‘The Enemy Within’ by Lynne Ainge
It was November 2009. I had been studying for my MastersDegree in Health and Safety with Loughborough University, supported by my employer at the time. I was working as the Lead Health and Safety Advisor at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
I had decided to take some time out after my work and study on a Saturday and go to Ickworth House to make a Christmas wreath from vegetation from the grounds with a lovely group of people. I came home to Brome with my wreath, of which I was very proud. Very grubby from handling moss, holly and a few snails I leapt straight in the shower……….my life changed right there.
I have always kept a check on my breasts as per guidance and at 48 years old was too young for being part of the NHS mammogram programme. Soap on my hands, running them down my breasts and there it was. A small but definite lump. I was in shock and my brain went into overdrive. I kept feeling the lump but it was definitely not going away.
I finished washing, dried myself and can remember going downstairs and my late husband, Pete, knew immediately something was wrong. He was always someone who had the philosophy that worrying was not going to help and calmly said I would need to make an appointment for the GP when I told him and showed him what I had found. Not much sleep that night.
Next day I booked the appointment and got to see the doctor straight away. He found that the lump was moving slightly and tried to reassure me and say that it could be a cyst as it was moving. He advised waiting until my menstrual cycle was over again as it can be linked to the hormones.
A couple of weeks later and I was back, the lump was still there and I was referred to the NNUH one stop breast clinic the following week. Simon Pain, my consultant, did the first check, I had a mammogram and because these were not conclusive, I had a biopsy of the lump. Anxious time then waiting.
The next day I was at my desk in the H&S office at the NNUH, my phone rang, it was Simon, who said “can you come across and have a chat about your results Lynne”. That was the moment I knew that my cancer journey had begun.
Everyone was so kind and thoughtful but my husband was at home and I couldn’t ring him to tell him the diagnosis as I was sobbing at this point. Simon made the call. A close work colleague called Maxine came to be with me and we had to go back to the office and tell my colleagues. It was all a bit of a blur from there and to be honest I can’t remember the journey home except knowing that Pete was waiting for me at the door and we just hugged and cried together.
Not much sleep again but we talked and that helped. We knew that it would not be long before the operation to remove the lump but there were a few more scans, blood tests, lots of needles and poking and prodding before then.
I also had to go to my Graduation Ceremony at Loughborough University and was proud to receive my MSc in front of my husband and my Dad, however ‘my enemy within’ as I had called my lump, was the unwelcome guest at the graduation.
I had stopped the tears very quickly and requested that everybody treated me as normal. I didn’t want sympathy. My work colleagues were excellent and the in- house banter and jokes resumed. I quickly decided that Google searches about my cancer were banned and just used the expertise of the raft of specialists that were supporting me on my journey. The Breast Care Nurse team were really supportive and always responded if I had a question.
Each visit to the various departments for tests became a ‘moment’ My MRI scan was my ‘Madonna Moment’ as I dropped my breasts into what looked like top hats (rather than cones!)
My full body scan was my ‘beach moment’ as I imagined seagulls and the waves rather than clanking machinery. I had my ‘hot moment’ when radioactive fluid was injected for another scan.
Positivity was my way of coping, anyone that said something negative or said ‘well my friend had what you have and she did/felt/said……….. was politely asked to go away.
Everyone has a different cancer journey and whilst support from others who had been through a similar journey was goodI was not going to do something on the basis that somebody else did.
Christmas came and into 2010 and my date was set to remove the enemy within. My husband was very helpful in keeping my spirits up and insisted on waving a mars bar under my nose while I had been fasting since midnight and only on water!!
I walked to the operating theatre, was given my gown, my paper knickers and my surgical stockings. That was such an attractive look and being 5’2” and Simon, the Consultant, being 6’7” was in stitches as I was standing next to him, laughing and saying I was never going to forgive him for the humiliation!
After the counting backwards for the anaesthetic to work the next thing I remember was coming round and finding no drains fitted so I knew the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. Thankfully there was the option to remove the sentinel node at Norwich while I was under the anaesthetic and if clear then they did not have remove the others.
When Simon came to see me on the ward he told me that my doctor was right, there was a cyst, but it was above the malignant tumour. However, the tumour itself was small and he had taken it all away. My enemy within had become my enemy without! However bearing in mind it was January and very cold I think the pain from my nipple being taped down was worse at the time than the scar.
That night I was listening to my Josh Groban You are Loved (Don’t Give Up) and You Raise me Up through my headphones and planning my escape from the hospital. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be a patient laying around in my bedclothes. I had bought a front buttoning cardigan that would allow the nurse access to see the wound, I was putting mascara on at 7am and had the requisite toast and tea and was not sick and had the necessary pee before discharge could commence.
All was good regarding the wound, I had take-out medication and could go home to recover in my own bed. From here on I kept up the attitude that I was now a cancer survivor not a cancer sufferer and was lucky as working in the hospital meant my appointments could be fitted around my working day.
I was then in the position of deciding if I wanted chemotherapy. I was not in the group were it would be definitely recommended and was not in the group where it would be deemed unnecessary. I saw this as another positive, I was back in control, not the cancer.
I weighed up the pros and cons, wrote it all down and decided that I would not have it. I was definitely having radiotherapy and my 17 session treatment plan was built up. Next step was the 3 tattoo dots to line me up. Also, the joy of knowing I had to stay the same size for the duration, diet on hold for nowafter a bit of comfort eating!
I had the early morning slot for which I will be forever grateful as you can’t use perfumes, soaps or deodorant when having radiotherapy. Lifting my arm to adopt the position for the ‘zap’ was not as bad in the morning for the radiotherapist as it would have been after a day at work!!
I had my treatment and then to enable me to make the transition from patient to staff member before heading back to the office I went to the Big C Centre. Ironically, I had been part of the design when the centre was built due to my job,and here I was using it as a patient. This was particularly helpful and the staff there made my journey through treatment so much better.
Thankfully, I am now 10 years cancer free. I have regular checks and of course I continue my self-checking in the shower. Without that in the beginning my story may not have been so positive.
I continue to stay positive, do fundraising for different charities related to my journey, I am a Pink Lady on the Ladies Pink Tractor Road Run every year and am part of a breast cancer support group in Ireland too, where I have a holiday home.
Lynne July 2020