Thursday, July 17, 2014

The worst word in the English language...


Not Cancer, strangely enough, but 'lump'.

You see, Cancer is known. It is a 'thing' a thing which has a protocol, a plan which can be managed.  A lump is none of those things. It is just a lump; something which shouldn't be there and is.  Something which could be utterly benign, something which may just be a comma in the sentence of my breast which will go or it could be cancer, again.

It's 2014, nearly 9 years after my diagnosis of Breast cancer 1 in September 2005 and I have another scare.
A lump which appeared about three weeks ago in the 'other' breast.

It doesn't 'feel' like cancer, if I can be that familiar.  It's soft, squishy: the other one was hard and robust against my fingers.  This mean that I encountered my standard appointment with optimism.
Mammogram - check.
Ultrasound - check.
Doppler test (to check the blood flow around the lump. Cancer creates its own bloodflow to feed itself; cysts don't.) Check (ish) as there were flickers of colour delineating possible blood flow.
Need for a biopsy (starting to squirm now.) Needle biopsies, I know about. A small needle put into the 'lump' under the guidance of the ultrasound. If it pierces the lump which then collapses, it's clearly a cyst and nothing to worry about. If it pierces the 'lump' which doesn't then collapse, it could be cancerous.

The very kind doctor told me that needle biopsies had been disposed of and now it was just 'big sample' biopsies of which they needed to take three samples.  I am fine with all of that of course; better to be sure and the more flesh they have, the 'surer' they can be.

Time for the local anaesthetic and then in went the sampler.  It clasps onto the flesh, and then makes a sound much like a stapler gun as it traps its flesh.  Except that the stapler misfired once, so it was four samples, instead of three.

All good (ish) except my mind was starting to wonder if this could be cancer.. and what that would mean.

So, if it is a new tumour in the opposite breast, that isn't quite as bad in that it means that I would just have the lump excised, and I am not sure if chemotherapy would be dictated or not. Possibly as I have had it twice before, to be 'safe'.  If it is recurrence of the original cancer, then it is definitely chemotherapy, possibly mastectomy and radiation to the chest wall, I think...

As always though, it is the uncertainty which drives me crazy as I am powerless in the face of it.  With Cancer, I have walked in its shadow twice before, but uncertainty you can't manage or plan for, you can just be.  So, until Wednesday, I shall just be, albeit, with a bit more 'now' just in case my 'later' is closer than ever.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


It's been a bit of a week in the Minerva household.  First was the turn of the Eldest daughter who received her A2 results last Thursday. They were, thank goodness, super so the day which also happened to be her 18th birthday did turn out to be a good one.  This Thursday comes the turn of my twin daughters who receive their GCSE results.  I am a bit of a worrier, to be fair, and I am not just worried about the grades in an absolute sense but also about the relative equality.
There is another question though as well.  My daughters go to private schools. I don't justify it, but they do and their results and the results of their fellow students are outstanding.  My eldest daughters' friends all achieved their offers several with the same kind of fantastic results that my daughter obtained, A*s aplenty.  I teach at a State school - a reasonable State school where our results are improving massively but they are still low.
I keep going over and over this again and again. Why are our results so much worse? Yes there are some parents/boys who are difficult (it is a boys' only school.) but the dedication and time that the staff put into the school are just the same or even more so than the private. There is a dearth of extra curricular activities at our school as teachers seem to focus on their lessons, and their marking which is as it should be, shouldn't it? In research, class sizes have been shown to have nothing to do with achievement but I do feel that although it may not ostensibly be a class size issue, there are associated issues which may impact on the grades the students gain.  An example of this would be quick feedback. Research shows that quick marking of work is a factor in achievement, and a class of 12 is obviously quicker and easier to mark in depth than a class of 30 especially in English, for example.
But this can't be the only answer.  I am determined, however, for this to be personal mission. I want to be part of a school where our results are as good as, or better than independent schools. Where the faces of the students who open their letters on results day are beaming with smiles, and where their parents, like this one, cry with pride.

The question, and it is a huge question, is how? Every journey starts...etc.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's been ages..

Life, for once, instead of hitting me right between the eyes has drifted either side.  I feel as in a dinghy on a smooth river; the sun is shining on my skin and my bones feel warm.  That lovely feeling after winter when you come out of your darkened house and blink, like a mole, when you see the light.  Life is passing, and the current, for now, runs smooth. My beautiful daughters grow by the day both more beautiful and more argumentative - vital ingredients for a 'good' adolescence and the fledgling relationship started just after the second bout of cancer has continued despite all the pitfalls that that sentence implies.  I have been incredibly lucky that I have escaped, and moreover, that my mind has escaped too.

I mean that I sometimes forget that I have had cancer.  There are momentary reminders - when I look in the mirror and have to pencil in my eyebrows which haven't regrown to their previous glory or when I travel on my passport.  The picture was taken just after chemo when my hair is only just growing back and you can see the Border official's intake of breath at its sheer ugliness.  But the most and the longest 'side effect' is the realisation that this life we have cannot be taken for granted.  

As a part of my cancer travails, I met several women in an online forum and we were incredibly supportive of each other and the waits, the blood tests and the chemotherapy that so many of us were going through.  It finally came to a head we decided to meet and over a couple of rather wet days in London we all came together to celebrate in my house.  We were about 15 at the most, and occasionally just 6.  We were all joined by cancer; we joked that finally cancer had done something good for us.

Today, four of those women are dead from the disease.  Three more have secondaries and are living with cancer. That's quite a large number and certainly reminds me how lucky I am. Strange though because although I 'should' therefore think I should raise large amounts for charity by climbing Mount Everest on the back of a lemming chariot or bicycle across the Himalayas, my greatest pleasures are simple things like reading, talking to the family, playing games or writing.

I suppose the point is that life is about the small pleasures, not necessarily living for every moment.  Pleasures are infinitely more precious when we have normality around them.

Those of you who have been long suffering readers will notice that the blog has changed.  I loved my previous template viscerally - it was a part of me and all that I went through but that time is over. I need a new look to reflect the passing of one era, and hopefully, the beginning of a new one.