“Gosh, I could write a whole book on this! From being fit, active and fiercely independent one day, I suddenly faced the prospect of becoming sick, confined to the house for long periods and potentially dependent on others for all sorts of things. Yes, those things happened but we got through it, relying on humour and a certain amount of stoicism – I found out I really was tougher than I looked.
From the start of my chemotherapy treatment, my immune system pretty much collapsed. I was stuck at home or in hospital, with daytime television, dvds, books and the occasional visitor to keep me occupied. I also lost the use of my hands for a considerable period of time due to an extreme side effect and that meant heavy dependency for a while, which I absolutely hated.
I was told that I would need a mastectomy. That news was a real blow – I felt like a child who had had her toys taken away – not just because of the prospect of losing my breast but also because it would mean a fairly lengthy wait for reconstruction.
Surgery changed my life the most, because that changed my physical appearance, my relationship with my body, the way I felt about myself, and of course my physical abilities. For a long time I hated having scars and resented little things like having to change from carrying a bag over my right shoulder to carrying it over my left shoulder – this was because I had had to have complete clearance of the lymph nodes and was told that carrying a weight on that side would risk lymphoedema. Now that all seems rather inconsequential and although I still don’t like my scars I do at least see them more positively as having saved my life.
My husband Phil has been brilliant and very supportive. He helped me in lots of practical ways, made me laugh and didn’t let me wallow in things. He called me ‘Gollum, my precious’ when I was bald, scrubbed me down in the shower when my hands were so bad that I couldn’t touch anything and hid the chocolate when I was worried about putting on weight. I was very lucky too with the response of family and friends.
Physically I am starting to get back to pre-diagnosis activities. Instead of doing weight training and circuit classes at the gym I am doing long uphill walks on the treadmill – not quite so much fun but good for regaining some stamina. My hair has changed, as I had had almost no grey pre-treatment but, as is quite normal after chemo, my regrowth was entirely grey. I also now use eyelash extensions sometimes because my post-chemo lashes are just pathetic. That feels a bit self-indulgent but also makes me feel good.
I have adapted my diet too. For health reasons I started to eat frozen fruit and discovered that they were actually very good. I also eat lots of fresh soups. I do indulge in chocolate from time to time but fortunately I prefer the good stuff.
My attitude to life has changed and knowing that I don’t have a normal life expectancy means that I try to concentrate on the more important things.
In the last couple of decades the prospects for people with breast cancer have improved and are much better. More people survive breast cancer than ever before. Treatment isn’t pleasant but even with the longer type of treatment programmes the worst bits are over within a timescale that isn’t too bad, and side effects can generally be kept under reasonable control.
My advice for anyone going through this is be positive, smile, wear lipstick, and ask questions!”
“The funny thing is I was not afraid of death, my faith held me steady on this one. It was the thought of not having done enough to reach my full potential that worried me. And the thought that all the things I wanted to do, including continuing my good relationships with my daughter, husband and siblings, could be taken away by breast cancer.
I am married and have one daughter, Priscilla, who was 23 years old when I was diagnosed. My family were devastated when they heard my news and so were my friends and colleagues. They were completely shocked as I had not had any signs or symptoms of being unwell. If anything I was the complete opposite, I was very active, going to the gym, church and was in full time employment.
I had to take 8 months off while I had treatment, but whilst I was undergoing treatment, I was lethargic, tired, in pain and at times had the ‘why me’ syndrome.
I have had chemotherapy (not nice!), breast surgery, radiotherapy and I am now on Herceptin. The chemotherapy was horrible, I would not wish it on anyone. When my hair and nails started falling off it was a strange experience. I decided to shave of all my hair – which everyone thought was a fashion statement! At that time I avoided having any photographs taken, I didn’t want them to serve as a constant reminder of what I had been through
Five years have passed since my diagnosis, yet I still have some lymphoedema and have gained a bit of weight! Lots of the breast cancer treatments affect you for a long time after they finish. I used Breast Cancer Care’s literature on lymphoedema to assist me in doing exercises that would help improve it. I also used their support networks. It was great just knowing that there were other women going through the same experiences who I could share my story with.
Now I feel well, energised and I’m back in full time employment.
Since my treatment I have kept my hair short and grey! No more weaves or chemicals. Interestingly, I actually think I’m ok with my body image despite all my treatment. The breast surgery I had did not take away the whole breast – so I don’t think anyone notices. But I realise not everyone feels like this and other people find it difficult or have different ways of coming to terms with what has happened.
I want to live life to the full and enjoy it.
I now have a healthy diet, lots of fruit (I used to hate fruit!), vegetables and supplements to keep me at my optimum health – The main thing I have really learnt from this experience is to eat proper food. I now walk a lot too. Throughout my treatment I read a lot about breast cancer and discovered that there were a lot of essential habits I needed to change to improve my health. This included having a good breakfast instead of just tea, toast and go!
I have realised how important life, relationships and who we are is. There is no time to be upset, stagnant and to put things of to the last minute. I’ve realised you have to live to your potential and grab every opportunity to have a wholesome life. You need to love people and appreciate beauty, nature and others. At anytime your life could be snatched away from you. Being in the nursing profession my diagnosis has also helped me in further understanding my patients, and empathising with them as they undergo treatment.
I used Breast Cancer Care’s publications when I was diagnosed so I know how important the charity is for anyone affected by breast cancer. For anyone going through this I would tell them not to give up! There is so much information available to help you through organisations like Breast Cancer Care and there are fantastic support groups too.”
Breast Cancer Care run a number of events throughout the year. The Breast Cancer Care Shows are glittering occasions of style and glamour, where all the models who take to the catwalk have been diagnosed with breast cancer. For more information on upcoming shows and events visit: http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/fundraising-events/events
For more information on Breast Cancer Care visit: www.breastcancercare.org.uk