Lucy Verinder: Why my sense of humour won’t be beaten by breast cancer

Lucy Verinder who is about to publish her first book 'Lucy on Leave', which documents her treatment through breast cancer.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Lucy Verinder who is about to publish her first book 'Lucy on Leave', which documents her treatment through breast cancer. Picture Bruce Rollinson

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Told she had breast cancer, Wakefield’s Lucy Verinder decided to chronicle the highs and lows of life after diagnosis in a series of blog posts which have just been turned into a book.

D-Day

The last words I heard from the theatre doctors before the lights went out were complimentary. “And such a pretty little face,” one said. Why thank you very much. I went to sleep happy and woke up a few hours later even happier; euphoric even.

Relieved it was over and a bit amazed I felt ok, I even had an immediate quick peek at the scar, a big serious black line through breast cancer. A quick check to make sure I knew who I was and I was out of recovery and onto the ward. I would have my bags packed and be home tomorrow.

One heroic faint in the ladies’ toilet, a mild midnight hypo and two melon-sized haematomas later and I was not feeling quite so chipper. I now had an unwanted second date with my surgeon.

Not ideal. I didn’t wake up quite so chipper the second time. Plus I don’t remember any one complimenting me on my eyelashes.

Amongst the small pharmacy that I have started by my bed I still have some serious, manly, hardcore pain relief options, but I am needing no more than paracetamol and have been flatteringly informed by the doctors that I have the pain threshold of a sumo wrestler and the resting heartbeat of a professional athlete.

Given the fact that going to the toilet is my greatest achievement today, I don’t think either of these skills will be required in the near future.

The aftermath

If mastectomy surgery is the equivalent of big game hunting – cruel, but quick and effective, then chemotherapy is like fighting insurgents.

You take your fire power into the hillsides of Afghanistan and fire off endless blind rounds of ammunition in the hope of eradicating tiny Al-Qaida terrorists hiding out in secret caves. Safe to say, I fear there will be considerable and prolonged collateral damage.

Results day

I got the results from my surgery today. I have had big result days before. Doors of varying sizes opening and closing in front of me; on the whole never turning out to be as monumental or life-changing as they seemed at the time.

It turns out that I actually had four mini-tumours masquerading on my mammogram as one big Mama Tumour.

My auxiliary node and two of his buddies had also done a heroic job of being brave bouncers and had denied any further access.

Because I am young and there is still no guarantee that an errant cancer cell has not slipped unnoticed under the door to start its own party, I am still to have chemo.

I am fine with this. I have two weeks to get fit. Let’s go.

A step forward

My body is a bit beaten up, but my soul is soaring. I put it down to walking. The thing about walking is it slows things down; you get to see things, smell things, hear things that you would normally whizz past. I like sniffing out the secret snickets that lie quietly hidden, hatched across the bolder, busier roads. They appear like faded forgotten scars; reminders of an ancient time. They smuggle you under motorways and shove you out the other side into wide open green fields. Brilliant.

Predicting the future

I saw my oncologist yesterday; a lovely funny positive lady. She checked over my scar and proclaimed it rather beautiful. She also drew me two columns on a piece of paper; one headed up with a G for good and one headed up with a B for bad. I had considerably more in the good column than the bad. It made me feel good – I am sure this was the aim.

Surgery successful = good. No longer have cancer = good. HER2 negative = good. PR7 and ER8 positive = good. Young and fit = good.

Apart from the bloody badness of having cancer in the first place (this was left out of the B column) the only not so good fact was that it had travelled to three of my lymph nodes, but even those were now clear.

And then she showed me the dreaded prognosis graphs. At five years it looks relatively rosy.

Out of 100 women who have had what I have/had, 75 per cent survive just with surgery.

With chemo and hormone therapy the line gets even longer. At 10 years; not so pretty. It’s 50/50 with only surgery.

With chemo this gets shunted up to 64 per cent and with hormone therapy a much more reassuring 76 per cent.

The stats don’t frighten me because they don’t know everything.

Most of us can only really squint into our futures with a mixture of faith, philosophy and a bloody tight grip of Lady Luck’s hand. So that is what I am doing.

Hair today

One of the perks of cancer treatment on the NHS is you get your own free wig. Having made my choice I was given a short seminar on the fine art of placing the wig on your head. It is a task riddled with risk. Strangely, if you place it perfectly on your bonce it looks fine, however, if you get it just one inch skewiff you immediately look like Phil Spector.

Back home, I try it on for my husband Tom. He is far from convinced. He shows me a picture of the politician Michael Fabricant and the similarity is disconcerting. I also try it on Emily’s favourite teddy bear, who looks very natural in it. I decide to keep my wig appearances limited, so for now, it is nestled, like a warm, hibernating squirrel in my bedside drawer, happy to make an appearance if and when required.

Fighting on

I probably have to admit that I have lost round one to chemo. Not a knock out, but a definite lost on points. Two infections, three days in hospital and six days in bed is not the greatest performance; five to go though, so plenty of opportunity to show better form.

That’s if it goes ahead as scheduled. I have to have my bloods done for the millionth time today.

If my remaining red and/or white blood cells have thrown in the towel then it gets postponed until my immunity has recovered.

A few weeks later, Emily’s netball teacher tells her at half time to “Get back out there. Be bold and brave, girl”.

My chemo treatment had also dragged itself to half time. I didn’t any orange halves or motivating pep talks. Nine weeks in and nine weeks to go. It’s safe to say I could have done with a bit of both.

My over-arching thought though is the same. Get back out there. Be bold and brave, girl.

Lucy on Leave by Lucy Verinder, priced £8.95, is out on May 31.

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