I chose to share my breast cancer story to help others, be that other cancer patients, their families or just for others to understand a little more.
When you’re diagnosed this is the hardest bit, coming to terms with what you have, then telling loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues. Mixed emotions for the first few weeks and suddenly all the flood of appointments and information you need to deal with. But everyone has your best interests at heart and only want to support and help you the best way they can. And this I found such a warm, loving, and positive experience.
Every cancer patient’s treatment plan is unique to them just as their emotional journey is. You can pop several breast cancer patients in the same room, and no-one will have the exact same experience, so this is my story…
Having the job, I do I know how important self-checking is and the fact that we have cancer in the family makes it doubly important, so my story starts with just that sat in the bath self-checking and this particular time I find a lump. The next day I contact my GP who refers me straight away to Medway Hospital for a mammogram. On the 30th March I pop along for my appointment which was at 10.20am. I see a doctor who examines me and then explains I’ll be going for a mammogram, I’m then told I’ll also be having a scan, biopsy, and another mammogram before I go in for the final consultation. I’m asked if I would like to call my husband so they can tell us both the results (due to covid I had been by myself) by this point it’s 1pm and I’ve already got an inkling of what I’m about to be told!
My husband joined me on the unit and the doctor confirmed I did have breast cancer and it was what was classed as an aggressive hormone fed grade 2 breast cancer. We then got to spend some time with my appointed clinical nurse who would be my single point of contact throughout my journey if/when I needed her.
The next 6 weeks are a blur as I was in the hospital every week for meetings, reviews, mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, ct & nuclear medicine scans and the insertion of my PICC line. For those who don’t know it’s a permanent line, they use it for giving you chemo drugs and doing blood tests. I then received the news that my treatment plan would consist of 6 sessions of chemotherapy, lumpectomy surgery and then some radiotherapy. Selfishly I was a bit upset as I was hoping I may get surgery and not have chemo but that wasn’t to be. In hindsight, though I’m so grateful it was this way round as I felt I got the hardest part over and done with first.
So, on the 20th May I had my first chemo session in the Galton unit at Medway Hospital. It was a long day, but everyone was very nice especially Shola my first nurse I had and the lovely volunteer Gill, who kept me fed and supplied cups of tea all day. However, I was warned that I would feel ok the first couple of days but then will feel worse as the week went on and then get better again. OMG 😳 I had the worst week of my life nothing had prepared me for the physical exhaustion and then the mental spiral I went into thinking I would not be able to cope with this for the next 6 months. If it hadn’t off been for my husband dropping everything to come home at lunchtime after a tearful phone call, I don’t what I would have done. I didn’t need anything, I just needed him to be there with me holding my hand and telling me it was all going to be okay, which he did.
So, I got through the first chemo session, which for me was the hardest part. A month later came the second session and what a vast improvement I know what to expect so the unknown wasn’t as daunting at all. Apart from a couple of days during what I called ‘my bad week’ I carried on working, networking, and family life as normally as possible.
Every session though seemed to bring its own difficulty! During the second session was when I lost my hair. The constant shedding was absolutely a nightmare to deal with you can’t wash your hair as you just pull it out in clumps, brushing is a definite no, I just turned my head and hair would fall out. Enough was enough no more pillow hoovering so on a lovely day in June, we shaved it all off it was lovely and turning a negative into a positive I turned it into a fundraiser and raised £805 for the hospice which was absolutely brilliant, and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to my ‘Brave the Shave’.
I went into sessions 3, July, feeling very positive as I couldn’t feel my lump anymore so was hoping that it had already begun to shrink. This was confirmed by a doctor and a scan so halfway through chemo and life was positive. Session 4, August, I had my second COVID vaccination after session 3 so that wiped me out for a little longer than normal but not too bad. You couldn’t bring me down as my lump had shrunk and it would mean that surgery would be a lumpectomy or so I thought for the first time I received a call saying my blood test results were back (you have blood taken before every chemo session) and my platelets were too low to go ahead. I couldn’t help myself, but I cried which is crazy because why was I crying over something I really didn’t want to do! But I felt like I had failed a test, and this was just going to prolong everything. Luckily it only took a week and my levels rose again so I could go ahead with session 4.
Session 5 made me very tired, and I struggled with my energy levels that whole week. I realise now this was due to my platelets and haemoglobin levels starting to drop as I had to have a blood transfusion before I eventually had my last session. I had made it to September and number 6 had finished and now it was time for surgery.
I just had to have some more scans to make sure they knew exactly what size and where my lump was sitting. It was now that I found out that chemo had done its job perfectly my lump had disappeared completely, they called it a complete pathological response.
So, time flew round to the 8th October, operation day. I rocked up to pre-op at 7am and as you can see from the picture got into a very fetching pair of stockings! The surgeon popped in to see me to make sure I was happy with everything. The operation went ahead on time and apparently, I was only down there for an hour, but it took me a little while to come around. The surgeon came back to see me later and said that the surgery had been very successful, and I have to say you can hardly even see the scar. The exercise regime then started a couple of days later.
I haven’t mentioned this yet but during this time my Uncle David was also fighting his own cancer. It was great to be able to talk to one another frankly and openly without having to explain anything. We both took different directions though and as I was getting better my uncle was getting worse and sadly in October, he lost his battle.
I had already been told that I would have one week of radiotherapy which was due to start on Wednesday 1st December. Typically, the same day as my uncle’s funeral so I was unable to attend this was a very upsetting time. We have plans to visit my aunt and she’s taking me to see my uncle when we go and visit in the spring.
Radiotherapy was easy in comparison to chemo. The drive to and from Maidstone hospital took longer than the treatment! I just had to lie back, breath in and out when I was told too while the machine did its thing and that was that. I did my moisturising as recommended and thankfully really didn’t have to many reactions. This meant I was able to spend Christmas with family and New Year with friends without feeling icky and having any pain.
The Finish is in sight…
With the New Year came the wonderful feeling of knowing all had left to get through were four more hormone injections to see me through the forced menopause. Which brings you up to-date with my story as I write this, I have three more injections to go but as you read this, I will just be due to have my last injection.
I will still need to take my tamoxifen tablets every day for the next five years and have yearly mammograms. But I can’t wait to ring that bell to announce my treatment is over and I have survived cancer.
It’s an extremely hard road, not only for the cancer sufferer but also their family/carer, but you can get through it. I am a great believer that a positive mindset can really help you get through it. It doesn’t mean every day is going to be great, but it does help.
Having cancer is hard, but it’s not always the end. Find strength and support from others and accept help, you are not alone.
And remember there’s never a stupid question, if you’re not sure just ask as often as you want because there’s a lot of information to remember when you’re going through anything like this.
If you need to talk you know where I work, now please for me go and self-check yourself 😀