For some time I have been meaning to blog about breast cancer. You see my mother Bess had it when she was 65 and my mother`s mum had it at the same age. My grandmother was a stoic and as a result of her stiff upper lip (or some might have called it martyrdom) she did not seek treatment and very sadly died from the disease a few weeks before I was born. My ma however was not a stoic and went to see the doc` the moment she found a lump, or three in her case and she was whipped into the QE a few days later.
I shan`t ever forget my mother`s call to me to tell me all about it. I was 25 and with the children who were just babies then, at Tindal Street Play Group when the call came through on the community centre telephone. Mum said, “Now I don`t want you to get upset but I`ve found a lump in my breast…… ” I began to cry immediately and sobbed so much I had to put the phone down. The centre manager Sarah came and comforted me and I went straight away over to Acocks Green to see my mother. Mum pulled up her jumper and pulled up her bra so that I could feel the lumps she had found. There was quite a large fleshy one at the top of her breast by her sternum. The other two were tiny, beneath her breast and felt like little pieces of grit had been trapped underneath her skin. My two brothers and my sister Sue had also travelled to the house and we all gathered on the floor around our mother seated in her chair, and we all cried. Mum cradled our silly adult heads and stroked our wet cheeks as though we were all little children and told us it would all be alright. She was strong while we all crumbled.
Mum had to have a full mastectomy and also have her lymph glands removed in her armpit as the cancer cells had travelled there. We all went to see her in hospital and with typical Bess humour, the first thing she said was, “After the operation I asked how much weight I had lost,” (she was short and plump, like me) “and the doctor said about two pounds and I was ever so disappointed.” She then asked the assembled company if they`d like to see the scar which of course being ghoulish, we all did. Pulling her Marks and Spencer nightie down from her shoulder she displayed to us a long and amazing cut, the stitches in place where her breast used to be. I thought Tony was going to pass out, “Oh my God Bess, my legs!” was all he could manage.
After the operation, ma convalesced and took Tamoxifen which made her ears dry and itchy, and had radiotherapy which burned her lung and made her cough for a while. They did not prescribe chemo` and we were all glad about that. She had a prosthesis made. All of the grandchildren used to regularly hoik it out of her bra and shove it up their own jumpers. She took advice about her diet and how to relax from the Bristol Clinic (marvellous place) and she continued with her life for another 16 years. When mum was 81, she said to me one day, “You know I think I`ve had enough dear.” “Have you mother?” I said. “Yes,” she continued, “I think I will die next year.” And that is precisely what she did. My darling brother Al` found her one morning lying peacefully in her bed. She looked absolutely serene, almost childlike in her passing. All of the wrinkles had left her face, she had my brother`s Buddhist prayer shawl around her neck and was holding a small Buddha in her hand. She had been strongly agnostic all of her life, it was touching to see that she knew she was about to leave and that she was hedging all her bets!
Gosh how we loved that woman. i still miss her, I am still very powerfully influenced by her strong sense of humour and compassion, we could all learn from that.
When my mother`s friends used to enquire after her health they would drop their voice to a hush and whisper the word. It always used to remind me of Les Dawson over the garden wall. My mum used to say, “What, the CANCER? The cancer is fine and so am I!” She felt that using the word disempowered the disease and I believe that too.
In spite of the concerning similarities between my grandmother, my mother and me, I have been told that I am not at increased risk of developing breast cancer myself. I don`t take any chances though, I check myself regularly and I have a mammogram every year and if you are a woman or indeed a man reading this and you are surviving breast cancer then take heart from my mum and have a veritable ball. It`s a beautiful day………… 🙂