Sunday, 25 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: I can and I will

Author: Tania

My breast cancer journey so far

So this crazy journey of mine all started on 9th April 2015 when I felt a lump on my right breast when drying myself after a shower. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never checked myself. Guess I never believed something like this would happen to me.… I’m a good person (or certainly always try to be!), I’ve had lots to deal with in my life already, there’s no history of breast cancer in my family at all and I’m only 40 – surely I’m too young!? So, thought I’d give it a week or two as my breast size always changes during my monthly cycle … nice thought but it was still very much there. So off to the Doctors I go. A very helpful Nurse measured a lump approximately 1.5 cms and urgently referred me to the Breast Clinic at my local hospital.
I thought no more of it and carried on as normal – just giving work the heads up that I would need to attend a hospital appointment and carried on in my happy little bubble. 5th May 2015 soon arrived and I found myself in the waiting room for the Breast Clinic, surrounded by leaflets on cancer and Nurses rushing back and forth from consultation rooms. Not entirely sure what to expect and certain that the news would be good, I sat there on my own (my Mum offered to come with me but I told her I didn’t think it necessary) surrounded by varying aged women. My name is called and I’m taken into a consultation room and greeted by the Doctor and a Nurse comes in too. Crumbs – this feels serious! The kind-faced Doctor gave me an ultrasound. Straight away the look in his eye confirmed my worst fears and told me everything I needed to know without saying a single word….. This was real. I’ve got cancer! I can still see that look now, clear as day. I saw a look of sadness. I vaguely remember the lovely Nurse passing me tissues, the Doctor mentioning a suspicious lump and that I would need further tests to make everything certain – something about being only 95% certain and a possible mastectomy. The kind Doctor then tries to help me recover by engaging me with questions about my work and children, bless him.

BOOM! The bottom has just fallen out of my world.

At that point all I can think about are my babies (my beautiful little children then aged 6 & 8). My head’s spinning and my mouth dry. Got to hide my tears as I wait, back out in the same waiting room, for my radiology appointment. The lovely Nurse hugs me and rushes away to sort my appointment.

I hold my breath. Be brave Tania, people are watching.

Provisional appointment sorted (all dependent on monthly cycle) and I head home. Here comes the difficult bit. To tell my Mum – the one person I have never been able to hide any sadness from. As soon as I see her face the tears roll again – there’s no hiding this immense sadness and I’m filled with a guilt ... a wish that I didn’t have to put my Mum through this. My dear Mum who went through so much to successfully beat cancer of the mouth back in 2006. A truly amazing lady who will always be an inspiration. I ask that she remains brave (a big ask I know) and am so grateful that, to this day, Mum continues to attend every meeting, always by my side, such a massive help and is so very brave (in front of me anyway bless her).

Shortly after I arrange to meet with my children’s Father (now ex-husband). Talking about it and hearing myself say the words just make it so real. He remains positive.

So glad I am able to hide this sadness from the children.

Then the waiting starts. I am now over half way through this BC journey but can honestly say I have found the waiting the worst bit. Every night spent wondering how bad it is, what I’m going to be faced with, my body aching as I lie in bed wondering if it has spread and, morbidly, how long will I have with my beautiful children? Will I share the happy milestones and be by their side, holding their hands, through any sad ones? The unknown. All sorts of thoughts cross my mind and I fight the temptation to search `Google’ for answers (believe me, never a good move!). Waves of panic pass over me at random times and I do my best to keep a brave face. Work is a welcome distraction and I’m honest, right from the beginning, with my brilliant colleagues of what lies ahead. Talking to them allows me to put on a brave face. Must be brave.

The tests begin a week later …. Ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy. What an amazing team of highly trained professionals who absolutely know what they are talking about and are so very kind. The mammogram highlighted another suspicious `calcification’ on my other (left) breast. So along came the core needle biopsy (which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – apart from the noise). I made sure I didn’t watch at all and it helped having Mum holding my hand. The radiologist was 95% certain the other side was just a cyst. I asked them what would make them 100% certain (I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of just keeping an eye on it on a yearly basis) and the radiologist advised fine needle aspiration would confirm. So I asked her to stick a pin in it. I need certainty. Yay! It dispersed. It was just fluid. Tears of joy fill my eyes, Mum’s too, as we’re back to dealing with the just the one lump again. Happy days!

More waiting ….

And so on 20th May 2015 I was diagnosed.

‘Invasive ductal carcinoma right breast. T2 (28 mms). G3 N0 ER and PR weakly positive HER-2 neg. Treatment: Wide local excision (lumpectomy) Central node biopsy. Adjuvant FEC chemotherapy, to be followed by radiotherapy and Tamoxifen’

‘N’, the breast care nurse, was amazing. I can still see her kind face telling me “Out of all of this, just take away the message that this is curable”. I hold on to that thought every day. Thank you ‘N’, you truly are an awesome lady. And thanks for always finding the time to pick me up despite your incredibly busy day xx.

Finally I know what I’m dealing with and there’s a plan. Gotta’ have a plan. I’m given heaps of leaflets too and a little book for the children. Must admit I never used the little book. My children’s Dad and I agreed on how we’d tell the children, in a light-hearted conversation about Mummy’s lump in her boob and how I would need an operation. A step at a time. We agreed we wouldn’t use the cancer word at this point (just personal preference) and that when the time was right I would tell them – with their Dad providing support and consistency where required (Grandparents too). The school were also brilliant and we’ve continued to keep them updated throughout this journey. This has really helped.

And so the research starts… I set about reading up on everything – know everything I possibly can about this disease. I must get through this, pass the test and therefore start revising as much as I am able. This is an examination that I simply must pass. Crumbs – how much information is out there!

Two weeks later an MRI and dye injection. What an experience! Having visualised and prepared myself for lying back in the scanner (like I had for a previous MRI), the Nurse asked me to climb on all fours and place my boobs in the holes in the scanner. I couldn’t stop laughing… Was not expecting that … More laughter! Followed by a warm fluid pumped through my body whilst lying on my front in the chamber that made me feel like I’d wet myself (Really!?).

Surgery followed two weeks later. I was really nervous about the anaesthetic but was reassured and it was surprisingly a very calming experience. I didn’t have any pain either – which I was amazed at – and met some fab ladies on my ward, each on similar journeys. Friends that continue to help and I’m able to share the experiences with. We had such a giggle on the ward that night. I felt so relieved that the cancer had been taken out and couldn’t stop giggling (well at least until the ward staff told me off at midnight). Ooops!

On 25th June 2015 I was given the all clear “T2-M0-N0 Stage 2a 28 mm”. What amazing news. I am so truly grateful. I feel blessed. No sign of cancer in the margins nor in my nodes (only 2 were removed). I still couldn’t believe it – at least not until I received it in writing. My cup runneth over! I am now able to tell the children “Mummy has had cancer but it has now gone. It’s not catching and Mummy just needs some nasty medicine that will make her hair fall out to make her better”. To which my son replies “Okay, what’s for tea?”. I’m so proud of my children for their resilience and they continue to be my biggest strength throughout all of this.

So, back to work I go, feeling normal again. Various pre-assessment meetings follow, taking me to 14th July 2015 when I receive my 1st of 6 cycles of FEC chemotherapy. Sent away from work with some fantastic, really thoughtful gifts from my wonderful colleagues, the next stage begins. Off I go to the Macmillan ward. I felt anxious as I didn’t know what to expect but was greeted by some fantastic, very friendly staff that knew exactly what to say and do to make me feel at ease. I am 4 (of 6) treatments in now and the team are so very friendly. We have a real laugh. A lovely lady once told me it’s like getting a hug when you go for your chemo – and that has remained so very true. I am truly overwhelmed by the fantastic staff I have met. They make the journey that little bit easier. Even my trip to A&E 10 days after the first treatment I was looked after so well. I managed to pick up a chest infection – always a weakness of mine. An hour’s IV of antibiotics and I was soon back home. I realise each and everyone’s treatment is different and I also realise I’ve been getting away with things relatively lightly – escaping the sickness at least. I’m very grateful for that.

Whenever I feel low about the chemo or whenever I’m getting ready for the next round (annoyed by the fact that I’m feeling normal again and not wanting to go through `the dip’), I remember why I’m doing all this… the 7% it gives towards the 84% possibility that I’ll have survived this in 10 years’ time. 10 years or more with my babies – that is all I think about. That is what gets me through.

So, the next hurdle and the one that everyone seems to worry about – the dreaded hair loss. 18 days after my first treatment my hair started to fall out. I made the decision to have my hair cut short before I started any treatment just so I could get out of the habit of needing to put my hair up. It was an emotional day but I was glad that I could cry about it at that point rather than be faced with another issue to deal with alongside the chemotherapy. As soon as my head started to feel sore I went even shorter to a grade 1. At least when the hair started to fall out it wasn’t so much to deal with. I’ve actually found being bald invigorating. I had a panic attack the first time I left the house with a bald head but people don’t stare half as much as I expected they would and actually, most stares are joined with such sincere, genuine smiles. I always wear scarves when I am on school runs as the children are more comfortable that way and I totally respect that. But can’t wait to take the scarf off again whenever possible. My dear friend Simon and I had a real giggle trying on wigs, hats and scarves. We had such fun and it made me feel so much more prepared. I just can’t get used to the wig though. I just don’t feel or look like me when I wear it.

Losing the hair on my head was never really an issue. I worried about waking up one day and finding it all on my pillow but that never really happened – it fell out over a few weeks. My struggle has been the thinning eyebrows. I’ve got used to seeing my bald head in the mirror but really don’t like the really thin, almost invisible, eyebrows. It makes me look like a cancer patient … the irony!

A fantastic course was made available to me “Look Good, Feel Better”. And I highly recommend anyone going through this type of treatment gets themselves on the course if made available. Very helpful and a real confidence builder.

The PICC line isn’t so bad either … I was quite squeamish about it at first, the whole idea of where it goes and how it’s done didn’t inspire me but within a few weeks I found myself completely used to it and I forget it is even there. I’m even able to sleep on it at night and sleep in whatever position I’m most comfortable nowadays – perfect! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still counting down the days for when it comes out (I truly cannot wait!) but it’s not so bad (honest!).

So, where is the good in all of this? Well …..

* I got to spend the summer holidays with my children – a gift I have never been blessed with having worked full time since having them. I’ve become even closer to my family (didn’t even think that was possible).

* My perspective on life has changed and I never take things for granted. Things such as trees and sunshine are now much more of a pleasure; it’s opened my eyes (even though they constantly run – just another one of the side effects) to a more beautiful world. I love the feel of the wind on my face and I don’t rush around half as much as I used to. I feel truly blessed.

* I’ve found out who my friends are (and who aren’t). A constant support. A special mention to; Simon – my barber, wig test dummy and chilli provider (so wonderful when you can actually taste the food!); Clare and Julie for arranging the best halfway celebration in London. I even got to meet my favourite comedian (could not stop crying after that!) and for always being there, sending me notes and making memories to make me laugh. I have laughed so much with those lovely ladies that my stomach and jaw hurts – often!; my step-dad Pete for doing all the injections, mowing the lawn and listening to my rants on my cross days (yes, there have been some!); Dad for the confidence to ditch the wig; Lou for the wonderful, much needed trip to Stanage Edge (I did it – the air felt good! Another one ticked off the list); Auntie V for all the fab goodies; Reidy for the endless supply of mints and encouragement; my amazingly supportive boss – boy what a difference that makes not having the extra worry of work!; all my BC friends I’ve met along the way for their love, encouragement and absolute inspiration (Love to you all amazing ladies xxx) and to all my dear friends that meet up every 3 weeks for fun, laughter, support and hugs. Where would I be without my dear friends xxx

* I have laughed more than I ever thought possible and cried less than I ever expected.

* I feel proud.

* I am able to love more openly.

* I’ve not worried about the smaller (blue!) boob or the scars at all – it’s just a reminder of how strong I truly am and how I kicked the nasty stuff into touch. I’m still me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some not-so-good bits too…. I realise I will never be the person I was pre-diagnosis and of course, there is always the possibility of recurrence (although I put this right to the back of my mind it is something I must accept). A very independent person, I hate having to rely on people (although I couldn’t get through any of this without them). I am beginning to accept that I may never meet that person, that special man in my life – cancer is enough for me to comprehend, leave alone someone else. I have also lost the ability to plan for the longer term. Hopefully all of this will pass in time. Worst of all, my children have had to deal with things that I wish they never had to. That still makes my stomach wrench whenever I think about it.

I realise its early days. The good far outweighs the bad though and right now I’m just focusing on Christmas when, all being well, all treatment will be finished (except Tamoxifen) and I can see the New Year in putting this chapter behind me. My family, friends and I are already planning some great ways to celebrate and we’re all looking forward to seeing how my hair will look when it grows back (we’ve had some real giggles about that I can tell you). I’ve even signed up for a 100ft abseil down the side of my local hospital to raise some funds – alongside my wonderful friends (eeek!). A way of giving something back and saying thanks.

They say everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that. I hope one of the reasons is I can show my children (and others) that you really can overcome challenges such as cancer (as my Mum has already shown) and that despite the difficulties life really can go on. I am blessed with some truly awesome people around me and have never felt so loved. Lucky me!

To anyone going through a journey like this I send you much love and light. Be brave and be positive. And to those who are supporting someone going through a journey like this (like my wonderful family and friends) you really are making a difference, truly you are. Massive hugs to you all too.

Keep smiling,

T xxx

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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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1 comment:

  1. Oh my darling girl, I know you are an amazing woman but this just brought home how invasive this bloody disease is, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. I can't believe how much positivity you exude and how many bits of my body I have crossed that this will all be OK.
    Love you so much, just as well I haven't made up my face yet else my mascara would be down by my chin xx