In November 2012 I was getting ready at a friend’s house to go to an 80s club for her birthday. I quickly jumped in the shower before putting on my Madonna (circa Like A Virgin) outfit and that was when I first noticed a hard lump in my left breast.
I was 35 at the time and had no history of breast cancer in my family, the lump didn’t hurt and I didn’t feel unwell so I didn’t immediately go and see a doctor. Before I knew it it was Christmas and with two small children at the time (Aged 4 and 2) I had plenty of other things to be thinking about.
It wasn’t until the end of January that I made an appointment to see the nurse at my GP surgery. The lump seemed to have gotten bigger and I found that I was thinking about it all the time so I thought I would go to put my mind at rest.
At the appointment the nurse examined me and made an immediate referral to the Breast Care Centre, within 2 weeks I received the news that I had stage 2 breast cancer.
My treatment plan was mapped out after the biopsy had determined that the cancer was hormone receptive.
First I was to have surgery to remove the 2.5cm lump and my sentinel lymph node, the surgeon said that I might also need a second op if the sentinel node showed that the cancer had spread, (I did have the second op as the cancer had gone to the sentinel node but the other lymph nodes removed from under my arm were clear).
Once I had recovered from the operations I had chemotherapy (6 rounds) after that radiotherapy (4.5 weeks) then a course of 18 treatments of an intravenous hormone blocker called Herceptin and finally an oestrogen reducing tablet called Tamoxifen, which I am still taking now.
In the time between my diagnosis and my first operation, which was approx 3 weeks, I needed a lot of support. I was trying to be strong for my family and friends who I didn’t want to burden with all of my worries and they also didn’t have the answers I needed to the many questions I had. I called Macmillan, who were absolutely fantastic, as was my Breast Care nurse who took the time to answer any question I had, no matter how strange it was.
I was beating myself up that I hadn’t gone straight to the Dr in November, could I have avoided chemo (the thought of which was terrifying me) if I had? Was there something that I had done to cause the cancer? Did I actually feel the lump back in September? How am I going to explain to the children about my hair falling out? Will I do the children harm by cuddling them after I’ve had chemo? Is there anything that I should not eat or drink? Will I have to take my son out of pre-school? What if the chemo doesn’t work? Will I be able to have any more children? What are the side effects of the tablets? What if the cancer comes back? These are just some of the many many questions that I had which were patiently and kindly answered by Macmillan and the Oncology staff.
The treatment wasn’t a pleasant experience but it was ‘do-able’. I was very lucky that my white cell count was good enough for each round of chemo and so by October 2013 I had completed chemo and radiotherapy and by October 2014 I had finished the course of Herceptin too.
In 2018 I was discharged from oncology but the journey has not ended there. I am still on tamoxifen, I have annual mammograms and most importantly I continue to check myself for any signs of change.
I hope that reading my story encourages you to check for any changes in your body and to not be afraid to go to your GP, Nurse or Lady McAdden at the first signs of anything unusual. There is so much support and information from charities such as Lady McAdden, Breast Cancer Now, and Macmillan that I would actively encourage anyone to utilise these charities if they require any further information and urge you not to Google stuff instead!
Since my diagnosis I have walked a marathon at night, baked cakes, sold badges and walked the length of the country to raise funds for, and awareness of, the charities that continue to support me and thousands of women and men who are living with or have been treated for breast cancer.
I hope my story highlights the importance of checking your body for any signs of change, make it part of your morning routine and remember if it is worrying you, get it checked out.