“It was a surreal experience” - Lesley’s story

A picture of Lesley, she has shoulder-length blonde hair, and she's smiling and wearing a cream sun hat.

After her breast cancer diagnosis six months ago, there was a lot Lesley wasn’t expecting about her own experiences of cancer treatment and recovery. She also wasn’t expecting how much strength she would find in herself, and unexpected places. Lesley talks about her experience with diagnosis, cancer care, breast cancer surgery, radiotherapy, follow-up and recovery in today’s guest blog.

Six months ago, I was told the news I had breast cancer... the wind physically left my lungs. I was alone when I got the news. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I thought it was yet another benign pesky cyst and it was a minor irritation and two - it was in the middle of a pandemic. The lovely consultant took my hand, looked me in my eyes and said, “I’ll make sure you’re ok.” I could’ve hugged him, but I didn’t believe him.

“The lovely consultant took my hand, looked me in my eyes and said ‘I’ll make sure you’re ok.’"

Driving home knowing I was about to ruin my husband’s lovely Saturday morning was odd. My best friend rang me as I was driving home to see how I got on. She took the news on board and covered her own feelings up well. We chatted and she made me feel anything is possible as she’d battled eye cancer and won two years before.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind... biopsies, more appointments, Zoom calls with the oncologist and my surgeon and the dreaded blue dye injected through the nipple too many times. God, they love that blue dye at the breast clinic.

The day of my operation dawned and I had switched my phone off the night before with no intention of turning it on, as I knew how many good wishes I’d get and how just one could make me lose my nerve and just run away.

“I dug deeper and looked at photos of my two beautiful granddaughters - their smiles kept me going.”

Being the last one going down to theatre was tough, seeing everyone go down and come back. I dug deeper and looked at photos of my two beautiful granddaughters - their smiles kept me going. Finally it was my time, and boy did I have a major wobble outside the theatre, refusing to go in and telling them it wasn’t a necessary operation. I think I may have said ‘and you can get your bloody hands off me, I’ll walk in when I’m good and ready.’ I won’t dwell on that too much, as it was not one of my finer moments.

Post-operative things muddled along... I learned they took away three tumours and four lymph nodes. This was worse than they’d first told me but necessary. I was surprised that I got over the op so well - my determination to survive superseded anything at this point.

After four weeks off work, I went back. My thoughts were that cancer has taken so much, it’s not taking my normality as well. Work however were not keen on me returning so quickly, but I’m a force to be reckoned with when I want something. So return after four weeks I did.

Diagnosis done, operation done, now just the radiotherapy to box off. In true Lesley style, I totally underestimated that process. You read the pamphlets, you get the info but it was tough. You learn so much until your head is burning with information. But you accept the treatment because the experts say if you want the best crack at life, take it, and take it I did after much soul searching.

Lesley and her husband, they are smiling and there is a forest in the background.Every day turning up to go through it was a surreal experience… so clinical, so needed but so impersonal. You lie on a piece of steel where they twist you in the most uncomfortable positions and then must lie still. Everyone leaves the room as the radiotherapy rays are dangerous. I’ll just let that sink in a moment. Yep, what’s dangerous to one person is giving me my life. Still can’t figure that one out.

Then you finish the treatment and ring that bell, and that was me on a high and feeling like I could conquer the world. Little did I know it wouldn’t be a case of leaving the cancer unit and not going back for a year as I assumed. The appointments kept coming - bone density scans, brain scans, CT scans... the list goes on.

It’s like you can’t put the whole sorry tale behind you and try to forget as there’s still so much to remind you… Lesley, you’ve got cancer. Yes, I bloody know thanks, you won’t let me forget.

I swayed from feeling glad I was being so well looked after to wishing they’d leave me the hell alone and stop poking and prodding.

So today is Saturday and yet another drama and appointment. I’m going in to have my breast drained. It’s filled up with fluid and it’s the size of a bin lid and sore... boy it’s sore. They have sent me details in the post about Lymphoedema. It’s a serious condition that can happen because some of my lymph nodes were removed during my op, and this affects the lymphatic drainage system from your breast to your armpit. The knowledge I’ve took on board is immense - my brain is full. Maybe if I put a stop sign on it, they’ll stop telling me stuff.

And this is where I am...6 months down the road...19 weeks since my operation ...11 weeks since I finished my treatment...and I’m fatigued. My lungs hurt. My breast hurts. My mind hurts. The fatigue is like someone just takes the legs off me during the afternoon. I have great plans of what I’m going to achieve at the weekend and I probably achieve only 20% - then it’s back to work on Monday.

I have faced my mortality, and I have faced my worst fears... but neither is a patch on the strength of kindness I have encountered from the most unexpected sources.

“I have faced my mortality, and I have faced my worst fears.... but neither is a patch on the strength of kindness I have encountered from the most unexpected sources.”

And now I’m going to give myself time to recover... and recover I will. I will take the time I need, and I will get strong. Stronger than I was before because once you’ve faced your own mortality, you are invincible.

We’re really grateful for Lesley taking the time to share her story with us here in the Online Community. No matter where you are in your own experience of cancer, the Online Community is here for you. Why not reach out and share your own experience in the “Breast cancer” forum?

Read more about breast cancer treatment and radiotherapy:

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