In April 2007, aged 45, my journey began by finding a small pea sized lump in my left axilla. It wasn’t painful, just a small hard lump.
I was not particularly worried as I felt well and although I was losing weight, I thought it was due to the fact I was a gym bunny. As I was working in the NHS, I went via Occupational Health to Breast clinic for an ultrasound scan. The sonographer did not think it was anything to be to be concerned about but did find another lump on the scan. So I had a biopsy there and then…
Two weeks later I found myself floored by the diagnosis of Grade 3 Breast cancer along with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). I was not expecting that at all and as I was at work, I went to clinic alone. Calling my husband and my best friends was a difficult task.
Life became a bit of a blur for a while with all the decisions to be made regarding the best treatment pathway, but I followed the advice of my oncology consultant. I was booked for a mastectomy as the due to the DCIS and lymph node involvement a lumpectomy was not considered. I can recall thinking how I didn’t have time to become ill as I had a busy career, a husband and seven year old son to look after. I was not the most “patient patient” (as us nurses never are!) and really did not like being on the other side of the fence.
I was fortunate to be booked for an immediate reconstruction using my lateral dorsal muscle, for me psychologically this was a huge benefit. My surgery date was 1st June 2007. As I was wheeled through the theatre doors, I remember being more scared than I had ever been in my life not knowing what to expect. I had been quite positive and strong up to that point, but at this moment the diagnosis really hit me.
Surgery went well and I was up and about the next day. I tried to keep busy as usual. I used to pop down to my office to catch up with colleagues and catch on work with my drip stand and drain to accompany me.
Surgery was followed by a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and as I was HER2 positive I had to have three weekly Intravenous Herceptin for 18 months followed by Zoladex injections for two years and oral anastrozole for five years.
Four further operations followed due to capsular contraction caused by the radiotherapy. When I write all this down it sounds so much worse than it felt at the time.
I was working in rheumatology and had a large regular patient caseload, who were all upset by my diagnosis, but I told them at least I know will come out the other side.
I did remain positive all the time and never thought I was going to die but knew I had a hard journey ahead of me. A journey which was so much easier with love and support from family and friends.
I also found humour helped. I remember texting my friends when I lost my hair saying; “Ohhh nooo I gotta wash behind my ears now!“
My son was seven at the time and constantly told me I was beautiful without hair but quickly added “but don’t pick me up from school without your hat!”
I have been off treatment now for nine years and although I’ve got more battle scars than I can count I like to call them my survivor scars. I know it’s a bit of an extreme method to get free breast implants and a tummy tuck!
Breast Cancer charities are a great source of information in many different formats to cater for individual preferences e.g., telephone helpline support, blogs, chats, forums, written information booklets and I had a huge amount of support along with the fabulous Breast Care Nursing Team.
There are approximately 55,000 women and 370 men diagnosed each year in the UK, with 85% surviving for five years or more. I know I’m so lucky to be a survivor and since my diagnosis I have been able to provide support to a few of friends who have been diagnosed.
Hearing the “C” word is such a frightening time but with ongoing research and such good treatments available I hope that the survival rates will continue to increase. For anyone who is unfortunate to receive a breast cancer diagnosis, remember the journey is long and tough but try to focus on the destination not the journey, which I know is easier said than done.