4th December is a year since I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Grade 3 breast cancer at 31 years old. Honouring my “cancerversary”, I will take you down the path from discovery to diagnosis.
The morning I woke up to my lemon-sized lump on Thursday 20th November 2014, I went to my GP that same day as it was evidently abnormal. My GP referred me to a Breast Clinic where I went for an ultrasound the following week on Friday 28th November 2014. I knew it was serious when the Ultrasound Doctor proceeded to do a biopsy with a concerned tone of voice which followed with me being brought into a separate room to talk with the Breast Clinic Nurse and Breast Surgeon/Consultant Mr. Al Mufti.
Upon being told that it could be cancerous, I felt God stand behind me and put His hand on my shoulder; and He hasn’t left go since. Tilting my head intrigued, I responded “Hmmmm, that’s interesting” as in my mind the trees were being pulled back and finally I could see my path in life starting to take form. My upbeat demeanour and friendly banter with Mr Al Mufti probably confused the nurse and perhaps made her think that I wasn’t grasping the seriousness of the situation. Before I left the room she anxiously grabbed my hand and said “This is really quite worrying”, to which I answered “Don’t worry, I get it”.
Leaving the hospital, I felt a strange enlightened feeling come over me. I looked in awe at the sky and at the trees around me and I started seeing everything through a different lens. Though I always had great faith and a connection to God, in that instance my connection had deepened to a whole new level and I immediately felt a sense of oneness with Him that I had never experienced before. As I made my way to the tube station to go back to work, the first person I called to tell my news was my best friend and soul-mate Kirby. Just as I was about to utter the words of my news to her, my eyes focused on a sign that was at my eye-line and which I happened to stand right in front of at that very moment.
Handwritten it read:
“Remember, there are billions of cells in your body. And all they care about is YOU!!”.
It was a Samaritan help-line sign, and it was very poignant given that cancer is cells multiplying out of control and I also just had a biopsy to test my cells. It stopped me dead in my tracks and made me think that not only was cancer my spiritual path I was destined to take, but physically my cells were trying to tell me something was wrong, that something was off-balance within my body and perhaps my life. When I went back to that same platform a few days later, the handwritten sign was not there anymore.
Over the weekend, I researched my symptoms and they ticked every cancer box. I realised the hospital tests weren’t to confirm if it was cancer, they were to prove that it was cancer. My best friend Kirby came to visit me on Monday evening, 1st December, to treat me by taking me to the London Eye so we could spend some time together. We went for dinner first and we were talking about my cancer situation, God and faith when I got up buzzing from the conversation to use the bathroom. As I made my way there, I couldn’t help but smile as I pondered on our beautiful words. Before my cancer journey I had been feeling quite lost in life, as if I had no purpose, and I felt an overwhelming love for my Creator as finally I felt I had direction and a life changing path to follow. In that moment of deep thought, I smiled at a man that I passed on the stairs. As I walked up a few more steps, he tapped me on the shoulder saying that he was a scouting agent and that he thought I would be perfect for the Burger King advert. He said he had been looking for happy people around London and that I was the happiest person he had seen all day. I have never been scouted for anything before in my life, and here I was a few days after learning I probably had cancer strangely being scouted as being the “happiest person”. The timing was beyond bizarre. (Burger King Advert I appeared in is at bottom of this post)
On Tuesday 2nd December, I was scheduled in for a mammogram. The Mammogram Doctor didn’t want to tell me the mammogram results as she wanted me to wait until my consultation with Mr Al Mufti on Thursday 4th December where he would confirm my biopsy results and diagnosis. I told her that though I was OK, my family weren’t and I insisted that I know the mammogram results so that I could spoon feed my diagnosis to my family in stages.
She reluctantly brought me into the room and apprehensively pointed at the white spots on the screen saying that they were calcium specks. When I asked her what that meant, she hesitated “..It is.. It is quite worrying”. Already hearing this phrase and wanting a straight answer, touching her hand I pressed her for the truth. “Just be honest love, it’s looking cancerous is it?” I asked. She bit her lip and with tears in her eyes she said with such sadness “But..but… you are so young”. I softly stroked her shoulder assuring her to not worry telling her that this was my gift and my blessing, my path I was now to take. It was truly touching to see this emotion and tenderness from a doctor; I wasn’t a number to her, she treated me as if I were her daughter.
My appointment with Mr Al Mufti on Thursday 4th December 2014 to receive my diagnosis was early in the morning. Slowly opening my eyes, I thought I had another hour or two of sleep before the alarm would go off. Just as I was about to close my eyes again to drift off, suddenly a pounding fist violently banged on our front door 3 times, shaking it like thunder. The front door was next to our bed so my husband jerked awake frightened by the noise. Looking at each other startled we then heard a set of feet running away. As the sound of pitter patter of feet faded, my alarm went off.
I still think who was that at our door, the first time in the whole year we were living there that such a thing happened and oddly on the day I was to receive my diagnosis and especially so early in the morning. I like to think it was God sending me His own alarm, a messenger banging on my door to urgently warn me and make sure I was ready for the news that would change me and the rest of my life. This wasn’t just any day where I could snooze past the alarm. I had to be ready.
And ready I was. Despite managing to only get 3 hours sleep due to being on a mental adrenaline high the night before, I was surprised at how deeply rested I felt. My sleep was so deep in those 3 short hours that I woke up convinced I had been brought down to a different level. Upon wakening, my mind felt like it had been mechanically shifted, as if mental jigsaw pieces had been twisted and were now sitting in the right way, giving me a sense of clarity. Though my mind couldn’t remember my dreams nor where I had been, deep within, my soul knew something, like it had gained a soulful knowledge and that my spirit had been counselled and prepared.
At the hospital, Mr Al Mufti delivered my diagnosis: “Unfortunately you have breast cancer which has already spread to your lymph nodes”.
Sitting there in a moment’s silence, without any shock or surprise I answered “I know, I..I knew, I knew.”
In the days leading up to this, I had pondered what my response would be as you really don’t know how you will react until you are in the moment. I was taken back at my inner certainty. I was surprised not at my diagnosis, but at my self-assured reaction. My soul had somehow attained a sense of wisdom which became an armour surrounding it, shielding it from any earthly worries and disturbances. After confirming my diagnosis, Mr. Al Mufti talked me through my treatment plan and operation and patiently answered all my questions. Learning that he would be my Breast Surgeon, I jokingly made him hold out his hands to see if they were steady to which he dutifully obeyed. I’m eternally grateful to Mr. Al Mufti as he mirrored my upbeat and humorous nature throughout my journey, and let me be me.
The next two weeks followed with more tests to determine if the cancer had spread to my organs and bones which it turned out it hadn’t. During this 2 week wait, I wasn’t worried nor frightened. I had already handed over the reins of control to God so I trusted in Him completely and whatever His will, I would gladly follow. His plan for me is far greater than what I could ever plan for myself. Upon reflection, another reason why I’m not afraid of cancer is because I’m not afraid of passing from this life. As a Christian I see it as a necessary passage to be reborn; just as a baby enters the womb of this world asleep, one day we too must fall asleep to leave it.
When bad things happen to people, it is human nature to be consumed in the now as we can’t see ahead. Sometimes we can’t make sense of difficulties as we can’t see beyond it. As we look around ourselves in this very moment, we are in a moving pixellated image called ‘Life’. The Creator is sitting at the back of the cinema, He can see our timeline -past, present, future- mapped on the cinema screen as our life film is being played out. He knows what we will learn from our challenges and sometimes something beautiful can transpire from suffering, if we learn to trust Him. I undoubtedly knew and trusted in God’s plan that cancer was going to be the beginning of something beautiful for me. Confirming my diagnosis to my family, I told them that cancer would be the making of me.
Though at the time dark periods may not make sense, reflecting back we see how it has shaped us and strengthened us for future crosses to bear. Christian Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s quote cleverly simplifies this mystery: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. Throughout my cancer journey, I have learned that faith to me essentially means trust. It is my lantern in the dark night and my lighthouse in the storm, it is the most precious thing I possess and without it I am spiritually bankrupt.
To watch the Burger King Advert I was scouted for: https://aheadwithstyle.com/2015/02/13/smile-its-burger-king/