Sally looked up into the doctor’s eyes. Her ears couldn’t transfer the words he was saying to her brain, although his lips were moving silently. His eyes were serious, sad. The light in the consulting room hummed in that way, which could be barely heard but felt though every fibre of her being. She felt the slightly waxy texture of the pile of leaflets under her hand, resting in her lap. She knew why she was there. Routine mammogram they had said. All women over 50 routinely offered it, they had said.
The news lay over her like a haze. She couldn’t remember how she got home, but she must have got into her car, tights sliding on the leather seats, and driven home, the wipers swishing on the windscreen in the grey, late autumn drizzle.
She turned her key in the lock, opened the door, and stepping inside. Hanging her coat on the coat hook, she slipped her shoes off alongside the warm radiator and walked down the hallway in stockinged feet to the kitchen. Her husband sat at the breakfast bar, reading his paper, and the coffee machine let out waves of rich, warm scent.
“How did it go?” he said, folding the paper and resting it on the wooden counter.
“Um, not so well.” The tears welled up in her eyes, and her throat closed. She looked around the room at the pictures of her children and grandchildren, lining the walls. Photos of weddings, and graduations, holidays and Christmases. Sitting heavily in a chair, she sighed, and suddenly she let go, crying each tear as the doctor’s words caught up with her. “I’m sorry, but your results are not good,” she could hear them echoing through her mind. “You have stage 4 breast cancer with lymph node involvement”. She could hear her voice echoing his words, and her husband still sat at the bar, shocked.
“We will beat this,” he said softly.
“Will we?” she felt irritation rising in her. We? “Is that what we do? Beat it, go back to normal? I might bloody die!” Shock and sadness and rage churned suddenly through her, and she felt as though she would throw up.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I …. I’m going to go and have a bath, it’s been… “She took the pile of leaflets from her bag and put them on the counter and left the room. Her husband watched her go.
She laid in the bath, tracing the curve of the tap with her big toe as it filled her tub with steaming water. She looked down at her chest, her breasts rising and falling with her breath. How could this be? They still looked normal to her, not the high, firm breasts of her youth nor the full, rich milky breasts with which she nourished all her children. But they were hers, showing the pores that came with age, the skin less elastic, the nipples didn’t quite point up and out anymore, but they were still recognisable as hers. They still gave pleasure when touched. Would they still? After?
She hadn’t even looked at the leaflets. She had heard the words “surgery” and “chemotherapy.” She turned off the tap with a flick of her foot and sank lower into the water, letting it lap up over her loose belly and soft skin of her breasts. Tomorrow. She’d make the decision tomorrow.