When were you diagnosed and what with?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer, DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), in my right breast in late May, early June 2016. The diagnosis sort of happened twice, once with the doctor at my mammogram call back and again, two weeks later, when the breast care nurse confirmed it.
How did you find out you had cancer?
I turned 47 this year and breast cancer screening has been extended in England to offer mammograms to women between the ages of 47 and 73. I went because the mobile screening unit was in the village car park and I was walking past it every day taking my kids to and from school. I received a call back to the clinic in Exeter within a week and having looked at my X-rays, the doctor told me to be prepared that it might be cancer. I waited two weeks for confirmation.
What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?
After the ‘first’ diagnosis, I was bereft. I wrote myself off. I was inconsolable and lost days to fear and distress. The very idea of cancer was so alien to me. My body has always been reliable and strong. In the moment of being told, literally everything stood still for me but I could still feel the world continuing on. I found this really hard. Everything had changed but nothing had changed.
How did the people around you react?
I told my husband over the phone. He told me to go home and that he would be there. I cried, he held me and has kept on doing so throughout. My children are 5 and 6, so they don’t really understand. My mum was clearly devastated but has been amazing. My friends have proven to be unendingly supportive, distracting and uplifting. My work have backed off completely but I am guessing there will be some awkwardness when I go back in about 4 weeks.
What treatment did you have?
I had a WLE (wide local excision) in June, an Oncotype DX (to see if chemotherapy would be of benefit, I was low-intermediate so opted not to). I take Anastrozole (hormone therapy) every day and am about halfway through radiation therapy to my breast, armpit and collarbone.
How did you feel through treatment?
I was calm before and after surgery. I had a lump removed from my other breast in 2009, so sort of knew the drill. The hormone therapy is hard as I am having a second menopause. My ‘natural’ menopause started at 44, so I was pretty much through it when diagnosed - sod’s law! The radiation treatment is tiring, especially as I live so far from hospital. Luckily the staff at the Royal Devon & Exeter Oncology Centre are lovely, so being there is not a chore! My emotions have been wildly up and down but my GP has been supportive and I am having some much appreciated counselling through our local cancer charity, Force.
What happened after treatment finished?
Now that I can’t answer. I plan to go back to the Force Cancer Centre for acupuncture to treat my appalling hot flashes and to have further counselling to help me develop some strategies to move on. I suspect I will feel a bit deflated and isolated.
How did you get involved with Shine?
At 47 I felt too old to access support as a ‘young’ woman but too ‘young’ to fit in with most patients that I met. I contacted Breast Cancer Now who suggested Shine. As I live on Dartmoor it is much easier to join an online community than to try and travel to support groups.
What difference has Shine made to you?
Finally, a place to act my ‘age’ and ask questions, share stories and smile at people’s comments.
How do you feel now about your experiences? What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?
I feel lucky to have been offered screening at 47. The treatment I have received at the RD&E has been humbling - such dedicated and considerate staff. By far the biggest change for me has been the experience of being vulnerable. I hated asking for help and have been fiercely independent most of my life. Before cancer I would do everything for myself. I’m still not brilliant at it but having read Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” I am inspired to try asking more. In my experience most people really do want to help.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?
Don’t waste your time worrying. What will be, will be. And do more yoga!