October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have a story – not mine- but thought I would tell it to raise awareness…
Shirley is one of the few friends from my real world that I have told about my blog and writing. We have had our ups and downs but there are many things that bond us together. One being the support I gave her when she was suffering from breast cancer.
We have known each other since secondary school and when I had access to a few pop stars I took her along a couple of times. She is a few years older than me and has always attracted lots of sexy attention. And along the way the usual things happened to her. Marriage, a child, divorce.
Shirley was just starting to enjoy her freedom after a separation and I will never forget when she sat down one evening, her fortieth birthday, and told our friendship group how she had shagged a young stranger in an alleyway. We were almost in awe of her. She’d used protection, been up for it and it may sound strange but it seemed to have liberated her too. The event was almost like a moment in time. The way she described it. Destiny but without a future. It stayed with me and inspired a story for the smut marathon that also won first place in a writing competition.
A few months after the stranger sex episode we all met up again. I noticed she was quieter than normal. I can still see her sitting on the leather sofa. Contemplating. Her legs dangling over the end of the arm. But she didn’t tell me or anyone else what was bothering her for a few days.
It was a lump. Shirley found it while doing a breast examination. She thought it was probably nothing. But asked if would I go with her to the doctors to have it checked. Naturally I did.
After scans, a referral and tests we found the truth.
Oestrogen receptive breast cancer. *
At this point the header image above needs to be mentioned. Shirley has always been extremely articulate and explained to me how vulnerable and exposed she felt at this time – the gate ahead was access to the unknown. But she had no choice but to go through.
But the prognosis was good. Early discovery meant the consultant felt they could do a lumpectomy and everything would be OK. However, Shirley opted to have the whole breast removed, to be on the safe side.
The day after her operation I went to visit her. I was driving down a lane to get to the hospital and have never forgotten what happened. A female duck and eight baby ducklings, all in a row, pulled out in front of my car, crossing the road to reach the pond in the next field. I came to an immediate halt. The mother looked at me and preceded to slowly waddle over the tarmac, her babies followed. I panicked and got out of the car to hold up any traffic behind or any coming from the front.
Finally they made it to the other side. Apart from one, the smallest baby. It was too wee to jump up the curb and was running up and down frantically looking for a lower level. My heart began to race as the adult duck just held her place on the path and waited. Finally, the small duckling found a spot, jumped up and flapping its tiny wings joined the others. Phew…
I started my engine, with much relief from everyone who had joined a queue behind me, and I swear – I know – the mother duck looked me straight in the eye, quacked and then disappeared off into the under growth with her brood.
It tipped me over. I cried, and cried.
At the hospital I kept the tears away. To be strong for Shirley.
My best friend had just had a major operation to have her breast removed. This medical procedure could possibly save her life. My heart went out to Shirley for her sheer courage. I told myself that day I would treat my body with the respect it deserved and be thankful for the gift of a healthy life.
To this day that thought remains.
The operation went well and she was soon allowed home to begin her recovery. The consultant didn’t feel radio or chemo therapy were necessary but she had to take medication to limit oestrogen which put her through all the symptoms of menopause. We all agreed this was a small price to pay for getting well again
Everything seemed to be going as it should. She was experiencing a fast track of menopausal symptoms, but she’s a tough cookie. Then out of the blue she didn’t feel great. When she mentioned it I looked at her and it became obvious that indeed Shirley was not well.
We returned to the doctors. Some lymph nodes had been removed at the time of the operation and were tested but there had been some some kind of mix up. So they investigated the nodes again. There was cancer in them. Chemotherapy should have been given. The situation didn’t look good. But as usual Shirley remained positive as her treatment began.
I attended most sessions with her. It was hard. Hard for me. So what the fuck was it like for her? She lost her beautiful hair. Wore a wig and still looked like a million dollars, remaining strong of heart and strong of will.
She won through.
Shirley received the all clear a few years ago and is as vibrant and beautiful as ever.
Of course we’ve talked about those times and it is obvious that she very much appreciated the positive support she received from family and friends like me.
I do think her general attitude – to beat the cancer – helped tremendously.
Shirley was – and remains – a fighter…
* environmental oestorgen has risen over the years. It can be found in packaging, drinking water and certain foods.