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For this blog, editor Helena spoke to her mum about her breast cancer diagnosis:
Working for Macmillan Cancer Support, we often get reminded of the reasons we’re here, and who we are trying to help. For me, like many others, these are personal. My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. She has been in complete remission for 6 years. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she agreed to share her story and do this blog with me. I’m very proud of her and she hopes her story will help reassure others.
Please can you start by telling me what first made you go to your GP?
I found a lump. It was near the armpit, towards the side of the breast. I wasn’t looking for it, just moisturising my body. Straight away, I thought about breast cancer. I decided to go to my GP the next morning. I was quite scared and emotional. I told my best friend and I remember getting upset.
Did you have any specific worries when you first thought it might be cancer?
I was worried to tell people. And I was worried about what would happen next. It was just the unknown really. You feel like, if it is cancer, everything will change.
What happened leading up to the diagnosis?
Very quickly after my GP examined me, I went for a mammogram at the hospital. I had been for a mammogram before, so I wasn’t too worried. But afterwards, the doctor wanted to do a biopsy there and then. I felt numb at this point, but just followed the process.
Afterwards, I asked the doctor whether they thought it was cancer. There was no definite answer yet. I just had to wait. My mum and dad came with me to the appointment, but I decided to wait before telling you and your brother. From having the biopsy to finding out the results was probably the worst time. I felt I was hiding something big from everyone around me and I was stuck not knowing.
How did you find out the diagnosis?
My cancer doctor told me the biopsy results. She said something like, 'I’m afraid it is cancerous, but we can do this, this and this'. She drew the lump on a piece of paper, to show me where it was and how big. She said they were going to remove it with surgery and then I had to decide whether to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I wasn’t very emotional about it. It was almost a relief, because I became focused on how to deal with it. I asked lots of questions. The diagnosis was grade 3 triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.
How did you cope emotionally after the diagnosis?
My family were very strong. The only time I cried properly was when I saw my mum get upset one day, and it all hit me. I was really worried about how other people were taking the news. Myself, I felt ready for whatever was coming. There were times when I stopped and thought, ‘Is this really happening?’ Then I got back to trying to be positive and move forwards.
So your treatment started with surgery. And you had a wide local excision and sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and then adjuvant radiotherapy?
Yes. I understood exactly what was happening with the surgery. They thought a mastectomy probably wasn’t necessary. My main concern was whether the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. I was lucky, because the surgery was successful and the lymph nodes were clear. But I still had to choose between follow-up chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I looked at the information and statistics with my cancer doctor, and spoke to my family.
And you chose radiotherapy. How did you find having radiotherapy?
It made me quite tired, especially going to and from the hospital. But I don’t think I had many side effects.
How did you feel about your body after treatment?
I had a big scar that was quite lumpy, and I knew my breast looked different. I was just grateful the surgery was a success. I thought maybe I will need to get something to put into my bra to help balance my breasts. The scarring improved over time. I did my exercises exactly as my team instructed. That was important to me and meant that any stiffness gradually improved.
What happened when you were told you were in remission?
After a bit of time, I had some more tests and scans. Then I saw my cancer doctor again. Tests showed that the cancer had completely gone, and I was in remission. Basically, she told me to go and live my life. There was follow-up care to monitor me and help me recover. I was told I would have annual mammograms. But at the time, I was just so happy. I thought to myself, ‘I need to appreciate this – I’ve been given another chance’.
I know everyone’s journey is different, but what really helped you to get through?
I think it helps to stay as positive as you can and get as much support as possible. Also listening to my team carefully and asking questions when I needed to.
Did you get any support from Macmillan throughout your journey?
Yes, I found their support most helpful afterwards when I had questions and worries.
The hospital also gave me a number. I called it a few times after I went into remission, if I was worried about anything. Once I called and they told me to come in to see them hours later. It was so helpful. I’d advise people to do this whenever they need information or reassurance.
We have more information about breast cancer and signs to look out for. You can also contact our Macmillan support line if you are looking for help or support. Call 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. The Online Community also has a group for people diagnosed with breast cancer, where you can read and share stories.
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