Getting a diagnosis is scary, but don’t ever give up!
Cancer! You never think it can happen to you then all of a sudden bang, your life changes forever. I was 44, had not long completed a degree in business & management, was looking to further my career and I had watched my son finally fulfil his dream of joining the army. Life was good and I was looking forward to the future.
In March 2013 I found a lump in my right breast and was also getting pains and numbness under my right arm. I have never liked going to the doctors so I kept on putting it off, hoping that it would go away on its own. It didn’t and eventually I went the doctors and was told that it could be cancer and I was to be referred to the breast clinic at my local hospital.
I did not tell anyone in my family and my friend from work came with me to my appointment on the 16th April 2013. I had all the usual tests of a mammogram and an ultrasound scan of the area and was told to go back in the afternoon for the results. I sat in the waiting room watching other ladies go in and out; some had smiles on their faces but some you could tell had been crying.
I was the last one to go in and thought that the doctor would like to finish his clinic giving out good news which made me feel a little less anxious. However, I was told that I had breast cancer and would be referred to an oncologist who would take over my care. It was quite a big shock but all I could think of was how I was going to tell my son who was stationed in Germany and that I was far too young to die.
Telling him and the rest of my family was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and I would not wish it on anybody else. I did not really know about breast cancer as it was something that happened to other people but was told that the survival rate for breast cancer was high, which put my mind at rest a bit.
On referral to my oncologist, I had other tests, a CT scan, an ultrasound and a biopsy and told to go back on the 13th May to get the results and to discuss my treatment plan. My son came home from Germany and along with my sister came with me to the appointment. I was told that the cancer had spread to my liver and lymph nodes under my arm and a shadow had also shown up on one of my ribs. This changed everything and was told that although it could not be cured it could be treated with treatment to relieve symptoms and try to stop the cancer from spreading anywhere else.
To say we were all in shock was an understatement and we all just sat there in silence. As it had spread I was not given the option of having a mastectomy and was informed that I would be given six cycles of Docetaxel along with Herceptin and a new drug through the Cancer Drug fund called Pejeta which the oncologist was going to apply for.
As I was her2+ I was granted the drug and started my treatment on the 11th June 2013 at the local cancer hospital. I was told about all the usual side effects but the only thing I could think of was that I didn’t want to lose my hair. I was hoping to stay in work but was advised not to as the side effects could stop me from doing my normal day to day things.
I did have most of the side effects of achy joints, nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite and in fact the only side effect that I didn’t have was losing all my hair although it did go very thin. I also went through the early menopause as a result of the treatment which isn’t always pleasant, and I am now on tablets to relieve the symptoms as HRT was not an option due to the cancer.
After three cycles of the treatment, I went for a CT scan and was told that the cancer in my breast had shrunk a little which was good news. After the six cycles had finished, I went for another CT scan and also had a bone scan to see if the drugs were working like they should. Although the lump in my breast was still the same, I was told that the tumour in my rib had gone and the tumour in the liver had shrunk, so much that having an operation to cut out the rest of the tumour was not an option and I would carry on with the Herceptin and Perjeta for as long as it was working.
As I was in so much pain with my breast, as the tumour was trying to push itself out, I was given the option to have a mastectomy and node clearance to alleviate the pain. I opted for this and I had the operation on the 8th October 2014, followed by 15 cycles of radiotherapy which was to get rid of any remaining tumour cells.
It is now January 2016 and although I am still on regular treatment every three weeks, I am still working but have had to reduce my working week to three days due to severe fatigue and achy joints. One day whilst me and my sister was sorting through my house, I found lots of photographs and other memorable items that I have collected over the years so I decided to start putting them in scrapbooks, so that my son could pass them down to his children and have a lasting reminder of our lives together.
I turned scrapbooking into a hobby and I update them regularly with things that are happening in both mine and my son’s life. I have also started colouring and have subscribed to Art Therapy, a magazine that has lots of different pictures and themes to colour. You may think that colouring is for children, but it really helps me relax and put the thoughts of cancer out of my mind for a while and I would highly recommend it.
Through Facebook, I have joined a support group and have made lots of lovely new friends who all understand what I am going through. We all help and support each other and have regular meet ups where we can just be ourselves and not worry about what is going to happen to us. One member of our support group who is sadly no longer with us, set up a charity called Second Hope – of which I am proud to be a trustee – which was created to support people like us and to raise funds for much needed research into secondary breast cancer. I have also reunited with some of my old school friends and have grown closer to my sister, who is always there for me.
My sister and my son, who I have always had a close relationship with, have been with me from the beginning and are a great support to me and always try to keep me grounded and positive. As I am quite restricted in what I can do my sister and my son also do a lot for me in terms of helping me with day to day activities which you normally take for granted and I am thankful every day for their help and emotional support.
I still have my down days but one thing I have learned is not to see cancer as a death sentence but to see it as a chance to live life to the full as best you can and appreciate what you have got.
Getting a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer is one of the scariest things you could ever imagine but I decided from the start that it would not take over my life as I have so much to look forward to. I don’t know how much time I have but I have found that having a positive attitude does help a lot and having support from my loving family and friends is a very precious thing.
Don’t ever give up!
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