Fighting lady – part1
Summer of 2013
I remember everything. The light, the gentle breeze, the sky and its myriad colors. It was a beautiful evening and life was full of possibilities. It is all written inside me, in indelible ink. Every second, every image. I’m with the man I love, we’re celebrating our wedding anniversary. The sun is setting on the Aegean Sea. We’ve been living together for 10 years, and our relationship is going smoothly. A unique energy sustains us- we lead our life without ever turning back nor worrying about tomorrow. I’ve always made the most of every moment, looking straight ahead and trusting in the future. I’ve lived without wasting a second
Bruno’s gaze is lost in the horizon. He has just lost his father to pancreatic cancer. I give him all the support I can, offer him my attention and kindness. For once, I’m straying away from my usual fast tempo. I want to take time for us, and be there for him. This place we have often visited brings us comfort. I am happy. We eat, drink and laugh. Then we make love. A few minutes go by, unforgettably serene minutes, and then Bruno says: “I felt something, here.”He touches my breast. “Here, there’s something there.”
Bruno never worries. He’s a doctor, a renowned nephrologist. Life at his side has taught me not to take my ailments too seriously, or to ignore them. At home, his three children, my two daughters and I know the rules. We mustn’t complain. He only takes time to tend to our ills when we’re really sick. We always used to laugh when we’d see him come in with his hands full of pills, in doses fit for a horse. “Oh! Here comes the vet!” We would just swallow them without asking any questions. We had to get better. What really mattered was his job –not our health, but the health of those severely ill patients he took care of.
I put my hand on my breast. Beneath my fingers is a palpable lump. How come I didn’t feel it earlier? Where did it come from, and how long has it been growing there without my noticing? These questions rushthrough my head. Bruno reassures me; I want to believe this man to whom nothing is worrisome. But an intuition settles in. As if I already knew: “Don’t worry, it’s nothing to worry about. You have no risk factors.”
As soon as I get back home to Rouen, I make an appointment with my gynecologist. She examines me and calms me down, saying repeatedly: “It’s nothing, I’m not worried.” She prescribes a routine mammography. The test is painful. The technician has to redo that breast several times. She says she doesn’t see anything and that I’ll have to have an ultrasound. After the ultrasound and a puncture, the doctor comes to the same conclusion as the others: “I’m sending you to the Mathilde Clinic tomorrow for a biopsy. But there’s no need to worry.”
Too late. The more I’m told not to worry, the more I do worry. Bruno can feel it and insists on coming with me, which he never would have done normally. The radiologist who does the biopsy looks preoccupied. In his gaze, his gestures, the words he whispers, I can feel he’s worried. He asks me what I’m doing during the week, if I have anything planned. I always have something planned. But on August 13th, I have to cancel everything for Doctor R, my future surgeon. My heart starts racing, my legs give out, I feel a noose beginning to tighten around me. I know what’s happening. Bruno holds me up. The nurse, so gentle, comes up to me and whispers in my ear: “You’ll be OK, it’s two years out of a lifetime.”Two years.
On the morning of August 13th, I get up early. Facing the mirror, I observe my body, this healthy body that has always carried me, has never failed me, never given me any reason to doubt it. It hasn’tchanged since I was 16, not even after two pregnancies: 50kilos, no dieting, but a lot of sports. I love to run, dance,and feel alive. It’s weird: I’ve always felt good about myself, and here I am trembling inside. Everything suddenly seems to have become fallible: This breast that fed my daughters 20 years ago; this long hair, my legacy, my gift, my femininity. The idea that I might lose it all looms large.
I put on a pink dress with white hearts on it. It’s a pretty, draped dress, and I choose to wear it with white, high-heeled shoes, leaving my hair loose over my suntanned skin. As if illness couldn’t reach me. As if I could do something about it.
In the surgeon’s office, Bruno holds my hand. Doctor R doesn’t look at me. I know that he knows how serious my illness is; the results of the biopsy are on his desk. But first, he wants to get acquainted with me, he wants to know what I do, what my life is like. I tell him about my daughters, my work, my energy. He looks me straight in the eye. “You have no risk factor,and yet you have a grade-3 invasive ductal carcinoma.”
At first, I don’t understand. But Bruno’s hand, squeezing mine harder and harder, gives it away. I’m overwhelmed by a violent tide of emotion, and for the first time in ages, I burst into tears.
Tears of desperation. I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t want to die; not now, not like this, it’s much too soon. In the cold hospital office, next to my husband and facing the surgeon, I have the awful feeling that it’s all over.