I always took it for granted that I would grow old with my friend Soraya. We had our kids older than most women we know so shared a loathing of all things aimed at, 'yummy mummies.' When we were both back at work after maternity leave we used to go for a run at lunchtime. It was less about fitness and more about plodding round Green Park while having a natter and a catch up. One weekend while driving somewhere - probably to visit the in-laws - she phoned me. It wasn't unusual for us to have a chat outside of work, but it was often futile as one or other of us would be on the move. She told me that she had something to tell me and she was sorry not to tell me in person, but wanted me to know something. I knew it wasn't going to be good news. It wasn't. Soraya had breast cancer. She apologised to me - I told her not to be so daft. Then we talked about all the practical things that she had to do, the treatment plan, the time off work, etc. I offered my help with anything at all. She thanked me and we went about our business.
Once the treatment started we would talk about how it was going. When anyone 'helpfully' suggested some woo-woo solution like herbs or light healing we'd have an expletive filled conversation about it. I mean me and Hubbie had heard all that guff when were told we would never have children. Shamanic drumming, acupuncture, sound healing, all sorts of magical waters to bathe in and even some specific foods were all suggested. When anyone told Soraya that this thing was better for her than chemotherapy we would discuss how, "it would be lovely to bathe in marshmallows, but I'll take the poison that has a chance of killing the cancer thanks." At one point she told me how guilty she felt about the 'poison' and I told her to stop thinking of it that way and to see it as medicine that was working for her and not against her. We spoke about hair loss and how crap she felt after chemo.
Then the treatment was done and it was the waiting game until she had the 'all clear.' There were check ups and after effects and the constant fear that any twinge or headache was a sign of something far more serious. Two years ago she had a pain in her spine that wouldn't go away. Whenever I talked to her we were baffled that her doctors weren't taking it seriously considering her health history. Then a year ago she paid privately for an MRI and it showed she had a tumour on her spine. That's what was causing the pain. She was livid - understandably. We talked about what was to come next. Radiotherapy this time and she told people in stages that she had secondary cancer. She had the overseas holiday she'd wanted for years. We went to the theatre and spent time making radio shows together. Every time we met we would hug like long lost sisters and it was magic. It was her last year of life - even though we didn't know that at the time. I am so grateful I spent as much time with her as I did, albeit by accident rather than design.
So why is this on my mind right now ? Well a couple of reasons, but I'll tell you just one of them for now. About a month ago I was called for a mammogram. My first thought was, hang on who's going to go with me ? Don't get me wrong I am perfectly capable of going to appointments by myself. However, in this case it was one we had already discussed. Whenever Soraya had a check up I'd offer to go with her. We agreed when it was my turn she would do the same. I told Hubbie and he said he'd go with me. It was a lovely gesture, but when we arrived were told it is a women only clinic and he had to wait outside - fair enough. As I sat in the waiting room making small talk with the nurse I felt the panic begin. Not for me - that wasn't the issue at all. It was fear that the sadness would rise and overwhelm me. It wasn't via breast screening that she found out about her cancer. She did have a lot of them afterwards during remission though. We joked about the 'boob sandwich' and how only a man could have created such an instrument of torture. As I repeated the same joke to the kindly nurse who undertook the exam my face hurt from trying not to cry. Then it was over and I went to work.
The results came two weeks later. All fine.
Not everyone is so lucky. For anyone who has had different news I am thinking of and holding you right now.