Claire, 39, breast cancer
Are you working right now?
Yes and No ... I'm Mum to a now 5 and 3 year old and they keep me on my toes. I'm keen to Raise Awareness of breast cancer amongst younger women and have organised 3 fundraising events to date, the latest in October 2013 to tie in with it being Breast Cancer Awareness month. The money we raised went to Shine Cancer Support. I'm also helping with the marketing of my husband's business and helping out in my son's class at school which is a privilege and a great pleasure.
How did you find out you had cancer?
After finding what seemed like a small lump in my left breast I saw my GP. She was very reassuring and 99% sure it was nothing to worry about. I was routinely referred to the hospital for tests and the consultant at the third appointment informed my husband and I the news - I did have the dreaded "C". I couldn't believe it! It felt as though my world was just about to collapse.
What did you think/feel when you were diagnosed?
My thoughts, the night of the diagnosis, were based around the need to get as informed as possible about the cancer. I needed to "own" my journey through treatment ... a sense of having control I guess. My husband and I came home that evening after a long meeting at the hospital and told my parents who were already at our house babysitting. We devoured a mountain of cancer books . At the same time we were incredibly worried for the children and how they would cope with the reality of treatment and copious appointments. My daughter was 10 months at the time and my son just over 3 years old. I knew very little about cancer , but knew that I would probably become quite poorly with treatment and didn't know how I/we would look after the children to keep a sense of normality about things.
How did the people around you react?
Family and friends were truly awesome ... that is the only way I can describe it. My parents, my sister and her family and my in-laws gave us incredible support, as did our friends, they asked questions about the diagnosis/treatment, which I was glad about. They baked for the children organised play dates for them so that I could sleep and they wrote some beautiful cards which I will keep for ever. My only regret is that I wish I'd put my pride aside sooner and accepted their offers of help earlier.
What treatment did you have?
My treatment consisted of ... 6 cycles of chemotherapy followed by a single mastectomy.
How did you feel through treatment?
I found treatment to be an emotional rollercoaster. Ten days after diagnosis, with help from my breast care nurse Mandie ("my Angel" as I call her), I was on chemotherapy. Aside from the unwanted side effects from the chemotherapy I found myself to be on an artificial "high" for some weeks, from the adrenalin flooding my body and the steroids I was taking. Busy adjusting, talking myself positive and trying to keep things going at home and taking my eldest to pre school etc. The first contact I had with Shine was when I met Emma the founder, for coffee part way through chemotherapy. Having a coffee with someone who had completed their treatment was so uplifting. In fact Emma was the first person I had ever met, post a cancer treatment, having had chemotherapy and having lost hair. I had my hat on with not a stitch of hair underneath and Emma, I couldn't believe had the most gorgeous long, brown hair, she wore a huge smile and gave the warmest of welcomes. She lifted my spirits no end. The numerous hospital appointments made my days busier and I would say I hit the first "low" when I finished chemotherapy, awaiting my operation, six weeks later. It was at this time when the appointments almost ceased and felt that I wasn't actively doing anything to get rid of the cancer, that I simply wished time away to "Operation Day".
What happened after treatment finished?
About 3 weeks after my operation I was told by my surgeon, that the cancer had not spread and that I was now considered clear of the cancer. It's a strange old world, one minute you are fine, just trundling along nicely with life and then out of the blue, cancer comes along and sweeps you up, bites you and then you are dropped again. Everything changes, seemingly at the moment, for ever. Then you have to find your new "normal". As I write this I am 2 years 3 months post diagnosis and I guess the biggest change is the way I view things and life. They say every cloud has a silver lining. Whilst still coming to terms with what's happened, mentally and finding some days harder than others, I am getting a deeper understanding of how fragile life is. How even more precious family celebrations are, how wonderful friendships are, how the simple things in life are often the best (camping for example ... being so close to nature), how life is difficult for a lot of people and how fortunate I am to be here for my wonderful husband, children, sister, parents and for my husband's side of the family too. I have a lot to be thankful for and I'm not going to let this second chance slip by.
How did you get involved with Shine?
My Breast Care Nurse recommended I call up Shine and I have found coffee, lunch and a brilliantly organised camping trip in 2012 just what I have needed. I've kept in touch and will continue to do so.
What difference has Shine made to you?
Discovering Shine has been really, really valuable. Phone calls have helped me during "wobbly" moments and being able to tap into the summer Shine Camping Trip, with other folk who find themselves in similar situations, who really "understand", is a huge relief.
How do you feel now about your experiences?
I feel incredibly fortunate that we live where we do and that we have such a good NHS service on the whole. Most of the time I feel forward focused, optimistic and wanting to conquer as much as possible. However, there are times now when I feel confused and have excesses of adrenalin ..... sometimes I feel that I want to put breast cancer behind me and at other times want to keep close links with it. It's tricky learning to accept the cancer experience at every level and it's impact. It's part of me now and it's life's experiences, good and bad, which collectively make up who you are ultimately. I'm just going to try my best to make a positive difference.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your diagnosis & treatment what would it be?
My advice to myself in my pre cancer life, would be, not to have worried about the little things in life quite as much and to keep the bigger picture in mind more so.