The Cancer Ladies Running Club is out in just one week and we cannot wait for you to start reading this gorgeous new novel from Josie Lloyd. In fact, we’ve decided to share the first few chapters with you early! Scroll down to begin reading…
In the room on the fourth floor of the breast clinic, I’m flipping through Pinterest on my phone, searching for new ideas for the shop, when a WhatsApp pings up from Lisa, my ceramics
supplier. Check these out, it says and I open her message to see the picture she’s sent.
‘Oh, they are lovely,’ I gasp out loud, looking at the pretty batch of espresso cups she’s made with our latest floral design. I can’t wait to get back to the shop and show the girls.
I feel a glow of pride as I text Lisa back with effusive praise, and once again I thank my lucky stars that I found her when I had to outsource my ceramics all those years ago. She’s been making teapots galore for me and it’s lovely to see her hit the ground running this new year with renewed enthusiasm after our fantastic Christmas sales.
But as I send the message, I’m momentarily distracted by the vase of plastic yellow dahlias on the table which seem to throb in the shaft of sunlight coming through the slatted blind.
‘Come on,’ I sigh, tapping my foot. I really don’t have time to be here. Lorna, my business partner, has scheduled a meeting this morning with our accountant, Miles. He’s a dry old thing
and I’m much more fond of him than Lorna is, so I need to be there to grease the wheels. He’s been with us forever. He even used to do the books for Dad, when Wishwells was Dad’s framing shop.
So, I don’t want Lorna – or worse, Pierre – to have the meeting with Miles without me. Don’t get me wrong, Pierre, Lorna’s husband, has been very helpful over the last few months, and him re-vamping the office computer system with a much-needed upgrade was a job I would never have got around to. The problem is, I’m not sure how long he’s going to stay ‘helping’.
I said he could come in, as a favour to Lorna, really. He’d been sitting at home twiddling his thumbs since he got fired from his job in finance (unfairly apparently) at the end of last summer. Lorna made the good point that it’s ridiculous to have someone with the business nous of Pierre at our disposal and not use him, so I said he could come in. But I can’t help feeling that he’s got his feet too far under the table and wants to change everything. And Lorna seems to dote on his every word.
The door opens and the nurse comes in. She’s wearing a blue smock and she checks the dangling watch on her chest before smiling at me and sitting down in the chair with a sigh, as if it’s good to be off her feet. ‘So, Mrs Beck…’
‘Oh please. Just call me Keira,’ I say. I don’t like being Mrs Beck. It gives me too much in common with my battle-axe of a mother-in-law. I kept my maiden name for the business and I’m used to being Keira Wishwell at work.
‘Keira,’ she smiles, ‘thanks for waiting.’
‘Do you know how long this will take?’ I ask, looking at
my phone, as I slide it into my handbag on the floor. The big clock on the screensaver says 10.08, which means Lorna will almost certainly have to face Miles alone. Shit.
‘Well that depends…’ ‘On what?’
She shuffles her bottom on the chair. ‘Well you see, after your first mammogram, before Christmas, we’ve called you back because…’
Something in her tone makes my ears prick up like a prairie dog’s. I’m under the impression I’ve been called back to the breast clinic as a routine kind of thing. That’s what they said might happen. People get called back all the time.
She holds my gaze. ‘… because we can see some unusual breast tissue.’
I’m in the quiet room.
It only dawns on me now that she’s brought me in here with the plastic dahlias to deliver bad news. Is this bad news?
‘Unusual how?’ My voice is squeaky and quivery, not like my voice at all.
Ten minutes later, still not having been told anything con- clusive, I’m ushered through to the mammogram room and another lady introduces herself as Sinitta and it’s on the tip of my tongue to start singing ‘So Macho’, that Eighties hit by the singer Sinitta, which this Sinitta is probably far too young to remember, or appreciate at all. She’s also in a lab coat and has an intense stare as she looks at my notes.
I stand naked from the waist up feeling cold and exposed and trapped inside her ominous silence, whilst the lyrics ‘He’s got to be so macho, he’s got to be big and strong enough to turn me on…’ roll around my head. Of all things, how has that song and its ridiculous lyrics managed to lodge itself in the filing cabinet of my memory?
As she marks lines on my breast with a pen and adjusts the machine, she’s concentrating so hard, I don’t feel like I can talk. I have to forcibly gag Sinitta in my head.
She skilfully, clinically, manoeuvres my breast onto a cold plate in front of a giant white machine and the other plate comes down and squishes it. A sort of boob sandwich. It hurts. More than last time, back in December, when I was up to my eyeballs in work and my appointment was a quick in-and-out job and not like this at all.
After she’s taken some shots and is squinting at the screen, I pipe up, ‘Can I take a look?’
‘Oh, are you medical?’ she asks. ‘No… er… no, just curious.’ She swings the screen round.
There’s my left breast in dark outline, looking like a distant planet in outer space. Or it could be a scene from a Planet Earth programme about the deepest part of the ocean. Strange tendril-like white things float around. What are they? They are spidery and spindly and creepily floating. Are they milk ducts or something?
At no point in my life have I really paid attention to the internal workings of me. My cells, blood, organs, tissue. It’s a shock to have a glimpse into this inner world, which is living, evolving, doing stuff all by itself. It’s like seeing time-lapse
photography of moss in close-up. It’s a world that I own, except I don’t. The machine does.
‘Can you tell anything? From the images?’ I ask Sinitta, but she lowers her eyes.
‘I’m afraid it’s not my job to interpret the data,’ she says.
Data? Is that what I’ve become?
I’m told that there’s probably at least a half-hour wait until I’m seen for the ultrasound, but I have to get out of here. I can’t keep watching the women with clipboards going in and
out of rooms as my panic mounts. I need some fresh air and a decent coffee and besides, there’s no reception and I should call Lorna and grovel about my lateness. I queue and get an insipid Americano from the Hospi-Coff kiosk and walk over the road to the park. I feel profoundly discombobulated, like I’ve been temporarily air-lifted out of my life.
It occurs to me as I sit staring at the barren trees, that I haven’t actually sat dog-less and alone on a park bench since I was a teenager. I had my first snog with Gary Stubbs on a park bench, just like this one. How long ago that seems now. When Sinitta was in the charts. That’s how long ago.
Shut the fuck up, Sinitta! Not now, OK?
My phone pings. It’s a text from Lorna.
Er… Earth to Keira? Come in please…
I try and type a text to Lorna but delete it. I can’t seem to focus. All I can think about is those tendrils and what they might be.
But until I’ve had the ultrasound, telling her anything – even where I am – seems a bit dramatic. Instead, I put my phone in my pocket and clutch the coffee in my hands for warmth, but my teeth chatter. There’s a few clouds around and I watch the shadow gobbling up the grass.
‘Bloody hell, Dad,’ I say out loud, noticing how my breath clouds.
Dad died fifteen years ago, when his converted camper van collided with an articulated lorry. They said he died instantly and he wouldn’t have suffered, but the shock and heartbreak of losing him so suddenly and unfairly remains to this day. I often talk to him – mostly when I’m muttering about the kids and their spectacular messiness and I need someone to be on my side, which he invariably was. Or when I’m in the shop and I need to find something – like scissors, or the electricity meter cupboard key. I quite often ask him to locate the said item and usually it turns up right in front of me in his old cabinet.
‘Can you just fix it so that it’s OK, please? I can’t do this.
Can’t. Just can’t.’
I’m far too busy to have a medical problem. I don’t do medical problems. I’m robust. Healthy. I barely even have fillings, for God’s sake!
I mean, it can’t be serious, can it? I’m only 47. In my prime. Most women don’t even get mammograms until they’re 50 and I only got one as I was sent a letter saying they were doing a random pre-50 screening programme. I would have ignored the letter, except that Tom found it and told me I might as well go. Because of the dimple. The tiny weeny dimple in the bottom of my breast that I noticed…
how long ago now? A year ago? Not that I’ve been that worried about it.
Because my GP said it was fine. But what if it isn’t fine?