Age at diagnosis: 40
It was a Saturday night in December 2016 and I was watching a girlie flick “Miss you Already” about breast cancer when I found a lump in my right breast. All the kids were in bed, my partner was on night shift I hadn’t checked myself in a while, I’d only completely stopped breast feeding my youngest daughter a few weeks ago and my boobs had been changing quite a lot over the previous couple of months while weaning her from breast milk. As soon as Kurt got home early morning after work and I showed him and got him to feel it too, he was worried as was I and by 8.30 on Monday morning I had rang my GP and made an appointment with to see him that afternoon. At first he was not concerned telling me that it was probably just a cyst but after we had a chat about it and I told him my concern he sent me for an ultrasound. For some reason I just knew deep down that there was something not right.
The next day I went to my scan petrified, I kept thinking to myself “here we go, my life’s going to change”. The sonographer found the lump immediately, I was told that the lump looked suspicious and they gave me a mammogram before I left and told me that I needed another referral for a needle biopsy. I went back to work with everything going around my mind trying to distract myself as much as I could. I cried and cried while I thought about what the following months would be like, how my 4 girls were going to be affected, how Kurt, my partner was going to cope.
I had the needle biopsy the next day and I remember lying there trying not to think about what was actually happening while making a mental list about what I had to do that afternoon, pick up the little girls, cook dinner, housework, did I have enough milk for nighttime bottles? I was mummy to 4 daughters, 1, 2, 15 and 17 years old, I couldn’t believe this was happening. I still can’t believe it happened some days.
By the Monday, just over a week after finding the lump I was referred to the local hospital for surgery and being scheduled for a CT scan. That afternoon I went home and spoke to my family and told them what I’d learnt. The Breast Care Nurse, Megan called me and asked if I wanted to meet up with her to relieve some of my anxieties. She was lovely and went through pretty much everything that was going to happen to me and my body over the next year and beyond. I’d spent the prior 24 hours trying to get my head around the fact that I had breast cancer, what the heck!! I was too young, wasn’t I??! I couldn’t understand it and that frustrated me so I absorbed as much info as I could from my treatment team of doctors and nurses, I had to learn as much as I could about what I had, what options I had, what I was going to do to get rid of it and beat it and how was my family going to cope with everything? How was I going to get Jas to and from dance classes 3 nights a week, who was going to do the school run? Who was going to get up in the middle of the night with Daisy and Willow (my 1 and 2 year old girls)?
The first week of the new year while everyone was struggling with their resolutions I was checking int to the surgical ward at the hospital for a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. That morning early they inserted the hook wire in my right boob to pinpoint the tumour and had dye injected into my boob to show up the initial nodes under my arm. I made a deal with myself that I would get through this horrible experience by turning everything I could into a positive. I had to believe that I was going to get through it all and that was what worked for me.
I just kept ploughing on thinking “ok, what’s next? Lets do it, the quicker its done, the sooner I’ll be healthy and carry on”.
They removed 3 nodes from my under arm and the 27mm tumour from my right boob, I had to wait 2 weeks for histology results on the tumour and nodes to find out exactly what type of breast cancer I had, I didn’t realise that there were different types!!! And to see if it had spread to my lymph nodes. My treatment would depend on my breast cancer diagnosis. Wow, they were the longest 2 weeks but I just kept distracting myself. I went back to work, carried on as normal as I could, made the school lunches in the morning, hung the washing out (that was good for my arm exercises!), cooked the dinner, just carried on until my next appointment.
I was diagnosed with grade 3, type IIA Triple Negative Breast Cancer as I had no cancer in the lymph nodes they’d removed however my margins weren’t clear so I had to have more breast tissue removed. My doctor explained that this was because my tumour was sitting right up against my chest wall, they removed the remaining tissue in that area as well as some muscle. I had genetic testing carried out, I was told that I had a small chance that I my breast cancer was inherited and scary, I could’ve passed the mutant gene to my girls. I went through that believing that I hadn’t inherited it, the odds of me having it were low enough for me to believe that I wasn’t a carrier and the results showed me I was right. My girls were safe from having it too. Phew.
The results came back – hurray the margins were good, surgery done! Now what’s next?
I started chemotherapy 2 weeks later. I was supposed to have 6 treatments, 1 every 3 weeks. By the 2nd cycle I had lost all of my hair, completely bald. I didn’t think it would worry me before I was totally bald, I missed having hair and felt so unfeminine and ugly. I felt like I had the flu all the time, my energy levels were zero, the nausea was worse than morning sickness. I was frustrated all the time but I just kept telling myself that it wasn’t going to be forever, it was just a blip so I started planning things to do when I was better again. It started off with being able to walk to the corner shop (a 10 min walk) with the kids, long term plans were that Kurt and I would get married and I’d travel back to the UK to see my family and show my youngest girls where I came from. I kept up with my mantra of every time I’d feel bad, ugly or just generally down about it all I’d find a positive and roll with it and then another one and so on. That’s what got me through. I had to believe that I had this and life would begin again very shortly. I had to believe that I could do this.
A couple of days after my 4th chemo I ended up in the Emergency Ward at the hospital spiking a fever and experiencing the worst body pains (I’ve had 4 babies!). I’d been to my GP earlier that day to see him about the pains and almost collapsed in the waiting room. The whole time I was thinking ok how can I turn this around? After just over a week in the hospital I was home again. Apparently I’d contracted a gut infection as the chemo had striped my gut of its lining.
Again I went back for chemo a couple of weeks later and again ended up in the emergency dept with more body pain and a high fever. They never did find out why I was sick that time but after 8 days in hospital I’d decided that my body had just had enough and did not like chemo anymore. My doctor decided not to give me the last chemo and so I started radiation feeling relieved and super proud of myself. You don’t know how strong you actually can be and are until your body really gets seriously tested. I had 6 weeks of radiation, a treatment every day. I’ve got this I kept telling myself. After 3 weeks with nasty open wounds I admit I did momentarily question that. I kept going, I wasn’t going to let my psyche fail me now, I had gotten this far without wobbling!! Despite the amount of cream I was applying to the treatment site I was still burning badly from the radiation and of course as I was in treatment, it wasn’t getting better. It finally healed about 5 weeks after the radiation finished. Radiation also swelled up my boob and arm and I still have massage treatment to help with this. I had to see the physio for help too as being in the radiation machine having my body in an uncomfortable position gave me awful pain. But I was done, I was so happy. I could put all this unpleasantness behind me and move on with my life. What was I going to do? How was I able to pay it forward? I had to do something, I had to help others that may be in the same position that I’d been in.
At my first chemo treatment I was given a So Brave calendar by my breast care nurse. I had been feeling so grey and yuck and here was this brightly coloured calendar with beautiful young women who had been down the same path, taken similar journeys to me and they were smiling and living their lives. I was so inspired by it all and thought to myself, if they could get through all this nastiness then I could too, it really helped with me wanting to stay positive and believe in myself and that I would get through it. I had to believe that. I went home after chemo and put my calendar up on the wall in my kitchen so I could look at it every day and be reminded of the colour in the world and help support myself through the journey I was taking. It worked. I joined So Brave and haven’t looked back. If I can help even one young woman be breast aware and help prevent breast cancer in any way then that’s what I’ll do.
Throughout my journey so far I have held the belief that whatever happened it would be ok, my girls would be great, their life wouldn’t be changed too much from this horrible illness, my relationship became stronger, I adored my girls more and now I’m living my life again as I believed I would.