Just as she was returning to work after a parenting break, Jane received devastating news, but life had to go on with two young children to look after. Nine years later Jane's diagnosis is now a distant memory and she is determined to help spread the BooBee message.
"Hi everyone, I’m Jane, aged 52 and 3/4. Why3/4? ……..because every day counts when you have been faced with such a life changing challenge as breast cancer.
I am married to Mike and with two teenage sons. My story begins in July 2010. 2010 had been a busy year for me. My youngest had started in Reception the previous Autumn and, after taking 5 years off with him, I was ready to return to the workplace ideally looking for something that fitted in with school hours. As such, I had retrained as a teaching assistant, attending college on a part-time basis and had secured my first job working in a primary school that Spring. I was 43, a non-smoker and feeling relatively fit and healthy having just taken part in my first 5K Race for Life with my friends when I noticed a lump in my right breast. I wasn’t unduly worried as both my mum and my eldest sister had had benign lumps over the years and there was no history of breast cancer in our family. However, I decided to book an appointment at the doctors just to be on the safe side. I was referred to Macclesfield District General Hospital and had my first mammogram, followed by an ultrasound scan. It was during this examination that I mentioned that I sometimes felt a dull ache in my armpit. The radiographer decided to take biopsies from my lymph nodes. I remember the radiographer’s comment “I don’t like the look of this.” The next two weeks passed slowly as I waited for my results but with two small boys breaking up for the summer holidays, I didn’t really have time to think about it too much. I returned to the clinic with my husband on Friday 6 August for the results of the mammogram and biopsies expecting to be told it was harmless. I knew something was up when I entered the consulting room; there seemed to be quite a few people in there already; the consultant, his colleague and a breast care nurse. Gently, they told me that I had breast cancer and that it had spread to my lymph nodes. I was devastated. My first thoughts were who would look after my boys. They informed me that I would need a mastectomy with axillary clearance, followed by chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy. The following Tuesday we were due to fly out to Portugal; our first foreign holiday as a family. My consultant urged us to go; my surgery wouldn’t take place until the end of August and the alternative was cancelling it to sit at home twiddling our thumbs, besides which the boys were so looking forward to it. We went, determined to have an amazing holiday making lots of memories. During the holiday, we told the boys in a matter of fact way with the help of a fantastic story book called “Mummy found a lump”. Two days after we returned I had my surgery. I was determined to be back on my feet to take the boys to school on their first day back after the holidays so that gave me a goal and stopped me wallowing in my bed feeling sorry for myself. I knew the boys were taking it in their stride when my eldest, aged 8, went up to one of the Dads we knew slightly and declared “Guess what? My mum’s only got one boob.” His face was a picture.
The next few weeks were a bit of a blur, possibly down to the Tramodol I was taking! But there were definitely emotional highs and lows too. At my first follow up appointment, they told me that the tests on the lump couldn’t determine if it was the primary tumour so I was sent to Stepping Hospital for a bone scan which involved being injected with a special something, going off shopping in Stockport with my lovely friend Jane for a couple of hours, then returning for the scan. The results of that scan came back as negative so I was sent for a CT scan at Macclesfield to try to find the offending primary tumour. Again, it was negative although something did show up on my liver so off I went to Manchester for an MRI scan. This turned out to be a haemangioma (harmless) and with further tests done on the lump, it was decided that it was in fact the primary tumour (a Grade 2 with multiple invasive foci and 14 out of 24 lymph nodes involved, HER2 2+ (FISH amplified) according to my medical notes) so I commenced chemotherapy at the end of September. I had a total of 6 cycles of FEC-T chemo, with a 3 week gap between each dose. I wanted to keep my hair if possible so that I wouldn’t scare the boys so decided to try the cold cap. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted! It worked to some extent; but after my third round of chemo, my hair started to fall out in the shower. This to me was worse than losing a breast. I was inconsolable as I’d always had longish or shoulder length hair. I took my feelings out on my poor husband and slammed the door in my long-suffering friend’s face when she came to sympathise with me. Luckily she’s still my friend. Chemotherapy has its plus sides though, you don’t need to shave your legs for a while! As it was Autumn/Winter, I managed to hide my thinning locks under a variety of hats. I really didn’t fancy wearing a wig. It’s times like these that family and friends are worth their weight in gold. They all rallied round with their love and support, doing the school run and preparing meals for us so I wouldn’t have to cook. One of the side effects of chemo for me was a heightened sense of smell, so strong-smelling food that wouldn’t have bothered me before, now made me feel queasy. It also dulled my tastebuds so I craved curry and other types of spicy food as I couldn’t taste normal food. At the end of January, I had my last chemo, a real cause for celebration and a month later, I was off to The Christie on a daily basis for 15 rounds of radiotherapy. That was a doddle compared to the chemo although by the end of the three weeks, I was beginning to feel tired and was developing a large, red triangle on my chest which felt like sunburn.
By the end of March, with the radiotherapy completed, my hair was beginning to thicken up again and on my husband’s birthday, I treated myself to a new short haircut and colour and a celebratory meal out. I was offered the chance to take part in the Persephone study which was to compare the effectiveness of Herceptin given over 12 months versus 6 months. To my annoyance, I was randomly selected to receive 12 months; I was secretly hoping for 6 months so that I would finish my treatment earlier. On the plus side, at least I’d be getting more of the drug so maybe that would help me stay cancer free? Over the next 12 months, I had 18 cycles of intravenous Herceptin given every three weeks at Macclesfield Hospital. That treatment finished in the Spring of 2012 and I’ve had no medication or treatment since, other than regular mammograms and check-ups. In June 2012 my fantastic friends and I took part in the Race for Life once again and I was very emotional when we crossed the finishing line.
I consider myself very lucky to have received amazing treatment and care from all the health professionals involved in my case and I couldn’t have got through those couple of years without the wonderful, unwaivering support of my family, friends and colleagues. It now seems like a distant memory. However, it certainly made me take stock of my life and I appreciate even more now those precious relationships. As far as my two sons are concerned, they can’t really remember much about it apart from we went on more holidays and had homemade sausage rolls left on the doorstep, still warm from the oven. And that’s exactly how I wanted it to be.
I’m really pleased to have been asked to take part in the Boobee campaign and if I can give something back by helping to raise awareness amongst the women and men of Greater Manchester then I will really feel I’ve achieved something positive out of my experience.
Love to you all and don’t forget to check!"