Ruth wrote a diary about her breast cancer diagnosis, right up until the last day of treatment. She shares how she overcame feeling a loss of control, and why she’s looking forward to the future.
When I receive my invitation for breast screening, I think, that’s inconvenient. I’ve already had one before and I’m busy at work.
I don't have a clue where the medical caravan I need to go to is located, so I decide I'll wait until it's more local. Unfortunately, my husband knows exactly where the scan unit can be found and announces that he will come with me.
Two weeks after my screening I receive a letter. As with my last results, I expect to pass my tests with flying colours. This time, however, I must do a resit. They ask me to come for a follow-up appointment.
One week later, I have another mammogram and scan. We are summoned into a small office by a nurse and told that a consultant will see us shortly. The door opens and a gentleman enters. There is no white coat, no stethoscope. He introduces himself as my consultant, and says, ‘Your test results show that you have breast cancer.’
Who are you talking to? Me?
I see tears in my husband’s eyes. Then it hits me. I feel like I’m looking down a tunnel and a train is thundering towards me, but I can't move off the track. This is all a bad dream.
We sit in the car wondering what just happened. After 29 years of marriage, we don't know how to talk to each other. Do I tell people? Do they have to know? How do I tell them? What do I say? Do I tell family? I am driving out of the car park when my mate rings to see how I got on. ‘Not as well as I hoped,’ is my reply.
The following day, my reality becomes normality. I return to work and tell my colleagues.
I receive great support, get well cards, gifts, flowers. This feels bizarre. I don't feel ill. A letter arrives confirming that I need surgery and I’ll need to have a Magseed implanted – a titanium clip in my left breast to assist in surgery. This is all still three weeks away.
I attend my appointment for my Magseed implant. I am the Bionic Woman! Except I don’t have superpowers.
The following week I am in work, doing all I can to get everything in order, pass work over, delete emails and put on my ‘out of office' automatic email response.
This is a surreal experience. I don’t know when I will return.
I'm on a ward in a surgical gown. It’s a strange feeling of apprehension and nerves. I'm having a general anaesthetic, I can’t control anything, I won’t be conscious.
My consultant sticks his head into the waiting area in his full blues to say hello and tell me everything will be fine. I imagine I'm in a waiting room of a railway station, waiting for that train to come out of its tunnel.
The operation is done. I am given my instructions to not get the dressings wet and am told I’ll have injections daily to avoid DVT.
I am now a self-injecting, non-working person with a scarred breast. What’s happened?
I attend a breast rehabilitation course. I join six women who've been through various breast operations. We discuss exercises, pain, bra sizes and everything in between.
This is probably the most bizarre conversation I've had with complete strangers. Laughing with women I've never met before, all going through the same issues.
I’m back at the hospital. Different faces sit around, waiting for their names to be called, all with different reasons for being there. Different fears, different expectations. I can’t afford to have expectations, not after last time.
The consultant enters the room followed by my Macmillan nurse. The one thing I do register is the fact that they have removed all cancer cells. I need three weeks of radiotherapy and to take a tablet for the next five years to stem any further problems. I don't have to see my consultant again.
I think again about that train, but now I’m the driver in control, racing out of that long tunnel towards the sun. I cry, properly, for the first time throughout this whole horrible process.
I attend my first appointment for radiotherapy. We get there half an hour early, which gives me extra time to stress. I flick through the old magazines, completing crosswords and word searches that others have got tired of or didn’t finish due to the interruption of an appointment.
There is a two-hour delay. My stress level fluctuates like a bottle in the sea, somewhere between a sandy beach and rocky outcrop, bobbing about not getting very far.
As the appointments continue and the days pass, a sense of familiarity starts to kick in. I am no longer that lonely woman waiting for the radiologists to call me at an unearthly hour in the morning. 'Good morning's start the day. Acknowledgments and smiles, a nod of the head, a hello is now the norm.
Driving home every morning, I notice the same groups of school children. The same workmen calling in the bakery. Their lives go on and the world turns.
Today is the day. My last radiotherapy treatment. The friends I’ve made during my treatment are with me. I ring the bell. The crew give me a congratulations card and we hug and say goodbye. I walk through those sliding doors one last time.
I should feel the happiest buzz but, strangely, there is a void. I have nothing to fight against. I feel emotionally drained.
My breast cancer is no longer a train leaving a station, it’s a boxing match. Every day is a new round. I am battered and bruised, but I'm here and normality will resume. It's all a matter of time.
If you have concerns after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, our resources can help you understand what to expect.