Still coping with the fall out from the breakdown of her 24 year marriage and the strain of being the sole carer of her disabled teenage daughter, Jane Gillespie nearly didn't make time for her first-ever mammogram. After all, she had recently had her annual physical that includied a breast examination, and been given the all clear. So she was naturally shocked when she was told she had cancer.
This inspiring and informative book offers hope to people living with cancer. Jane provides a road map to those forced to explore the unknown and therefore often frightening territory of medical options. Journey to Me is based on a journal the author kept while undergoing treatment. It tells the warts and all story of her cancer Journey, as she shares with us her desperate attempts to make sense of her life while facing up to her mortality. You will cry, laugh, be outraged, informed and inspired. But ultimately you will rejoice as she emerges from the shadows into the sunlight of a new fulfilling and joyful life.
Youíve Got It Wrong!
ďThe news isnít good, Iím afraid. Thereís no easy way to say this. The lump is malignant. You have cancer.Ē
Who would have thought those words would start me on the sometimes desperate, sometimes terrifying, but ultimately joyful quest to discover myself?
It was 21 January 1994, a date that is permanently engraved in my mind. I listened dutifully to the doctorís explanations as she showed me my X-rays again. I think I nodded in the appropriate places and responded sensibly when she directly questioned me. I might even have asked some questions myself. I donít really know; it was all so unreal.
My mother was with me and she was in shock too. The doctor wanted to know if anyone could come and collect us because she was worried that neither of us was safe to drive. The receptionist reached my son Adam, who had flown from Sydney that morning to attend an exhibition at the National Gallery and Mum went out to wait for him so she could tell him what was happening. He didnít know I had even had a mammogram, let alone the challenge I was now facing.
I waited in the doctorís office and remember staring at her as though she were crazy as she told me it was all right if I wanted to cry, or scream, or throw something. That it would be perfectly reasonable.
What was she on about? Who was she talking about? Certainly not me; I was safely up in the corner of the ceiling looking down on these two women who had nothing whatever to do with me. I also remember being irritated with her for rabbiting on and on about cancer. I didnít have cancer, so why didnít she just shut up?
A few minutes later Adam and Mum came into the room. He put his arms around me and cried, so I comforted him and told him I was sure everything would be okay. The doctor said she would phone my GP and he would then arrange other appointments for me. This was a problem, because I had just moved and didnít really have a GP. I ended up giving her the name of the doctor I used to go to when we lived in the area before.
Naturally, the cancer diagnosis turned my whole world upside-down. My previous GP had given me the all clear during an annual medical only a month before, a few days after my fifty-first birthday. This included a routine Pap smear and breast examination. She also gave me a pamphlet about mammography and explained that it was free for all women over fifty.
When the doctor gave me the pamphlet, I was in the process of moving house. In the general upheaval of packing and unpacking, I could so easily have lost the leaflet with the phone number for the Breast Screening Clinic. Fortunately, the way important things often seem to happen in life, I found that piece of paper about three weeks after moving into our new home. I made the decision and booked in for my first ever mammogram.
Many women will have first-hand experience of having a mammogram or at least have heard colourful descriptions of what happens. You know the kind of thing; how do you go into training for a mammogram? Stand bra-less with one breast in the opening of your refrigerator and get someone to slam the door as hard as they can. Repeat for the other side.
The reality isnít at all funny. I still dread my annual mammogram and not just because of the fear of what might be found, but because it hurts. Iím grateful that these days I only have to have one breast mangled.
Having survived that first mammogram, I was relieved and thought that would be end of it for a couple of years at least. Five days later, I arrived home at around six oíclock in the evening to discover a message on the answering machine for me. It was from someone called Helen, who wanted me to phone her back as soon as possible. I wondered who Helen was, so first thing next morning I rang the number she had left and found out that she was from the Breast Screening Clinic. There was something Ďambiguousí in my x-rays. An area of density had shown up on the pictures and they wanted to re-do them. I naively thought that some careless technician had put their fingerprints on the film, but agreed to go back the next day.
When I got back home after that appointment, I started keeping a journal. I sensed in some obscure way that what was happening was about to change the rest of my life. And so it has, in ways far more profound than I could ever have guessed. It was indeed to be a journey to the rest of my life - a journey to find the real Me.