I was one of the lucky ones. My story has a happy ending when sadly so many don’t.
It was September 2010 and my then fiancé and I had taken our first trans-Atlantic trip to the States.
After 18 hours of travelling through numerous time zones we reached our final destination – a room on the umpteenth floor of a swanky hotel overlooking San Francisco’s Union Square.
After gushing over the sweeping views of the city beating below and exploring the plush room that was to be our home for the next long, drawn-out five days, we melted into the marshmallow bed eager for sleep to wash over us so we could wake up refreshed and ready to explore the city the next day.
As my mounting excitement staved off any chance of sleep, I reached to the bedside table for my book and suddenly found myself gripped with fear that the carpet of life was being pulled from under me.
At first, it took a couple of seconds to register but more frantic prodding confirmed my nightmare.
There, as clear as the Macy’s sign glaring at me from outside, was a lump on my boob; a big, hard lump the size of a small pebble.
Enveloped in fear as thick as the fog looming outside, panic pumped through my veins and my world plunged into a paralysing white as a whirlwind of thoughts raced through my mind and the C word echoed loudly in my ears.
I shook the fiancé awake, desperate for a second opinion. Yes, he’d feel it and tell me to stop being stupid, I mean everyone knows I’m a total hypochondriac and he’s always reminding me of the time in Morocco when I woke him covered in a blanket of thick sweat, convinced I was dying of yellow fever. As he calmly predicted, it turned out to be a bout of food poisoning triggered by a snack from one of the stalls I’d been warned against and was gone within 24 hours.
But it wasn’t to be and my last glimmer of hope was snatched away as the crumpled scowl on his face, irritated at being woken from his slumber, was replaced with a flicker of wide-eyed horror, quickly masked by a forced smile about as convincing as the unconvincing attempts of reassurance that followed.
Needless to say that night was a sleepless one. In fact, the five days that followed were the most tormented I’ve ever experienced; time was dragged to a near standstill by the weight of the unknown, thoughts of chemo, losing my hair, and the overwhelming love of life, my family and friends that I suddenly found myself plunged into.
The dark fear slowly ate away inside as we took a brisk walk along Ocean Beach, an open top bus ride taking in the top tourist sights, a trip to Alcatraz, a walk along the imposing Golden Gate Bridge, a boat trip on the Bay.
And then on our last day – a whole 24 hours before I could get home and finally see my doctor – we went to Golden Gate Park, and during a hand-held stroll – there was a lot of silent hand-holding and hugging going on after the discovery of the lump – we stumbled across the Japanese Tea Garden.
Despite the tonnes of toursists queuing to get inside, it was surprisingly easy to lose the crowd on one of the many winding paths, and for some strange reason this was where I suddenly found peace.
As we walked over the quaint arched drum bridges, passed the colourful pagodas and stone lanterns, serene koi ponds, intricately carved Japanese plants and through the zen garden, I absorbed the tranquil air and a calm passed over me for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Of course the fear returned that evening but within hours of touching down I was on my way to the doctor, whose words were sparkling diamonds pouring off his tongue
He was pretty sure I was the proud owner of a boob mouse (that’s a fibroadenomas to the scientific ones out there) but just to be sure, I was referred to hospital where numerous tests and biopsies over the next few months eventually confirmed his diagnosis.
The relief was overwhelming and I walked out of the hospital that day a different person, full of the joys of life. As clichéd as it may sound, when momentarily faced with the frailty of life I learnt that despite all of my moans and groans I truly love living and all of those around me, and I vowed to “live every day like it’s your last”.
While my pledge didn’t last too long and I soon fell back into the lackadaisical lull of life, every time I look at these photos I’m reminded of that tranquil, cool calm that swept over me as we walked through the Japanese Tea Gardens.