Breast Cancer Awareness Month is something we should all talk about and promote. It does not have to be a negative thing but more of a positive thing of the importance of encouraging everyone to look after their bodies. By chance, I met the incredibly lovely Barbara during a cancer fundraising event and we instantly clicked. She was such a lovely women with a really kind soul...Further into the conversation she told me that she had breast cancer, but was now cancer free! I really wanted to find out her story.
On my 50th Birthday, I received a gift that I wasn't expecting. It was a letter inviting me to go for a mammogram. To be honest, I had not really thought about the need for it, and was in two minds whether to bother, but something inside me said that I should.
I attended the scan in a very casual mindset, although when I saw the scan equipment I was a bit more concerned about the procedure. The operatives were really nice and put me at ease. They explained fully the pictures that they were taking.
I left feeling pleased that I had chosen to accept their invitation
I was advised that I would receive the results - good or bad, three weeks later.
That three week wait was a long time. Having read the information available at the Mammogram centre, I was now aware of the possible outcome of a scan that indicated anything, but hey I was relatively fit only just 50, and it was my first mammogram so what could go wrong? Also, I had checked my breasts before going there and I couldn't feel any suspicious lumps lurking around.
The arrival of a letter requesting that I attend the Primrose ward in Derriford Hospital, was a complete surprise - and not a good one. I was told that they had found something on my mammogram and needed to investigate it further, by way of a biopsy. I cannot lie, that was quite a painful procedure, but by now I was sold on the idea that this was serious.
The nurses in the Primrose Centre were fantastic, they explained every part of the procedure and reassured me by answering my seemingly daft questions.
A few days later, I was called back to the Primrose Centre to see the Cancer specialist. My husband and a Cancer nurse were present at the meeting. I was told I had a fast growing cancer situated behind my nipple, deep into the breast. The cancer was in it's early stages but they wanted to move fast because of the rate of growth. I remember feeling stunned in the meeting not really listening or taking in what was being said - my ears pricked up when the specialist mentioned removing my nipple in the process and that it might not be saved, whaaat!! How will I look? What will this lumpectomy leave me with and where will I hang my tassles?!! Yes, much to my and definitely my husbands embarrassment I really did ask that!!
This couldn't be happening, after all, I was only fifty, relatively fit and not ready to die.
The operation went ahead as planned. I felt extremely low afterwards - this was the unknown or the known dreaded killer. Everything was sore but good. They believed they had removed it all. When the dressings were removed there was no evidence of the existence of my nipple and it had to be said the shape of the breast looked very odd. Shit, I really was going to look weird. Was my husband going to still fancy me? I blubbed to my friend on the phone and she tried to console me saying that I could always invest in a nipple tattoo - I suppose it's quite trendy to have a tattoo at 50, but not really me. I mourned my lost nipple forgetting that I had just taken on the King killer "Cancer" and won (supposedly), but I looked and felt different. I contacted the Primrose ward a few times during that awful time, they were always glad to help and encourage me.
After a few weeks to give healing a chance, the next stage of treatment was radiotherapy (chemo was not effective in my case). I attended the radiology department everyday for 3 weeks - this treatment becomes very tiring even though your just lying there looking up at the picture of blue sky and blossom. The machine is really huge and you are left alone with it whirring for a while as everyone else takes cover. Oh, and some small dot tattoos are marked on you before treatment begins. Unfortunately the treatment can burn a bit towards the end but I managed to cook some crinkle cabbage on my breast while healing it - carrots were not so easy. This is something that you just have to go with, it is your follow up army, your insurance against the return of King Cancer.
After a while. this cancer machine gets to you, your sick of thinking about it and talking about it to people who don't really understand the scariness of it all. You feel vulnerable.
You've had your time off work now it's back to the real world, but your world is still vulnerable. You need to speak to someone who understands- not family -they've heard you repeat it all before, how can they really understand that you feel a bit mutilated and scared it might return. A trip to the Mustard Tree (Macmillan) is what's needed. I had use of a counsellor, make up session & given £250 of make-up, numerous coffees with cake but more importantly chats and laughs with other survivors like me.
I felt accepted and understood
I was invited to go on a three day retreat near Totnes, away from the kids and just everything. That retreat included, relaxation, meditation, counselling beautiful walks, lovely meals, no washing up and a gathering of new friends.
I felt renewed at the end, and returned to my usual world calm and refreshed
This was my Cancer journey, I am now on my seventh year free of cancer. I never forget the many people who have helped me on that journey, particularly the Primrose Foundation charity and Macmillan. Once you have cancer you are always looking over your shoulder, but it is great to know that the help and support is out there .
I would just like to personally thank Barbara on sharing her personal experience with me. I wanted to end Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a personal story so it gives the chance to other readers who are perhaps going through a similar thing to reflect and understand that yes, perhaps what you're going through is a little daunting and scary but no, you are not alone and never will be.
For more advice and contacts
The Primrose Foundation - https://www.primrosefoundation.org/
Macmillan - https://www.macmillan.org.uk/