I turned 50 earlier this year and have had the usual comments about age! I regard myself as one of the lucky ones to be here, 10 years after my diagnosis.
Cancer has always been part of my family life. My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 49, when I was just 24. She battled bilateral breast cancer 4 times over 12 years and then secondary breast cancer. She died when I was 36. My mums only sister was also later diagnosed with breast cancer and she sadly died earlier this year of another cause. My dad died in 2015 of pancreatic cancer, his only brother died in 2014 of leukaemia. We were a family of 5, my brother died in 2013, at the age of 39, of a heart attack. So, this leaves just my sister, who is 2 years old than me and myself and our families.
At the age of 39, just 3 years after my mum died, I requested and was refused a mammogram both by my GP but also privately. I was therefore shocked when, at the age of 40, I was diagnosed with aggressive grade III breast cancer that had spread into the lymph nodes. I had a mastectomy with deferred reconstruction, chemo and radiotherapy. When I eventually had the reconstruction there was a problem with the implant which had to be removed, oh no! lob-sided again, and after a recovery period was replaced. The hardest thing was finding the courage to tell my dad and my sister and having a 3-year-old daughter who I never thought I would see grow up.
I am now aware that I should have insisted on having that mammogram as I qualified for screening, as my mum had suffered with bilateral breast cancer and was young at diagnosis, but I didn’t know this at the time. That’s why its important to spread awareness and empower women with this kind of vital information.
Things I remember vividly 10 years on. The cleaner when I was waiting for my operation saying it would only be a year out of my life. “A year? Hope not – cannot possibly take a year off work – thought it would be a few months”. It did end up being a year of treatment and do you know – work wasn’t that important after all.
The thought of losing a breast, and not having an immediate reconstruction, was a scary thought but do you know it wasn’t too bad. The ice-cap is like torture – the conditioner they used – I cannot tolerate the smell now. Given the choice again – I wouldn’t bother – I lost my long hair anyway. Perhaps it works better with shorter hair. I am glad that I worked through my treatment as much as I could. I had hair one day gone the next but I was still at work. It kept my mind focused on something else rather than dwelling on the “what ifs”. My body told me when it was time to take a break.
My situation, and the loss of family, has focused my mind on what and who are truly important in my life and allows me to really live for today and cherish all those amazing moments with family and friends. I have spent 10 years creating beautiful memories which my favourite people. I think, in some ways, my life has been enriched by my circumstances.