On 12 July this year will be 10 years since the day I was told I had grade 3 breast cancer, 36 years old, a recently single mum of 2 children who had turned a corner was thrown the biggest curve ball from out of nowhere!
I found a lump purely because my bra strap was rubbing against it, I went to the doctor who initially had no concerns, thinking it was fatty tissue (rude ;)) and asked me to come back in 4 weeks’ time if it was still there.
It was… so off I went again, the doctor was still unsure as to what it was so set up an appointment for me at my local breast screening centre.
Two weeks later I arrived early one Friday morning and as I wasn’t worried at all I took my 86 year old Nan with me as we were going for lunch later on, I had a mammogram then waited with lots of other ladies who were in and out, I wasn’t concerned until I realised I had been there for quite a long time. The radiographer who took my mammogram came out to get me and said she wanted to re-do the scan of my right breast where the lump was, this moment will sit with me forever as this was the first time I felt fear for my health in my life.
I was then sent to another room for a biopsy and asked again to wait.
My nan was a very positive lady who never really had any illness in her life so was a great person to be with but even she was getting concerned and hungry!!
I was then called into see the consultant again (along with Nan) and I remember vividly how many people were present, Radiographer, Doctor who did biopsy, Macmillan Nurse and the Consultant, I felt quite claustrophobic. The Consultant was so very open with me and I remember there was no table between us and I felt he really cared when he told me that unfortunately he cannot confirm that I don’t have breast cancer today, he needs to wait for the biopsy results to come back so made an appointment for me to return the following week.
I am not known for keeping much to myself and I like to talk but I don’t think I shared this with many people at this time probably because I didn’t want them to worry.
The following Friday I went back with Nan again (can’t keep her away) and my very close friend Paula who would ask all the questions I may forget, the consultant broke the news to me that I did in fact have breast cancer and to determine the grade I needed to have a lumpectomy but in his experience he felt it was contained in my breast and I would most likely only need radiotherapy afterwards.
I still remember the room spinning around me and all I could say to him was, I can’t die, I have 2 kids who need me…bless him he didn’t have the answers but did his best to comfort me.
Paula then took over of my life for a while after that, calling everyone who needed to know and organising an emergency Girls Meeting that evening that involved lots of vodka and crying….but mainly lots of humour, humour got me through this time, I love banter and jokes with my close friends!
Two weeks later my friend Tracey from South Africa arrived and moved in with me for a few weeks whilst I had my operation and recovered, taking the kids to school and cooking meals etc. (she can’t half bake, yum) we had an emotional goodbye but I was positive that I had got through the worst of it.
I must point out at this time that my daughter Lauren was 15 (yes delightful age) and my son Kieran was 9, I shared everything with Lauren and always promised to keep her in the loop so she never worried that I was hiding anything (this was so important for her) but Kieran was a different matter, I told him one afternoon that I had a sore boob so I needed to go to hospital, he wasn’t bothered at all Tracey was looking after him and he loved her cakes!
Off I went for my third visit to the consultant this time taking Nan, Paula and my longest friend Joanne with me as we were planning lunch afterwards (I like to lunch) and this was by far the most unexpected result, after thinking it was nearly all done I was told that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I would need to have them all removed followed by 3 months chemotherapy and 3 weeks Radiotherapy, in true fashion an emergency Girls gathering was organised and the wheels put in motion to get me through the months ahead, this was when I realised my cunning plan to tell Kieran not very much at all failed as I now knew my hair was going to fall out so I had to tell him a little bit more.
The next day I sat him down and told him that I had to go into hospital again and then have some nasty medicine that might make my hair fall out so I don’t get a sore boob again. He seemed to take it in well, I told him his Dad will be looking after him lots more so that sealed the deal, off he went to play with his friends but not long later he was back in, looking quizzingly at me he said that a boy on the close said I have cancer cos that what happens when your hair falls out (wow, what now??)…. I explained to him that I did have cancer but the clever doctor took it away and to make sure it doesn’t come back I have to have this nasty medicine… Kieran suffered the most but quietly, I noticed he had pulled out his eyelashes at school and had a little bald patch on his head, his school were amazing with him and we worked together to help him get through it.
Being honest with my kids was so important to them, Lauren has said to me since that she never worried about me as she trusted when I told her I was getting better.
Chemotherapy is exhausting, the tiredness you feel is like nothing you’ve felt before, but as soon as it comes it has gone again and if you are on a 3 week cycle by the time your next one is due you are feeling nearly back to normal.
I worked when I could in between and still went out with the girls with my fabulous wig that used to sit on my dressing table overnight on an upside-down vase.
My last chemo was on 31 December so I celebrated in style with my friends but out of character for me I was the first in bed that night!
I started radiotherapy a few weeks later and I must say I made the most of this as I had to go five days a week for 3 weeks I had lots of different friends and family take me to my appointments so lots of lattes and lunches were consumed (yes I did go to weight watchers after).
I then started my course of Tamoxifen for 5 years, initially I had hot flushes but they soon went and I have never had any since, I have handled this drug so well I have stayed on it for another 5 years so as I am writing this I am still on it until 2021, to be honest I never want to come off it, it is my safety blanket but I understand that I have to at some point.
To celebrate the end of my treatment the kids and I went on a cruise round Egypt (their choice) we had a wonderful time and I have never been so grateful to see my kids smile and have so much to look forward to.
Back when I was first diagnosed 10 years ago I said to myself I want to live until my son is 18, well he is 18 now and all 6 foot 5 of him has not been negatively affect by this experience, he is just more compassionate and supportive of others who may find themselves in the same situation. My daughter is now 24 and just graduated from Drama School with a First Grade Degree. I am so very grateful to be here to see this amazing achievement and thankful to the medical experts that helped me recover every step of the way.
Here’s to the next 10 years.