Saturday, 3 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: My breast cancer year - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Author: Danielle

October 2014 - October 2015

I went into the very first day of October 2014 to an emergency appointment with my GP having found a lump in the shower the previous day. I was lucky in so many ways. I was lucky to get an appointment with my actual GP who knows me and I was lucky that she considered my symptoms before she considered my age (31). I'd found my lump as I said the day before lathered up in the shower. It's how I normally check them as I find it easier. That morning as I got dressed and ready to go to my appointment I realised I also had an indented line that ran from under my boob right around the side and to the exact spot my lump was. 

I was sent away with an urgent referral to the breast clinic just 12 days later. At the appointment I was given an ultrasound and they took 3 core biopsies. On 22nd October I was diagnosed with Grade 3 triple negative breast cancer. It was very aggressive but it was caught early and highly treatable. A week later I was given an MRI and CT. My smiles hid my fears. I thought I was going to die.

On 7th December I cut my hair off to donate to the Little Princess Trust. At this point I knew chemo was a must on my to do list. I had my close family and friends around and we made a day of it with wine and cake. My daughter, who had struggled with the thought of me losing my hair helped cut a few of the lengths which really helped her prepare, and everyone had a go at chopping it off.

The following day I had a wide local excision, and unbeknownst to me a full axillary node clearance while under. Although my MRI and CT had shown that my nodes were clear it had in fact spread to 3 of my nodes and I had micromets in 1 other. Bugger! I've never had major surgery before. Carrying 2 children and giving birth was the toughest thing my body had gone through by that point, but my goodness I didn't realise how tough it would be. I'd lost all sensation in my armpit and the top of my arm, I had to carry around a bottle of my own body fluids for a week.

I was so sore, tired and emotional. I hadn't prepared for it at all. Then I started to sound like a hot water bottle. I had seromas. They were agony. One in my armpit and one in my boob. Just after Christmas the one in my boob sprung a leak. So I was taken to hospital, redressed, and the one in my armpit was drained. About a week later my boob popped again in spectacular fashion, all over me, my poor son and my hall carpet. I held myself over the sink and I could see the hole in my boob so I supported it with my hand. What I hadn't realised was my boob had taken in air and upon supporting it the air pushed out and my boob farted!!!!! I laughed until the tears came. Around the same time the cording started in my arm, this is where the axillary vessels that once connected to the nodes under your arm in effect die off. They harden and become very stiff. I couldn't move my arm without being in extreme amounts of pain. Gentle exercise eased it but it's only taken until recently to get a decent amount of pain-free movement in my arm.

On 9th January I had another surgery to fit my portacath, this was to become my best chemo tool. Consider it an artificial vein - it sits in my chest and the line goes up into my neck and down into the artery that feeds my heart. Sometimes when I lean forward I can feel the line tickling my heart. It took the chemo directly into my body and saved my veins from being destroyed by the evil stuff. 

On 14th January I had my very first chemo of FEC-T combination. 3-weekly FEC followed by 3-weekly tax. My final chemo was on 29th April. It's all a bit hazy now. I think I went through the whole thing in a daze.

Chemo comes with a list of side effects as long as your arm. I hope this picture illustrates just some of those side effects (I realise some of these are doubles and aren't all specifically Chemo related but they are all cancer related)

It's tough but it's doable. I couldn't taste a thing from around 4 days after my first chemo right through till about 3 weeks after my last, although my appetite was insatiable. Couple that with the steroids and I ballooned. I had some weird side effects like losing all the skin under my arms after my first Tax. We discovered that I'm intolerant to GCSF- an injection that you give yourself in the tummy to boost your white blood cell count. Luckily my counts did really well until my very final chemo when I became neutropenic and spent a couple of days in hospital on IV antibiotics until my levels started to rise again. The result of this though was a pretty nasty case of thrush in my gut but after about a week all was well again. Most were all pretty standard rubbish effects. It's exhausting and the effects of it are still very present in day to day life. My Achilles tendons are still sore. I get worn out really quickly. My nails are still falling off in bits and pieces and I still have numb fingers.

My radiation therapy started on 9th June for 19 sessions. 15 local therapies including my clavicle and 4 targeted therapies at the tumour site. Radiotherapy is a walk in the park compared to chemo. It's very tiring and unfortunately I suffered with horrible burns which I had to dress for about 3 weeks after I'd finished.

My active treatment finished on 29th June. I'd developed rib pain and some symptoms in my bad boob before radiotherapy started so I had to undergo a bone scan during radiotherapy. They inject radioactive dye and this should flash up cancer in your bones. They also wanted to take a biopsy of my boob as an ultrasound scan had shown thickening in my breast but it was deemed to risky to do during radiotherapy as rads can (and did) break the skin down which can cause infections and delay treatment. It was at the appointment on 3rd July for my biopsy that I was told my bone scan was clear and the pain was likely surgery related. Big bloomin' phew! About a week later when I was back at the radiotherapy department to get my burns seen to, I bumped into my oncologist who had just signed off my biopsy results. With a big beaming smile he told me it had also come back clear, I do however have lymphedema in my breast but I'll take that over a relapse any day. I'm free of cancer, and I hope with every fibre of my being it stays that way.

It hasn't all been bad. I've met some amazing like minded women along the way. I was honoured to be able to take part in the launch of a new charity "breast cancer now" and their the last one advert which launched in June.

And I was able to record a couple of brief bio's to help the campaign. (Here and here)

It was an amazing experience and as I write this there may be more of my face to be found on their website and Facebook page for breast cancer awareness month. I also got to have a special day thanks to the Willow Foundation, an amazing charity for 16-40 year olds with life threatening illnesses. It was amazing. I ate amazing food at Tom Kerridge's The Hand and Flowers with an overnight stay at the Complete Angler. I'll never forget it.

It's been a rollercoaster year. It's been hard on everyone, not just me. My family have been an amazing pillar of support and my children have got me out of bed in the morning. I fought for all of them. We embrace every day. We don't put anything off now. We take lots of photographs and we make lots of memories. I can't be certain what the future holds but for now I'm just happy to be moving forward. To try to rediscover some old parts of me and make the best I can out of what has happened xx

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Write for the blog! This blog is one of a series being shared on the Young Women's Breast Cancer Blog UK during October, breast cancer awareness month, but the blog is here year round. If you are a young woman in the UK who has/had a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to be a part of this blog, please have a read of the additional information here.

Check your breasts
Breast cancer can happen to any of us - regardless of age. Information about how to check your breasts can be found on the Coppafeel and Breast Cancer Now websites.

Further information and support:
Younger Breast Cancer Network UK - an online chat and support group for women under the age of 45 in the UK who have had a breast cancer diagnosis.
Baldly Beautiful - a YouTube channel with make up demonstrations, created by Mac makeup artist Andrea Pellegrini who went through chemo herself in 2014.
Take A Moment - This is a group for women (all ages) who have/had breast cancer who want to explore, reflect on and express their feelings and experiences through photography. This is a link to the public page - to join the group, send them a message.
The Osborne Trust - Providing children of parents with cancer the opportunity to access time out recreational activities whilst their parents undergo operations and treatments
Jen's Friends - Free heart-shaped pillows for women (and men) with Breast Cancer. Designed to provide comfort and protection after a Mastectomy operation.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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