My Breast Cancer Story
My story begins in June 2008.
Whilst having a shower, I noticed some dimpling around my left breast and, upon further investigation, a very small lump deep within the breast.
But that was ok because I was only 38, I was fit and had a healthy lifestyle, so it wasn’t really anything to worry about, was it? Probably just a cyst or something. The GP felt the same too, but luckily referred me to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital just in case.
Two weeks later, I attended my appointment still convinced that it would be nothing to worry about. An ultrasound was initially done followed by a biopsy. An hour later, I was called in to see the Consultant and my world changed forever. I was told that I had a highly aggressive form of breast cancer and would need equally aggressive treatment to combat it.
My initial thought was “But I can’t leave my kids; they’re too young”. My boys were then just 5 and 2. I had always taken it for granted that I would see them grow up to be men and suddenly, that might not be the reality.
When I got home, I had the hardest job of telling my husband and parents the news – particularly as my Dad himself was fighting prostate cancer at the time (sadly his story does not have the same happy ending as mine). Their worlds fell apart too.
Three weeks later, I began chemo to shrink the tumour enough to have surgery. Apart from the chemicals making my arm become stone cold, the first session went ok – until I got home. By then, the anti-sickness drugs had worn off and it was all I could do to run to the bathroom in time. For the next week, I never dared to be far away from the toilet. I remember one day when my husband came down ready for work, he had put on some aftershave and just the smell of that was enough to send me running to be sick. By the second week, the steroids had kicked in and all I wanted to do was eat – and eat – and eat! By week three, I was just starting to feel human again, but it was time for my next cycle of chemo so the whole thing was repeated.
Around the fifth week of treatment, my hair began to fall out. Not a little bit, but huge great clumps of the stuff! There was nothing for it; I shaved off what was left. When I walked downstairs, my husband burst into tears. It was one of the few times that I have ever seen him cry.
Throughout this time, my amazing friends and family rallied in support, bringing home cooked food for the days I was too weak to prepare anything, looking after my boys and taking them for days out, so I could have some respite and their days were more normal.
Finally, in early December, the slog of chemo was finished, and surgery loomed. I needed a mastectomy, but in my mind that still left the risk of cancer occurring in the right breast, so I decided on a bilateral mastectomy. After all, I was never going to look ‘normal’ so why be precious about my remaining breast? During surgery, I lost a lot of blood and spent the next week in hospital. During the mastectomy, I had some lymph nodes removed from my armpits to see if the cancer had spread to them – and potentially elsewhere in my body. Thankfully, they came back clear.
Once the wounds had healed, it was time for radiotherapy. Every evening for three weeks, I would drive to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for my radiotherapy sessions. I received my only tattoo in the process, so that the radiographer could repeat the treatment in the exact spot every time. Unexcitingly, it is simply a black dot.
At the end of March 2009, I was given the all clear. Time for celebration yes, but also the start of recovery. After all the treatment, my body was a wreck and I still had further surgery ahead – bilateral breast reconstruction. Unfortunately, one of the reconstructions became infected, so it took several months of treatment for the wounds to heal. Finally, in July 2010, all treatment and surgery was behind me – or so I thought. Now, in 2020, I am still on daily medication, I have several other medical issues as a result of the chemo, and I have had further reconstructive surgery after one of the implants failed. I will need further surgery in the future, but hopefully my healthy lifestyle will delay the necessity for this.
Each year, I grow stronger. Last year, after several failed attempts, I started running again and after 9 months I achieved my target of 5km. I am currently working towards 10km. For a long time, I didn’t tell people that I’d had cancer as I couldn’t cope with their sympathy. Now, I am emotionally strong enough to talk about it. Yes, I had cancer; yes, I have to make adjustments to my everyday, and yes, I live with the knowledge that it may reoccur at any time, but cancer no longer rules my life. I rule my life and most importantly, I am once again looking forward to seeing my boys grow into men.
Article By Debbie Bluck