Friday, 9 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: The light at the end of the tunnel

Author: Deb

In October 2013, I discovered a lump in my right breast. I was only 42 years old at the time. It was at the same time as the cancer storyline involving Carol from Eastenders. Unlike Carol, who seemed troubled and nervous when she attended her doctor for an examination, I never really gave it too much thought. I didn’t tell anyone about it except my husband. I was referred to the breast clinic at my local hospital and went along myself for the mammogram, ultrasound scan and biopsy. After having these done, I spoke to a doctor who said the lump was probably nothing to worry about, it was one of those things that women my age got. I was to return to the hospital a week later for the results. My husband came along with me but was asking why I needed to go for results, could they not just post them out to me? Whilst in the waiting room, I was playing games on my phone and showing my husband some funnies on it. I really wasn’t concerned at all. My name was called and I went into the consulting room alone expecting to be told all was fine. However, when I sat down, the surgeon asked if anyone had accompanied me to the hospital that day. She sent the breast care nurse to fetch my husband. When he came into the room I said I really didn’t like the sound of this. The surgeon had examined me and asked me to sit up on the bed and face her. I thought she was carrying out a visual examination of some sort. That’s when she dropped the bombshell and told me I had breast cancer. I remember bursting into tears and looking at my husband desperate for a cuddle. My right foot was shaking uncontrollably and he looked as if he was going to pass out. I just broke down. The surgeon said the good news about this was that they could cut it out. The nurses offered my husband a glass of water and I told them to take him away and give him a seat before he keeled over.

When I eventually gathered myself together, the surgeon asked me if I wanted to wait until after Christmas and New Year for the surgery so I could have my celebrations without pain and discomfort. I just thought well there’s no time like the present. Surgery was scheduled for the 18th December and I was to have a lumpectomy. I only told my mum and not my sister as I didn’t want to ruin her Christmas or have her associate Christmas with cancer. My dad was in a nursing home with MS and I kept it from him as I didn’t want to affect his health and I don’t know if he could really have taken it in at that stage in his illness. I remember going to my mum’s house to tell her with my husband and I was strangely calm. People told me later that they didn’t think it had sunk in properly. I had the lumpectomy on 18 December but had to have x-rays and some other procedure where they inject dye into the breast to identify the sentinel lymph nodes which would also be removed. After surgery, I felt stoned and happy and phoned my mum from hospital to tell her I was out of surgery and feeling fine, looking forward to getting home. We talked about it and said at least that was it all done and dusted now. I remember listening to the radio in the run up to Christmas when I went to the hospital to have the dressing changed. The words “it’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid” stuck in my head. I took this as a good sign. I had asked the surgeon for the results and she said they weren’t back yet. Looking back I think she didn’t want to ruin my Christmas as she probably knew already.

In early January 2014, I returned to the hospital and was told that the breast would have to be removed along with the rest of the lymph nodes. I had expected this and had told the surgeon I was happy for it to be removed when they were going to do the lumpectomy. More surgery was scheduled for 29 January 2014. During this surgery, I had an expander fitted with a port. The pictures had shown the port as something unobtrusive which would sit at my side under my arm. However, the reality was that the port was a metal thing which would sit below where my breast had been and would dig into my ribs causing me severe discomfort for many months. This expander would be filled with water each time I attended the plastic surgeon so the skin could be stretched to accommodate an implant later. This was done by the plastic surgeon inserting a needle into the port through my skin. This was really sore and I dreaded these appointments so much. It was only months later that I discovered something called Emla cream. This numbs the area and would have made it so much more bearable. I’m really angry that I wasn’t saved this pain and discomfort and I recommend it to any woman going through similar treatment.

After the surgery, I was told that lots of lymph nodes had been removed and there was no further trace in any of them. Apparently, there had been a slight trace in two of the nodes that were removed during the lumpectomy. The next discussions were around chemotherapy and radiotherapy and all those effects.

My sister had been told by this point and said she saw the chemo as something zapping away any crap stuff that may be left. Fortunately I had met a girl on the ward during the second op and she had been diagnosed also and we decided we were going to be chemo buddies. We scheduled our chemo for the same days and roughly the same time so we could catch up with each other. As treatment progresses, it takes a lot out of you and your emotions can really tumble. About halfway through treatment, we lost contact a bit as we were both finding it difficult to cope. We’re now back in regular contact and good friends who meet up for lunch and a blether. It was important to me to surround myself with more positive people at this time which meant spending time with my mum, sister and my oldest friends. It’s amazing how my friends were with me. They would come across and visit and bring lunch for us all and make me tea as well. 

I finished chemo in June last year and radiotherapy in August of the same year. I attended my local hospital for the chemo and another hospital in Glasgow for the radiotherapy. I was so tired as my sleep was all over the place and I remember thinking that I just wasn’t going to be able to make it into Glasgow for the radiotherapy as I was so exhausted. It was so tiring travelling in the car. The nurses at the hospital were fantastic though and really helped me through it. There was also an amazing MacMillan nurse that helped me through that time. My mum was my rock throughout the whole thing. She would pick me up for all my hospital appointments and would be cheery with me which helped so much. The first day I went into the hospital, I just broke down because the word ‘cancer’ was plastered over the entrance and all throughout the entrance lobby. It really brought it home to me and all I could think was how the hell had this happened to me and that I didn’t belong in a place that treated people with cancer as that wasn’t me. The staff at the hospital were great and kept telling me that I would see me returning to my old self a wee bit at a time and they were right. I remember an advert on TV at the time for one of the cancer charities and that showed a lady putting her hair into a ponytail before going for a run. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait for that to be me. 

Today I was able to go for a run in a local park with my dog and it was fabulous. I’ve also started college this year and I’m studying Counselling. I want to use this to help others who have gone through what I have.

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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. Lovely post, Deb. Great picture of you running around the park with your dog - lovely. And best of luck with the counselling course and beyond