Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I'm Fine, i'm fine!

I seem to have spent the last week telling people I am fine. Maybe some of the assertions of fine-ness have become more shrill at times if I’m honest. I have gone from Mrs Angry of Edinburgh to shaking with anxiety -each of them unexpected.
The anger was related to an issue which is now resolved but I felt furious at the time. But more than that it awakened my vulnerability that was unexpected. I recognised each made the other worse and so got support from a colleague to resolve it. It was good to recognise that and also to get the support. All good learning for the future and probably untypical as my fierce independence can unnecessarily make my life harder at times.

At a dinner I attended I received some moving comments about how impressed they were with how I am dealing with my situation and how passionate that makes me about the cause. I have become fairly used to talking openly and can forget the impact on others of my recent diagnosis of breast cancer. I did deliberate about mentioning my personal circumstance in my talk so decided to go with how I felt in the moment. And it felt ok so I did. Of course I don’t want, indeed abhor the thought of, sympathy and so it’s a delicate balance-an exhausting one too at times.

One of the young scientists from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit spoke at the dinner of why working with Breakthrough is different. On day one he was taken to the operating theatre and saw the whole process from the person to the laboratory. In that moment he learned the impact of his work and the focus on finding the breakthroughs to achieve our mission of a future free from the fear of breast cancer. It was an amazingly powerful illustration about what makes our work special and impactful.

Towards the end of the dinner we took the opportunity to thank Professor Dixon who has supported so much of our activities this month with a photomontage of people-mostly former patients he has met during the month. He was moved and delighted and told me of his previous favourite present of all. They were Lion King socks from an 18 year old girl who died aged 21 of breast cancer. He said it was many years before he could part with them. It’s a hard job a breast surgeon and their team has-is it not?

The next day I visited the research unit to join them at a Go Pink coffee morning. A unique aspect of our work is its proximity to the treatment service so the unit sits above the clinic, ward and theatre. I realised that most recently I have been there as a patient and my stomach flipped and I felt my self shaking- an understandable reaction to a stressful memory. It’s interesting what our bodies reveal to us as we tell people we are fine! My personal and professional lives were clashing loudly but spending time with the researchers is always inspiring and rewarding so on balance I am glad I went. But I am also glad now to have a week off recovering from a very busy and very pink October.

As one of my colleagues donned a pink Morph suit to join with the local bus company in going pink for us I remarked, “ what have we come to you wearing a pink morph suit and me talking about my boobs all the time”! His rejoinder was it would be worse the other way round. When I stopped laughing I had to agree! Thank goodness for laughter and a great team of people willing to go so many extra miles.

So next time someone you care about keeps telling you they are fine its worth taking into account that maybe that’s not the whole story. But choose your moment wisely to probe further… you have been warned!

Reasons to be cheerful:
A week to relax and do so many things I haven’t quite managed to get around to….oh and sleep too. We have also had some visits from family and friends that have been great. My latest hot tip is go to see “Midnight in Paris”-its wonderful. A trip to a concert in a castle in Perthshire is planned tomorrow. I hope the weather holds, as Perthshire in the autumn is really beautiful.

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