Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: I am not fighting cancer - cancer is fighting me!

Author: Cindy

I was diagnosed with invasive ductal Grade 3 breast cancer at age 42. Having no family history, I don't smoke, hardly drink and go to the gym/swim 2-3 times a week, I came to realise there is no rhyme or reason for having cancer. It is not caused by something I did or didn't do. It is purely bad luck.

Having had 6 rounds of chemo and removal of breast lump and 11 lymph nodes from my armpit, it became clear to me that there is no right or wrong way to deal with your diagnosis. Everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy and heals in their own time after surgery. I am now awaiting 4 weeks of radiotherapy to finish my treatment regime. For the next 5 years I will be taking a daily tablet and having a monthly injection as a 'back up' to my diagnosis, plus regular check ups with my consultants. I will undoubtedly go into early menopause.

I have coped by focusing on each stage at a time - ie giving my full attention to chemotherapy and not thinking about surgery or radiotherapy. This way I found it easier to deal with and not so overwhelming. With my faith and a great support system of family and friends, I remain positive each day and try to find humour in every situation! I refuse to wallow in self-pity but remain strong and defiant.

Having had to spend a few days as an in-patient on two different occasions on the chemo ward, I have come to realise my cancer is not so bad, compared to what other cancer patients are having to deal with. This puts everything into perspective for me. I do get my odd "blip" day where I feel low and tearful but after a good cry I get back up again! 

I am crying as I type this because I just feel sad about the whole thing. Sad that my family and I have had to go through this, sad in the way it has changed our lives over the past 8 months, sad for the way it has changed my physical appearance, sad because I know there are a lot of changes going on inside my body which I cannot see but can feel, sad because my brain goes into overdrive when things are quiet, reliving all that I have been through this year, some things are just a blur, some are vivid and painful but most of all I feel sad because cancer has stolen my peace. 

Cancer not only affects the patient but it touches family and friends too. It is as hard for a loved one to watch someone they love suffering without being able to do anything, as it is for the patient going through it. My mother was diagnosed with lymphoma 5 months before my diagnosis, and having to watch her go through her chemotherapy and worry about test results is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It breaks your heart and you feel helpless.

On a positive note, you realise how truly loved you are by your family and friends. This I found very overwhelming and comforting. They may not be able to take your pain away, but they make the whole process a lot easier and often humorous!

So, to someone who has been newly diagnosed, I would say the following and hope that it is helpful:
  • If you have long hair, cut it shorter before it starts to fall out.
  • Buy a wig/hair scarves ahead of time so you are all prepared.
  • Shave your hair off before you lose to much of it - although this is easier said than done, I promise you will feel liberated and ready to fight! Be proud of what it stands for!
  • Take your temperature morning and night. It is then easier to see when something is going on, i.e. infections.
  • Keep a diary to record how you physically feel on a daily basis, your daily regime of medications/injections to take, daily temperature etc. This is helpful especially if you feel "foggy" during chemo and cannot think clearly and also to look back on previous months to see if there is a pattern during treatments on how you feel.
  • Eat what you desire during your treatments.
  • Exercise when you can - even if it is just a short walk.
  • If you are tired - take a nap if you can.
  • Accept help from those around you - they want to be able to do something for you.
  • Use your local Cancer charity for all that it offers - they are there for a reason.
  • Use the 24-hour hotline your consultant has given you to answer any queries you may have, however small, to give you peace of mind.
  • Know you are entitled to free prescriptions for tablets, creams, sprays, dressings, etc you may need during your treatments.
  • Speak to the Citizens Advice to know what benefits you are entitled to if you are unable to work.
  • Speak to Tourist Information to obtain a RADAR key which allows you to use disabled toilets all over the country as sometimes during treatment you may need to go in a hurry!
  • Register with your local Hospiscare - they provide a wide range of services for you and are there if you just need a chat.
  • If you don't understand the terminology in which your Consultants speaks, ask them to explain it in a way which is easier to understand. Take someone with you to your appointments as often you are given so much information it is hard to take it all in.
  • Take one day at a time.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude through each day, but remember it is ok to cry as well!

To someone who is watching a loved one experience this:

  • Hold their hand and reassure them they are still beautiful.
  • Cook them meals for the freezer.
  • Offer to do their housework/take them to appointments/sit with them to watch TV.
  • Invite them out for coffee and cake on their good days.
  • Bring them lightly scented/unscented flowers/plants to brighten up their room.
  • Reassure them that if they are too tired or have no energy to speak that this is OK and that you are there for them whenever they need you.
  • Speak to their partner to make sure he/she is doing OK and if they need anything.
There are no two ways about it, cancer is horrible. But, with a positive attitude, a good medical team and supportive friends and family around you, the experience is do-able. Hold your head high and show the world how strong you are. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

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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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