I felt like my body had failed me after discovering my cancer spread

In the second extract from Pippa Chapman’s Breast Cancer Diary, we catch up with her as she comes round from the operation to remove her right breast.

Her final words as she’d gone under had been: ‘Promise me you’ll get the cancer.’

I wake in recovery. Have they got it all? Yes, I’m told. The relief is overwhelming.

Wheeled back to the ward, I meet the irrepressible Irish nurse Annie, who greets me with, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big smile.’

‘I’m absolutely off my face,’ I reply. Oh, and super-humanly relieved.

I doze and then demolish tea, sandwiches and biscuits with gusto. I feel – well – good. I’ve got two chest drains, but I’m pain-free and, best of all, cancer-free. I post pictures on my Uniboob Update group (10 good friends) of me grinning and tucking into a Bourbon biscuit.

The worst is over, now I just have to recover from the op, right? My consultant arrives and confirms the good news, they successfully removed the tumour (a majestic 6.8cm long!). Fan-bloody-tastic! I beam at him.

‘But….’ he starts. But? What but? ‘We have found cancer in the lymph nodes,’ he says, gently. He explains they’ve been removed, but that more treatment – chemo, radiotherapy – will likely be needed. What? WHAT? I am not prepared for this.

It is the amazing, lovely Annie who holds me together as I cry and laugh, cry and laugh over the next few hours. Someone needs to pay these nurses more (Mr Barclay, are you listening?). She keeps me in one piece. But even she can’t stop the freight train of doom that’s running through my head.

There was me thinking the worst was over. Christ, I have to tell my son. James had been so relieved I wasn’t having chemo. But now I am. My body has not just let me down, it’s let him down, too.

Don’t miss your mammogram

If Pippa’s story has inspired you to get a mammogram, please let us know at [email protected] or using #FindTheMillion on social media.

Seven hours after arriving at hospital, I arrive home pain-free but wretched, and tell him the ordeal’s not over.

More tears follow, as I speak to James about chemo. ‘Well, at least that’ll put an end to your bad hair days,’ he says. I clip him round the ear, telling him to sleep with one eye open, and be wary of my revenge clippers. The mother-son teasing adds a much needed dose of normality.

My friend Liz, who has moved in while I recover, conjures up a spreadsheet for my two-hourly dose of pain relief. It is a nourishing combination of paracetamol, ibuprofen, morphine, sarcasm and dictatorship.

I head to bed, and catch up with friends. Surrounded by their lovely messages of support, I prop myself nearly upright on seven pillows. Rest is more of a balancing act than sleep. But I am, at least, still pain-free. A new day dawns with an appointment back at the hospital. I’ve spent less time getting ready for a date. I do my hair, my make-up, I disguise my drain in a zebra-print crossbody bag. I’m not, NOT looking ill.

My breast care nurse checks the drains, and measures the fluid output. I have exercises to do, I’m told, and I’m shown how to record the fluid each day. Nothing she says goes in. I’m too busy trying not to look at the place where my breast once was.

Over the next few days, Liz patiently relays what the nurse has said, over and over again. I get used to the drains. I phone in the results. I do the exercises. I head out for short walks. And flowers arrive. Lots of flowers from lots of friends, and some brownies (good call!). I am so frightened about what happens next. But I do feel loved. And that counts for an awful lot.

Follow Pip on her journey

Four months ago, Pippa Chapman was about to go on holiday when she discovered a lump on her right breast. Since then, her life has been turned on its head. Diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, she underwent a mastectomy in November and is now waiting for chemotherapy to start later this month.

Living in Warwick with her two rescue dogs, the 56-year-old will, over the coming weeks, be sharing her journey from diagnosis to operation, recovery and through the next stages of her treatment.

Her account is searingly honest, moving and laced with defiant humour.

Pippa, along with many hundreds of thousands of other women, missed one mammogram, something she now bitterly regrets. This is not, she is keen to insist a ‘pity party’. Instead she hopes that it will encourage everyone to check their breasts regularly and to ensure they are up to date with their mammograms.

‘If my story prompts just one person to get checked, it will be worth it,’ she says.

Read part one here

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