Jill Middleton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Read in her own words how she faced her diagnosis and treatment face on, with a sense of humour and stead-fast determination.
Could you share with us a summary of your experience with breast cancer?
In June 2019, I was showering one morning and felt a lump in my left breast. Funnily enough, this didn’t overly concern me, as I’d previously had a cyst on two different occasions in the same place. So, I just thought to myself, here we go again, not another one and nothing to worry about.
I told my husband and he said, “Don’t you think you should go and get it checked?”. To which I replied, “Yes, I’ll phone up my GP at some point, there’s no rush, it will just be another cyst again”.
How wrong was I.
A few days passed and then one morning a letter dropped through the door calling me for my routine breast screening. Until this point, I wasn’t a big believer in fate.
A week later I went for my routine scan. Within a week another letter dropped through the door, this time asking me to attend Lincoln County Hospital, for another scan and would I bring someone with me. At this point I knew that perhaps this lump wasn’t a cyst after all, but remained positive, nonetheless.
What happened next?
After a further scan and biopsy, I was told by the consultant, with my daughter sat at my side, that my fears were right – I had breast cancer.
I was 56 at the time. My diagnosis was: Carcinoma of the breast T2 G3 with good margins, N0, ER positive, oncotype type score 39, HER2 negative, with a 3cm lump just behind the nipple area.
I remember driving home with my daughter from the hospital after being given the initial diagnosis, the radio turned up loud blasting out my favourite song saying to her in a joking way, “Well, it’s not every day you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, is it?”
I tried to make light of the situation for her sake. That attitude remained constant throughout.
Make light of it, Jill, don’t allow this to worry anyone, everything will be OK.
Can you tell us about your treatment?
After discussions with my consultant, I opted to have a mastectomy, a decision that was very easy for me. I just wanted the lump gone, out of my body, and to remove my breast to me was the best option. So, a month later I had my breast removed. I remember standing in front of the bedroom mirror the night before, braless, holding both boobies in my hands, chatting to them, paying particular attention to the left one of course! I said my goodbyes, and to be honest I was looking forward to ‘leftie’ being gone. I didn’t like her anymore, she was the enemy, she had to go.
Because the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes (I was one of the lucky ones), I was causing my team of consultants a bit of head scratching as they were unsure if I would benefit from chemotherapy or not. My oncotype score of 39 confirmed that I would, so after the longest few months of my life waiting for a decision to be made, I eventually was given my first chemotherapy appointment. My heart sank and I was dreading it. But I decided to approach it head on, what else could I do? I couldn’t change the decision. This treatment was being given to me for my own good – to help reduce any re-occurrence and ‘zap’ any stray cancer cells that may have escaped. Chemo was my FRIEND!!!
What happened next?
I decided to use the cold cap, as the thought of losing my hair was something I really struggled with. Losing my breast, no problem. Losing my hair, well, it defines you as a woman right? To cut a long story short, the cap failed, and my hair was thinning and falling out all over the place. So, one Sunday afternoon I asked both my daughters to zip it off for me with the electric clippers. We opened a bottle of prosecco and off it came! I felt liberated, but crikey did I look a sight! Now, some people have beautiful round heads don’t they- not me! Thank goodness for my sense of humour and love of my husband and family! I bought a wig on the recommendation of the breast care nurses from a wonderful specialist wig store. It was the same colour and style of my own hair, and I looked like me again!! I only wore it outside of the house. At home I’d walk round bald, on the request of my husband and daughters, which really surprised me. “Don’t wear it mum, you’re still you”. How wonderful of them, and how right they were…I was.
I had 6 rounds of FEC in total, over a period of 4 months, once every 3 weeks. I didn’t ring the bell after my last session as I didn’t think I was worthy of it. So many women were in a worse position than me. The nurses disagreed to a point and said I should celebrate my journey as everyone’s is different. I still wasn’t convinced. So unbeknown to me they all lined up and clapped as I walked out of the room for the last time. Tears rolling down my face. I felt such joy and relief. The strength I had shown for the last 8 months was over.
Do you have any advice or tips for anyone who has been through a similar experience?
First and foremost, check your breasts on a regular basis. If you detect a lump or change in your breasts, go to your GP as soon as you find it and get it checked. Early detection is vital to a successful outcome.
Stay positive, cancer is tough, but you are tougher!
A diagnosis of breast cancer can be scary, but treatments have come on so well in the last few years, and the need for chemotherapy is slowly becoming less and less. In my experience, chemotherapy wasn’t that bad. The only side effects I had were hair loss and fatigue. This wasn’t by accident though. I googled the best possible way to get through it, which involved cutting out lots of foods and drinks, eating little and often, and listening to my body. If I felt sleepy, I slept, no guilt involved. Just go with what your body tells you.
Why is Prevent Breast Cancer your chosen charity, and why did we stand out to you?
I support this charity because the clue is in the name – prevention is better than cure! So many women aren’t aware that your breast cancer risk can be affected by following certain lifestyles, by avoiding smoking, alcohol, eating healthily etc. Prevent Breast Cancer promotes putting prevention first, which is key. Sometimes there is no reason why women get breast cancer, but Prevent Breast Cancer helps educate women on how to reduce their risk.
What does a breast cancer free future mean to you?
Gosh where to start – it would mean everything! Everyone has some risk of developing breast cancer but if we can eliminate those risks, what a fabulous world that would be. Some cancers are unavoidable, but by making a few changes to your lifestyle, it could make all the difference to your breast cancer risk.