"Note to Self: Being a staff nurse at The Christie does not make one immune to cancer.”
June 24th 2014, a day I will never forget.
I certainly did not take in everything that my consultant and the nurse specialist was saying at my appointment. In fact, it all became a blur, all I could think was, how could I have cancer? I was a cancer nurse! Surely this doesn’t happen to cancer nurses !!
Well it does, cancer doesn’t seem to pick and choose I learnt that on June 24th 2014.
Over the next 2 weeks I attended numerous appointments for scans and tests.
One thing I knew for sure was my consultant, Maria Bramley was with me all the way. From the very beginning she has been honest and straightforward about my diagnosis of breast cancer and treatment choices. Like me, she has a wicked sense of humour. I know from working at Christies that a sense of humour is essential to get through difficult times.
After my initial shock and upset at the diagnosis, Pippa my partner and I decided to treat the whole thing as an ‘inconvenience’; just something else to get through. We had done it before when she was treated for mouth cancer; surely we could do it again. We decided not to tell our young foster children the whole story as we didn’t want to scare them.
I also had a big decision to make regarding the surgery. As my consultant explained, I could have a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tumour or a more radical bi-lateral breast reduction. This would remove multiple cysts and minimise them in the future as well as removing the tumour. I took the latter option and the date for surgery was set, August 6th 2014.
During this difficult time the love and support from my family and friends was second to none,
I was made to realise how very loved and cared for I was. This felt strange as I’m usually the one giving the care and support in my role as a Staff Nurse. Now the boot was on the other foot! My ward manager from Ward 4 at The Christie and the rest of the team were so supportive and contacted me regularly.
The day before surgery Miss Bramley asked me to lift up my very considerable breasts and look down. Wondering why, I did as she asked me and she then explained, “Just so you know, the surgery will not make your tummy swell up. It will stay the same size…it’s just that you will be able to see it!” She then got her sharpie marker out and drew what I can only describe as a sewing pattern across my chest…although the only stiches I was going to have were surgical, not made with thread.
The next day, I arrived at North Manchester General Hospital for my surgery. I managed to hold it together until the walk down to theatre when the enormity of the situation really struck me. I really appreciated Miss Bramley coming through from theatre to reassure me before I had my anaesthetic. She put her arm round my shoulders and said, “We’re in this together…don’t worry you’ll be fine!” Six hours later I was back on the ward with 2 drains in situ, relieved I was still alive and dying for a cup of tea!
I was able to go home early the next day with the support of district nurses and the Macmillan nurses from the clinic.
I discovered that I needed to be patient and discovered first hand that the healing process cannot be rushed and over the next 2 weeks, as my wounds healed, I grew more apprehensive about what the results would show. I had said from the beginning that I dreaded the thought of having chemotherapy.
Fortunately, the results showed that the tumour had been removed and the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. This meant that I would only need 15 sessions of radiotherapy at The Christie at Oldham, not chemotherapy. That was a big relief!
So, 6 weeks after surgery, with my wounds healing nicely, I attended for my first session of radiotherapy.
The purpose-built Christie at Oldham was an ideal location for me and meant I didn’t have to travel to the main site at Withington.
From Day 1, the staff were wonderful and made the whole experience more bearable. For example, as someone who suffers from claustrophobia, I was concerned that I would feel closed in by the radiotherapy machines. During my initial consultation the staff reassured me that this was not the case and I felt confident that I was in good hands.
I completed my final radiotherapy session on Thursday 16th October. It was a strange feeling - on the one hand I was glad to have finished my treatment - but on the other hand after 4 months of full on appointments and surgery my ‘fight’ against cancer was over. The thing that had dominated my life for so long was no longer there.
I am very proud to be a Christie nurse. I have nursed patients and supported their families through a range of cancers. But, when the boot is on the other foot, it’s a whole new ball game! And, I’m so glad that my colleagues were able to support me.
Just recently, I have been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. I understand that it’s now incurable and that I won't be able to return to my job at the Christie Hospital, but I do take comfort in the knowledge that I have helped many families and their relatives through difficult times. I have sat and held patient’s hands when things have got tough and being there for them and their families at these times gives me the satisfaction that I made that little bit if difference to their lives.
It’s really quite ironic that now I'm now the patient at Christie hospital. Christies is definitely one of the best hospitals for cancer treatment in the world, so in a way I am fortunate to be there.
Being a patient at the Christie is like being a member of an exclusive club, but a club no one ever wants to join.
I am now ready for the next chapter in my fight with breast cancer and being part of the BooBee campaign is important to me so that I can encourage other women to take control of their breast health and hopefully reduce the number of women being diagnosed now and in the future."
To keep up to date with Helen’s journey follow her blog on : https://www.facebook.com/This-TIME-its-personal-my-journey-through-secondary-breast-cancer-392933541313327/"