I’ve always been quite diligent in knowing what was ‘normal’ for my body, and when something wasn’t, I went to see my doctor.
One day I noticed my right nipple was slightly turned downwards and knew something wasn’t right. Given we were in the middle of a global pandemic, appointments with the doctor were over the phone, but my doctor called back the same day and after I explained the issue, she asked me to come to the surgery for an examination.
At this point I had a feeling I knew exactly what it was.
She confirmed that there was a lump behind the nipple and referred me to a clinic for breast care. Once there, I had a consultation, mammogram, and ultrasound scan, and had several biopsies taken. Having to attend the appointment on my own due to COVID-19 restrictions, wasn’t easy. After my biopsies I saw the consultant again who confirmed that the lump was quite sinister; they were pretty sure it was breast cancer. Never have I felt so mortal, my first thought was that I could die.
However, after that my level-headed thinking returned and I realised nothing was confirmed, we didn’t know the extent so best to wait and see next week. I did get upset at the appointment, not so much because of the diagnosis, but because I had to deliver this news to my loved ones, and it was going to upset them. I’m usually the one to look after others, not the other way around.
The next steps
The following week, they confirmed it was breast cancer.
They said it was stage one and that it had spread to one lymph node. They were sure that it was oestrogen receptive, which is the better one to get as it’s a slow grower. I was scheduled in for surgery.
The consultant said that due to the shape of my breast, a lumpectomy wouldn’t work as it would leave me with more scarring and not a very nice shaped breast afterwards, so we opted for the mastectomy. At the time I said I wanted reconstruction during the operation, but again the following week things changed and, due to COVID-19, they weren’t allowed to do any reconstructive surgery, so a mastectomy it was.
My husband and I had to shield for two weeks before and two weeks after surgery, then on 16 July I had my mastectomy.
At this point the whole thing still felt very surreal, but although we couldn’t see anyone, we had a fantastic support network of family and friends who we spoke to on Zoom almost daily which kept the situation and life very normal for us.
After a few weeks of healing (which went very smoothly and with relatively low pain) and several trips to the hospital, I spoke to my consultant again regarding next steps. She said I didn’t need chemotherapy unless I wanted to have it, so I had radiation treatment at the end of September once the breast area had healed more.
The last day of my radiation treatment was also my 43rd birthday so it will be a double celebration every year now after ringing that bell.
Life after surgery
I still have ongoing treatment of Zoladex injections monthly for two years to put me into menopause and stop oestrogen production, and Tamoxifen tablets for 10 years to block any oestrogen.
These measures are taken to hopefully prevent the cancer from coming back, but I am also opting to have my remaining breast removed instead of any reconstruction.
The way I have tackled this whole situation is with a very positive and pragmatic outlook. Worrying and getting upset wouldn’t have changed anything I had to deal with or go through so I just got on with things and kept life as normal as we could which really helped.
We still laughed and joked about things and having the breast removed hasn’t changed me as a person or made me feel like any less of a woman than I was before.
In the future when I have no breasts, I can have prosthetics to use if I want to, but just think how much money I’ll save not buying bras!
If my story can tell you only one thing, it’s to get checked early if you feel anything is not ‘normal’ anywhere in your body. Early diagnosis is key to better chances of less invasive treatments and a positive outcome. I was lucky to find it early, and I’m still here to tell the tale. Don’t leave things to chance or leave it too late, don’t have a different outcome to what could be your story one day.