I check my boobs regularly. It’s easy, takes no time at all, and once you’ve had a good feel you can carry on with the rest of your day as usual, then check back in again with your cushiony pals in another month or so. Simple. On the 15th December last year, whilst making the most of my lazy annual leave mornings, I found a lump on my left breast whilst laid in bed. I felt instantly sick. I told myself not to panic, cysts are very common in that area of the body, and most disappear on their own, in time. I’d ring my dad’s GP and haggle for an emergency appointment as soon as I could muster the strength to get out of bed – silly me, I still hadn’t bothered to re-register back at home since leaving Plymouth over a year ago. The plan was to sneakily contact the surgery without a fuss, but as the morning progressed, I suddenly felt very anxious. I’d never had a lump before. What if it’s something awful?! My dad walked past my room whilst I was having my mini meltdown; sod playing it cool – “I’VE FOUND A LUMP AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” Wonderful, what a way to greet your dad in the morning. As calm as ever, he replied with “get dressed, then, I’ll run you down there now”. What a hero, I didn’t even have to walk anywhere! I got dressed in a matter of seconds, didn’t faff with my hair or even attempt make-up (that is such a lie, I didn’t have micro-bladed eyebrows at that point and there was no way this gal was going anywhere looking even more startled than she already felt), and off we went. I practically ran towards the reception desk, “Hello, I’m not technically registered here, but my dad is (cue thrusting a finger in my dad’s direction behind me), and the thing is, I’ve found a lump, on my boob, and I’m a bit worried.” The receptionist couldn’t have been nicer. She explained that there were no emergency appointments at the practice that day, but that she would put me on the list for a phone consultation with my local community hospital, and that I was to expect a call at some point during the day to explain my concerns with the duty doctor, and that an appointment would be made from there. Lovely. I got said phone call pretty much as soon as I walked through my front door, I explained the situation and, already, just by his initial response, I automatically felt better. His previous positive feedback was reiterated to me at my appointment that evening. After examining me he confirmed that it was likely just a cyst. Although cancerous lumps can come in all shapes, sizes and forms – it is much less likely that a fluid-filled lump that moves easily within the breast (like mine) would be malignant, or cancerous. Phew! I sat back down and faced him. “I’d say there’s nothing to worry about here, it’s a soft and mobile lump, you’ve no family history of breast cancer, it would be extremely rare given your age, you’re a non-smoker and you’re very healthy.” And he was right, I didn’t have cancer.
On the 15th December 2017, I really was a normal, healthy 24 year old.
Yet just a few short months later, my young body would royally let me down.
By the time April of this year came around, I was uncharacteristically knackered. However I was working busy 11 hour days, anyone full of beans after that was surely just a nutter. So just like I said in my previous post, a holiday with my favourite and only sibling really was what the doctor ordered. Of course, you never really know what’s around the corner, so when I first developed a cough at the very beginning of the trip, I thought not a sausage of it. Two months on and I was exhausted; a relentless cough, the sorest of throats, shortness of breath, a crippling earache on my left side and persistent headaches were quite frankly ruining my existence.
I am not usually a GP goer, in fact I would sooner watch all eight of the SAW films in a row, on my own, in the dark, with that terrifying tricycle riding clown thing sat in the corner of the room staring at me the whole time, than whisk myself off to the doctors. And for anyone who doesn’t know me that well, horror films are up there with the Tories for me – senseless and stupid, with nothing good to ever come from them. But after a gruelling few months of feeling utterly dreadful, I finally gave in. On the 27th June I rang my surgery. I was fully prepared to wait for an outsourced appointment, much like before, and I wasn’t overly bothered about when, I just felt like I needed to see someone. As predicted, I was offered a phone consultation with the duty doctor at the community hospital. No worries, I’ll run through my symptoms, nab an appointment, and voila! I’ll be as right as rain! Not quite. The phone call was a battle from start to finish. I explained each of my symptoms in-depth; the fatigue, the mind-numbing headache, the almost-three-month coughing bout, the bloody earache!
“Hmm, are you stressed at all? Have you been feeling run down lately?”
“Not overly, I mean a little, what with my job. But I’ve had a cough for well over two months now, isn’t that slightly concerning?”
“Well it could be tonsillitis if you’re experiencing soreness of the throat and ear, but to be honest there’s not a lot we can do about that, we’re very reluctant to give out antibiotics nowadays. I think you are probably quite run down, but I think you’ll be fine”
“Right, so I don’t need an appointment?
“No. If that’s alright with you? I suggest a lot of rest, maybe some hot lemon. Give it 24 hours and see how you go”
Twenty-four hours? Hot sodding lemon? I’d had this mystery illness getting on for three months now, what difference was a day and some lemons going to make? Still, I politely thanked her and hung up the phone, yet I was far from convinced.
Luckily for me I was working for an NHS dental practice at the time. It’s not unusual for patients to bring up their head/neck-related health concerns with their dentists, in fact I’d processed and sent many an urgent referral as a result of these. It was a Wednesday, my typical day off, I remembered seeing a substantial gap in the diary for the afternoon when in on the Tuesday. I cheekily text my colleague, Dani, and explained the situation. Being the star that she is, she squeezed me in for an appointment later that day. Even if this quick examination determined very little, it would at least go some way towards putting my mind at ease whilst sucking on lemons for 24 hours. I sat in the chair, laughing with my colleagues about how overly dramatic I was probably being. Charlene, easily one of the nicest people on the planet, was teasing me about the ‘C word’. “Well! You certainly have tonsillitis, that’s for sure, but it’s definitely not cancer”. The dentist had spoken. Of course it’s only tonsillitis, silly Jasmine! What else?! I started giggling, “Oh golly, sorry for being such a bloody nightmare!” I love each one of my old colleagues dearly, and never will I tire of that ironic tale.
In the two weeks between my paranoid episode and a third of the way through July, my cough had faded, my earache had eased, and I was left with just a dull headache and a haze of underlying fatigue. But I did feel better. On around the 10th July, whilst sat at my work desk, most likely wishing I was anywhere else, I felt a twinge in my right side, much like a period pain. Not exactly unprecedented, even when women aren’t on or due on, we’re still no stranger to the odd shooting pain. I thought nothing more of it. Until it kept happening. My first thought? Oh my God, I’m pregnant!
Of course I wasn’t actually with child, and after around 6 negative tests I finally got the message. But for the first time in my life, I think I genuinely wanted for that to be the case. I couldn’t face another phone call where my persistent pain would be passed off as a minor illness that would eventually sort itself out. So instead I left it, and what a monumental mistake that one turned out to be.
Before I started this blog I hadn’t really thought about the months that came previous to now. I was very focused on the present, taking each day as it came, trying to get my head around the fact that I would now lead a very different life. Yet, the more I write, the more ideas I have, I realise the importance of it all. Cancer doesn’t necessarily start from the day of your diagnosis, mine started months ago, when I was still running around, convinced I was invincible. But in hindsight I’d had plenty of warning, and as told above, I even knew something was amiss. My aim was to tell the entire journey leading up to my diagnosis within this second post, but it wouldn’t have done it justice, and besides, with all of these lovely drugs currently pumping around my body, I don’t think my brain would have made it that far anyway!
Expect a delicious helping of diagnosis drama tomorrow evening!
Be safe. Check yourself. Respect your body. Treasure everything.