I thought I would write down my experience with breast cancer because when I was first diagnosed at 41 I used to spend hours on the computer trying to find other people with similar situations as myself and I wanted to see what their story was and how they coped with it all.
So I’m hoping, in some small way, you might feel better after reading this or have someone in your life who you are supporting and this will make you feel more confident about what is going to happen with them
DISCLAIMER: This is very important, I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR AND I HAVE NO MEDICAL TRAINING, please refer to a professional medical consultant for medical advice. This is merely my experience of cancer and my own choices and does not attempt to influence you in any way when it comes to your own decisions.
My Breast Cancer Stats
- 41 years old at diagnosis
- Stage IIA
- Node Negative
- 2.4 cm tumor
- ER + (A LOT!) and PR + (but then was – on the oncotype analysis)
- Grade 2
- Oncotype Score 26
Worrying About Getting Cancer
Let’s go back a bit. True confession, I had always worried I would get cancer.
Which I know sounds a little strange but this is what I used to worry about.
We had immigrated to the US when my kids were quite young and my main concern would be that I would not be able to take care of my children because my husband worked long hours. I also worried endlessly about the costs.
However, I used to remind myself that I had breast fed my children for 3 years in total, I had no history of breast cancer and my Dr had once remarked that I would never get it.
Well that turned out to be very much NOT TRUE!!!!
Finding My Lump
One day I was in the bath and my hand brushed against a “lump” that felt hard, but smooth. My heart sank and I instantly “knew” it wasn’t good. My immediate
As if somehow being right was a good thing, cue eye roll.
I made an appointment to go to the Dr, but to be honest, it was not straight away. I think I was hoping that it might just go away, like a cyst.
Which in hindsight, was wrong. I should have gone and gotten it checked out straightaway. When I got back it was still there and so I went and had a mammogram.
I had a big “X” marks the spot on my breast and yet, still, they only called me back 48 hours later, to the point that I was like, oh well, this is clearly not an emergency. My thought (and it is merely my thought process) is that it was actually difficult to find because I had very dense breasts.
The Nurse from the
That is truly the hardest part, when you know in your heart you have cancer and you don’t know the severity of it. I was such a mess, I could not think straight but I didn’t want to alarm my kids who were 9 and 7 at the time.
So I tried my hardest to be brave and focus on just getting through every day. I used to sit in my closet and cry!
And that’s when I used to google and google ALL the stats and all the stories, desperate to find out something about what I would be experiencing.
So that’s why, 6 years on I have written a summary of what went on and show a pic of my scar (because that was the one thing I wanted to see when I was googling!)
A punch needle biopsy confirmed it all. It was cancer.
And this is where you have to trust whatever it is you do, your own intuition, your
Now, one of the things during this whole
Which is so “woo-woo” right?!
However, I believe we choose to see “signs” and I want to encourage you to look out for them too. I wrote an article about “Looking for the Beauty in Life” which explains this a little more.
I was given a list of Drs to call. I could not get through to the first Dr but managed to connect with the next Surgeon on the list.
She was my saving grace. She not only managed to be quite blase about it all (you’ll be fine she kept on telling me) but she also told me which Oncologist to see and she turned out to be the most wonderful person.
She lived in my neighborhood, her kids were at the same school
Sign No.1 was getting the right people in my life.
Tip: Embrace all the amazing medical professionals around you, feel blessed by their knowledge and commitment to saving your life.
I picked up my Bible, closed my eyes and prayed for a verse that would help me. I can’t remember which one it was exactly but it was about God being there as you went up the mountain and
Tip: Find your peace, search for it and when you find it, hold fast to it.
The other thing, and this is very difficult to write and will probably be difficult to read, is that I became very calm about my children. It suddenly occurred to me that possibly my greatest gift in life was to be able to give birth to them.
That they would make their way in the world and I was being selfish by thinking that I was the only person that would influence them or encourage them, or even love them.
Does that make sense? The fact that I could give them life was my role and that I didn’t necessarily have to feel guilty or even angry that I might not be able to see it through.
Tip: Let go of your guilt, it isn’t your fault that you have cancer, you are not letting anyone down.
I called my sister-in-law to tell her that I had been diagnosed and she said “I know”! What??!! She had had a dream the night before about feeling a lump and having it removed, intact, like a pea.
That’s what I wanted to hear, just like a pea, removed intact.
I literally visualized that before I went into surgery.
Tip: Visualize yourself with no cancer, either through surgery or through treatment.
The final sign, my dearest friend who I had grown up with in South Africa, was diagnosed a month before me and she spent time Skyping with me going over what it all felt like, what to expect and so many useful tips.
She even showed me her head without hair and so I felt so prepared and she looked healthy and well and again, I visualized myself looking like her.
Tip: Know that there are SO, SO many of us in the same situation, you are not alone in any shape or form. You are going to be amazed at how many people have been on the same journey as you.
Again, please note, these are my personal treatment options and they are not to be perceved as medical advice
My surgeon started to discuss options
One of the things the surgeon suggested was to have a more detailed look at my breasts, via a mammogram with radiation to see if it was in both breasts.
If it was and also if I was a carrier of the BRACA gene then I would opt for a mastectomy
When I went to have the mammogram the lady doing it said, ‘I am a
The thing is, whatever your “scar” looks like, whatever procedure you end up doing, it’s all really, really
Scars are merely road maps to life. We should share them like badges of honor.
Please ignore my old lady hands, sigh……
I also opted for an Oncotype test and my results came back as a 26 which was quite high and it was suggested I had chemo as an “insurance” policy.
I was totally fine with that and had a port inserted. It’s super easy, quick day surgery and then they don’t have to try and find your veins, it’s nice for drawing blood too.
Since I was BRACA Neg and there was no other evidence of cancer in my other breast I went in and had surgery on the 1st March and my surgeon came in and said she had “got it all” which was all I needed to hear in that moment.
And I hung on to that, so
I also had a Sentinel Node biopsy and she ended up taking out 4 nodes as they were matted together.
So in my head, and it is still in my head every day, is that it is gone and was gone on that day.
I went home in the afternoon.
Yes, I did actually just embrace the fact that I had to have chemo. I guess it was
The first chemo session is so
I did have a reaction to one of the drugs, which is not the greatest feeling, but they just dripped it in slower and I was fine. You watch movies or sleep, it’s kind of relaxing (bearing in mind I had little kids so this was like enforced relaxation time!)
I was working part time, so I did feel in the last two rounds (I had four in total) that it took me longer to recover from them. I would take a week off and then work for two weeks.
The worst part is your tastebuds change so much. I developed a craving for beer which I have always hated! Nothing really tastes that good, popsicles are useful to have around.
It happens, shave it off, get a wig and it will start to grow back before the end of your last chemo. I thought it would be the worst thing in the world, IT WAS NOT AT ALL!
I had a wig called “Barbara”, my kids named it. I didn’t actually wear it that often, I preferred scarves and buffs (which are amazing).
One of the beautiful things that came out of wearing a headscarf was having other women come up to me ALL THE TIME and say, “oh that was me 10 years ago” etc. There were so many lovely stories.
There was also someone that said “do you wear head coverings because you can’t be bothered to do your hair”. Oh it was so hilarious when I said “No, I’m having treatment for cancer”, her face, priceless!
ACCEPT ALL THE HELP
People will ask you how they can help.
It is such a difficult question to answer because you don’t always know what help you will need.
But accept it all, it’s truly such a gift and it will make other people feel so good about themselves too.
I accepted meal trains (best thing ever!). I had help with my kids, they loved all the extra attention, I appreciated every kind word and note.
Even though I’ve just said “accept all the help”, one of the hardest decisions I made was to send my parents home before my chemo started. They had come out to stay for a few weeks whilst I prepared.
The main reason I did that was that I didn’t want to look “sick” in front of the
It was so tough because my Mom is the most amazing “Nurse” but I’m glad I did that because I made myself get up every morning and see them off to school and made sure I was up in the afternoon to see them too.
However, that was my decision and if you need extra help, take it all!!
You’ve Got This!
You’ve got this. I am 6 years out. My Aunt is 30 years out, my cousin is 20+ years out, my friend is 6 years out, Kylie Minogue is at least 10 years out. (I used to google lists of long term survivors)
I can’t say the worry gets any less but then I worried so much BEFORE I got cancer that it really doesn’t make any difference in my life.
The best thing
I’m still a pretty anxious person but that is just who I am, but I certainly don’t tolerate people and situations that I don’t feel like are enhancing my life.
I honestly see this as a “blip” in my life. Was it great, nope, not particularly. Was it the worst thing ever, no.
It was a “tunnel moment” when you are in the dark for while and then you emerge.
Into the light, into the future, armed with power, and fortitude and a blazingly strong spirit.
I hope in some small way, this might make you feel better if you are going through this, or if you are supporting someone else you have a better idea of what to expect.
Please contact me if you have any questions (non-medical related) and I will be happy to answer them if I can.