The return to the breast care centre

A couple of weeks ago, my Mum mentioned that Rachel had an appointment for a mammogram coming up. Mum and I have tested positive for BRCA2, and Rachel hasn’t been tested, so they’re starting her screening early. It was on a Wednesday, which is my visiting day. Could I go? I said yes, of course. The appointment was at 12pm so I was to be at the care home for 10am. That’s how it works, with ambulance transport.

The appointment was yesterday. I woke up wondering whether it would bother me, to go back to that place where I was diagnosed and operated on. I wasn’t sure, and it was too late to back out anyway. I posted about it on Twitter, and people were kind. Someone said it was very supportive of me to do it. And I thought, needs must. Our situation is hard, and we all have to do our bit.

I drove to the care home in the pouring rain and dashed inside. Rachel had had breakfast and was pleased to see me. We chatted a bit. I told her that I’m reading a memoir, Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, and that the author mentions not being allowed to have a drink with soup, because soup is a drink, and she laughed. That’s one of our mum’s rules, one we spend a lot of time teasing her about. A member of staff who’s on maternity leave came in with her baby; the physiotherapist came to take Rachel for her 11am physio session. I said I’d wait and let them know if the ambulance arrived.

The appointment time came and went. This is how it is, sometimes. A nurse called the breast care centre and was told that Rachel’s appointment was at 1.30pm. I looked back at the letter I’d been given. 12pm. At about 1pm, the ambulance arrived. A member of staff had just made Rachel a sandwich for lunch and asked if I wanted to take it with us. I said yes, and she disappeared to wrap it up, and returned with it on a plate and covered in clingfilm. I juggled my coat, my bag and the sandwich while the ambulance team wheeled Rachel into position.

When we arrived, I braced myself for feeling emotional, but I was fine. I explained the confusion over the appointment time. Rachel was asked her date of birth and her address. She gave her home address. The computer record showed the address of the care home. I explained. And I think that’s when it started. An unshakeable feeling of sadness.

I still don’t know which appointment time was right, but we were seen almost straight away. It wasn’t straightforward. The mammogram had to be done with Rachel in her wheelchair, and the angles were pretty impossible. With a lot of patience, the two women managed to get two of the four images they needed. They went to talk to a radiographer, and when they came back, they said that they didn’t feel it was going to be possible to get the others. They’d try again in a year’s time, and in the meantime, we should report anything unusual.

I thanked them, and we went back to reception where I asked about transport back to the care home. Someone made a call, and we sat down to wait. Rachel ate some of her sandwich. An hour or more passed, and when the man at reception saw we were still waiting, he said he’d call again. It was about 3pm at this point, and I started to worry about whether I’d get back home in time to pick the kids up from nursery, which closes at 6pm. Paul was in London. I sent a message to the What’s App group I set up for exactly this kind of scenario, and offers of help started to come in. It was reassuring.

Rachel dozed a bit; she usually has a sleep in the afternoon. At about 4.15pm, the ambulance arrived. ‘Are you coming?’ the driver asked. I nodded. ‘I don’t have any record of you.’ I was ready to break down. The hospital was in Leicester, my car was in Loughborough, my children were at nursery, my husband was in London. Luckily, she made a call and I was allowed to go in the ambulance. We passed a homeless man outside a shop. The driver and her colleague tried to engage me in a discussion about homelessness. They said ‘I always check their fingernails’. They said ‘they get extra benefits for having a dog, you know’. They said ‘he’s wearing Nikes; I can’t afford Nikes’. I said nothing.

As we approached the home, I told Rachel that I was going to have to rush off to pick up the kids. She said she was sorry it had been such a long day, and I felt like crying. And then in the car, sitting in stationary traffic and watching the minutes tick ever closer to 6pm, I felt like crying again. I collected Joseph and Elodie with five minutes to spare. Elodie was the last baby in her room for the first time ever, and I chided myself for feeling guilty about that. Someone has to be last. On the way home, I told Joseph that I’d been at the hospital with Rachel all the time he’d been playing with his friends and it had been a horrible day. He said ‘Don’t be silly, being with someone you love is better than playing with people you just like.’

And he was right. That’s why I was so sad. Because in the past, I’d have loved to spend a day with Rachel, even if we were waiting around for an appointment or for transport. But now, it’s exhausting, and I class it as a horrible day, and that’s the saddest thing of all.

We got home, and I gave the kids milk and farm animal-shaped biscuits. Elodie held them up. ‘Baaaa!’ And then ‘Moooooo!’ Joseph bounced on my tummy as I lay on the floor and I laughed, and then he hit me in the face with a teddy and I told him to go upstairs. He cried, and I cried. And I was almost grateful that I finally had.

Today I’m back to working on my second novel. I’d left my computer on hopefully when I left the house yesterday morning, but by the time I got back, I was just too tired. I need to get this draft to my editor before we go on holiday in two weeks, and it’s going to be quite tight. So I’m hoping to get lost in someone else’s world for the day and shake off this sombreness that’s still hanging over me.