The Drowned And The Saved

Breast care clinic waiting room. Too nervous to read my Agatha Christie autobiography. Mum scribbles away at The Times crossword, Dad dozes.
Mothers and daughters surround us, only in every other case it’s the mothers who have no hair and scars and are frail and rely on their robust daughters to support them.
“Tanya Marshall,” the nurse reads out from a list on her clipboard.
“Yes, that’s me, come on parents,” I say and we troop in to see my surgeon.
“So, Tanya” she says. She looks gorgeous as usual in a trouser suit with a pretty white floral blouse underneath it. “How are you?”
“Fine,” I say. “Yeah I think the infection has cleared up and…”
“It hasn’t,” Mum says. “There’s still a lot of redness there.”
“I’ll take a look at it later,” my surgeon says, shuffling my notes. They live in a cardboard folder. “Anyway, the good news is that the scans are all clear which…”
“Phew,” I say, and the boulder rolls off my chest and away down the hill into the sea.
“So that means we can get going with removing that bit of skin and I will talk to your plastic surgeon about when we can do that. How’s that looking?” She says, closing my folder, looking at me.
“It’s getting worse,” I say. “It’s spreading and it’s redder and hotter than it was and…”
She looks at my chest, where the kraken has devoured more of my skin and is growing and thrashing around, heating my skin from the inside. It burns.
“Let’s have a look at what’s going on there, Tanya,” she says.
Moving over to the bed, behind the screen, I take off my vest top and training bra.
“The infection has gone down a bit,” she says. “But I think we’re going to need to take that implant out. It’s trying to break through the skin and…”
“But the infection is better,” I say.
She shakes her head, her shiny black hair swinging around her face and then settling on her shoulders.
“The redness has decreased a bit,” she says, “but the implant is trying to work its way out. It will break out of the skin. We need to let the infection settle and then we will put a new implant in. Put your clothes back on.”
Feeling upset about this, I dress. The idea of flopping around with no implant is deeply distressing: somehow more so than all the other degradations.
“So in the last letter from Tanya’s oncologist, he said he’d talked to her about Zolodex and she’d said she wouldn’t take it, but none of us remember this.” Mum says.
“I didn’t know what it was before,” I say, “but isn’t it the one that shuts down your ovaries temporarily and…”
“That’s right,” my surgeon says, looking at the letter, which she’s just printed out.
“Well if it’s a good idea to take Zolodex I might be prepared to,” I say “but I don’t think he has told me about it before and…”
“You’d better make an appointment to see him then,” she says. “Can you come back tomorrow for an ultrasound on that infected area?”
“OK,” Mum says.
“I’ll liaise with your plastic surgeon about when we can perform the operation to remove that piece of skin,” my surgeon says, scribbling on a form, and then another one. “And you need another course of antibiotics for that infection and…”
“But I’ve just had thrush twice,” I say.
“Yoghurt,” she says, to Mum. “Get some yoghurt to replace those bacteria.”
We follow my surgeon to the ultrasound reception where she tells the receptionist about the scan that I need. Dad wanders off to the Pharmacy to hand in the antibiotic prescription.

“Aren’t you happy that the scans are clear?” I ask Mum as we walk back to the car. “Why are you in a bad mood?”
“Just because the scans haven’t picked up a huge lump of cancer anywhere that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any little clusters of it, just waiting to form another tumour,” Mum says. “And it is spreading in your skin and you can see how aggressive it is there.”
“Yes, I know but it could’ve been a lot worse…oh look there’s someone up there,” I say, pointing at a huge red kite circling above us.
“There’s two of them,” Mum says.
We stop and gaze at the huge majestic raptors above us – their red tummies and forked tails and enormous wingspans. As we watch them, everything fades away except what an enormous privilege it is to be allowed to see this sight. I reach out my hand and Mum laces her fingers through mine.

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