Wilful Insubordination

It’s 15 months since my original diagnosis, the diagnosis that seemed to spell doom because just about all the features of the tumour pointed to invasion, aggression and far from satisfactory medium/long-term disease free survival.  Trawling the World Wide Worry-maker in hope of some success stories left me shell-shocked and saddened. The number of very young women (and later in my research men too) facing their final hours inside a couple of years of this kind of diagnosis was, quiet frankly, frightening.  I stopped visiting certain forums because the scale of lost life and lost love was too painful at a time when the extent of my own challenge was yet to be confirmed. It took three months to establish exactly what I was dealing with and what it would take to address it.

Much has happened in 15 months. A mastectomy and immediate reconstruction using acellular dermal matrix, three rounds of FEC chemotherapy followed by three rounds of Taxotere. Nine Herceptin infusions. Steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, a bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy. A permanent needle intolerance that developed out of nowhere and seems to be going no place fast. It’s hard to believe this sack of bones and blood is a body any more. From the neck down its more like a modern masterpiece of medical experimentation, a Damien Hirst of intricate and iatric well-healed scars but scars nonetheless.

It would have been easy, very easy indeed, to give in to the monster; to accept this kind of diagnosis doesn’t turn up too many long-term survivors. By long-term I don’t mean the 5 or 10 years medicine considers when calculating statistics. I won’t even have reached my mid-fifties by then. I mean proper long-term, the forty or fifty year kind, the kind where I could safely be described as a little old lady. Or a cantankerous old bag, I don’t mind either way. Giving in to tyrants has never been one of my biggest strengths though.

Yesterday I had my first “routine” follow-up appointment. The English language is so laughable at times. Routine means usual, ordinary or everyday. Funnily enough I was not in the habit of regularly baring my breasts to complete strangers. I most certainly wasn’t in the habit of letting complete strangers touch me. Not so long ago anyone trying that might find themselves in possession of a sharp slap. Time and context changes everything.

Have you ever wondered how strange it might be to talk about work and children and holidays for 15 minutes while someone you barely know thoroughly examines a part of your anatomy normally reserved for those with a privilege pass?  A year ago I’d have considered it very strange. Today it is almost routine.  In these situations the talking me exists somewhere separate from the hunk of meat laid out on the examination table – the hunk of meat that happens to be the only home I have. The talking me converses with humour and gratitude about the past 15 months and she is even coherent enough to answer that yes, there are a few areas of the reconstruction that could be improved upon now the foundations have settled. The nice-but-barely-more-than-a-stranger consultant is kind and enthusiastic, suggests those improvements are completely possible with liposculpture, a procedure that is far less traumatic than those that went before.  The talking me laughs and says you can take as much fat from my butt and stomach as you like because there’s plenty to give. Not this year says friendly consultant because now we need to give your body proper time to recover from everything it has endured. The talking me wonders if it’s just my body they’re thinking about.

I spoke to my father the evening before this appointment and joked that if anything untoward showed up following a treatment regime that would easily pole-axe Attila the Hun then I must be truly damned.  The appointment came and went and I am not damned, at least not at this moment. There is no sign of disease today.   I breathe a small (and in no way complacent)  sigh of relief whilst giving cancer the regal two-fingered salute it deserves.

The past 15 months has been an exercise in wilful insubordination. No doubt the rest of my life will be spent perfecting that skill.


Courtesy of Cancer Research UK

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all” -Dale Carnegie.



20 thoughts on “Wilful Insubordination

  1. Thank you so much. I love the two-fingered salute. Also love your next post with the pic of the cat sharing milk with a rat (I used to share 75 rats with my best friend–now rehab bunnies as needed–amongst other special-needs animals, family members, all). I’ve done the mastectomy (bilat) with immediate start at reconstruction. Exchange surgery 9/11 ;-0 . All the best to you and yours.


    • Wow, 75 rats… And I thought my 7 cats was a little unusual 🙂 I hope all goes well with your exchange and well beyond that. Sending you positive thoughts for the future and wishes of happiness and good health


      • Thanks so much, t.

        I once had 7 cats. I think the difference between “normal” and “hoarding” is knowing when you’ve hit critical mass and leaving things to be. Although that gets suspended in the case of animals in need 😉

        Having 75 rats wasn’t a problem. My best friend and I shared them. They lived (grouped by sex and age) in her barn, in cages made especially for them. We played with them daily, and when (inevitably) one of the horses got into the barn and knocked the cages loose from their moorings on the walls, they all got out. They were so tame that we got every one of them back. Lovely pets, domestic rats.

        Thank you for your good wishes. It sure helps to have everybody’s support!


  2. If I could have marked this post with “love” instead of “like”, I would have. I am so very happy to hear that all is well. May this be the same result you continue to receive from this day forward.
    Much Love, Sandy


  3. If stubbornness is a requirement for undergoing the treatment required for the big ‘C’ then you have it in droves. I cannot imagine a better outcome for your recent tests. All I can say is ‘keep up the good work.’ With love and wishes for a long and healthy future. Dad xxx


    • Thanks Dad. I think I inherited a stubbornness gene, can’t imagine where that might have come from, can you? My resolve and attitude would not have been as complete without your unerring support for which I will always be eternally grateful. I’m very, very lucky to have you. Love always Tracy xxx


  4. It has been a bit of a space since your last post and I was wondering what was up. It’s good to hear the news is more-or-less positive, all things considered. I have to admit that you made me chuckle both times I read it (two of your Canadian hits are me; one now and one a few hours back; i prefer to read twice before commenting), especially the bit about the old bag. I generally prefer that type since, once you get past the spines they are much more interesting. Nice is boring.
    Oh, and with that in mind I’d like a change in your salute to cancer. Yes, the victory is yours but Cancer is not worth that much respect. So give it half as much. Put down your index finger and you’ll have it just right 🙂


    • I love the internet but really wish Canada was a little bit closer. I think we’d make fun neighbours with our shared interests in education, technology and what some might describe as a slightly unusual sense of humour I have been practicing the salute and I think it suits me. I’m going to adopt it for the year ahead – practice makes perfect and if I keep trying I might have it just right for the time when I can officially be classed as an old bag 🙂


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