it further and further behind me with every minute that passed. I got home just as my parents were putting the kids to bed, and Joseph asked me where I’d been. ‘I have to see my doctor sometimes, because they need to check whether the lump has come back,’ I told him. ‘And has it come back?’ he asked, excited. Perhaps he doesn’t understand as much about the lump as I thought. I explained that we don’t want it to come back, and reassured him that it hasn’t. I held him tight, like I do every night, hoping this disease will never break his heart.
Last night, I went to a breast reconstruction support group. Brave women showed the results of their surgery to small groups of women who are still deciding what to do. They lifted their tops over their heads and removed their bras, their heads held high. They were scarred and they were beautiful. The room was full of sadness, but there was triumph there, too.
I never want to go back to where we were last year, so last week was a tough one. At the weekend, we left it all behind and visited the best of friends. Four couples with eight children between us, their ages ranging from six to one. In the afternoon sunshine, the children ran through a sprinkler in their pants, shrieking with delight. Looking on, we listened to The Lemonheads and Radiohead, the same songs we sang along to when we were seventeen and at school together. And I thought about cancer, and how it hadn’t taken this moment from me, how it never would.