Rebecca Hartley, aged 42, from Cheshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Whilst the initial shock of the diagnosis set in, her positive attitude meant that anything other than surviving wasn’t an option. Now a proud ambassador for Prevent Breast Cancer, she shares her story to help inspire faith and positivity in anyone going through a similar experience.
“I became aware of a slight pulling in my right breast a couple of times when I sat up in bed, which led me to check my breast and that’s when I discovered a fairly sizable lump. I had no family history of cancer, that I knew of, and initially, both my doctor and consultant didn’t think the lump was anything to worry about, as it didn’t exhibit any typical signs of cancer – the lump was large and smooth to the touch. Nevertheless, they wanted to check it out.”
“I already had a feeling before even going into the appointment at The Nightingale Centre that it was cancer, so when they confirmed that it was, although I was crushed, I wasn’t surprised. My consultant, James Harvey, and all the other staff I saw were pivotal to my treatment. James was amazingly knowledgeable and impressive, but most importantly he was calm, caring, empathetic and reassuring throughout.”
“By far, the hardest thing was telling my son, Zach. Even as an adult, when you hear the word cancer with no knowledge, you assume the worst and Zach, as a child, was no different. The nurses at The Nightingale Centre had given me an amazing book – a story of a mum who gets cancer treatment and recovers – which made it easier to talk to Zach. I think the advice given to talk to him and keep him informed on what was happening was a good one – for a young boy, he was so strong and positive throughout. Like me, after the initial shock, he just got on with life believing I would be OK”.
“My treatment started with a couple of operations to freeze my eggs so I could have the option after cancer care. Ideally, treatment would have started with chemotherapy straight away so that we could have seen the impact on the tumour, but with the slight delay in getting started, James wanted to remove the lump immediately – tests had shown it was an aggressive grade 3 cancer, so the next step was a lumpectomy. Unfortunately, although this operation was successful in removing the lump, the radius taken wasn’t clear. Pre-cancerous cells were found, which would likely turn in to cancer at some point – so I decided to undergo a double mastectomy following on from my chemotherapy.”
“Chemotherapy lasted 18 weeks and it was a difficult time. The first three rounds made me feel constantly sick and I had no appetite as a result and lost a lot of weight. It’s something nobody can understand unless they have been through it and even then, each person’s experience is different from the next. I always expected it to affect me physically, but it affected everything – my mind, body and spirit. Once I had completed my cycles of chemotherapy, I wanted to get back to normal, but your body just doesn’t work the same and I experienced a knock-on effect from the drugs for some time. It takes a long time to get back to how you were, if ever.”
“Having a double mastectomy was one of the hardest decisions to make during the whole process. The idea of having one was huge – at the time, although I felt my 37-year-old breasts were far from perfect, I didn’t realise until that point how much a part of me they were. The operation was a success and I was so happy and thankful that the mastectomy was the last major stage of treatment.”
“Now, I am in good health and feel physically stronger than I did before. Since my diagnosis, I’ve even started my own business, Saving Grace Events – this had been my ambition for several years and after everything I had been through, I knew I just needed to go for it. I did, and never looked back.”
“I feel very lucky to have found the lump and to have survived cancer, and I am a different and better person for it. Unfortunately, the effects of cancer never really go away. I have to take Tamoxifen for 10 years and I worry frequently about reoccurrence. Every time I feel unwell, the first thing I think about is whether this could be the cancer coming back. I’m a naturally positive person so I manage those feelings well and don’t let it define my life, because I know how precious life is now and that I really do need to live life to the fullest each and every day!”
To find out more about The Nightingale Centre and seeking support whilst undergoing breast cancer treatment, visit our information page.