You just don’t think it’s ever going to be you

I feel as if I am constantly on cancer watch
September 24, 2018
Vulval cancer
Now I have to find my new normal in life
October 4, 2018

W ell, I'll start with a brief introduction. I am forty six year old single woman, who in her wisdom decided to give up my cosy, mortgage free Cottage in Doune, Perthshire to embark on the adventure of building my own house in Glenisla. A remote little plot came up for sale, and after a whole year of pondering, I took the plunge. How difficult can it be living in a wee caravan in the middle of no where, during the end of a Scottish winter with two dogs and three cats. Little did I know what lie ahead. The worse bloody winter in history.

So, my introduction to caravan life was somewhat challenging........or so I thought.

Just when you feel that things could not get much worse, that's when on the morning of March 6th, while enjoying my shower in the oh so spacious bathroom in my caravan, I feel a lump in my breast. In that moment, it's like the world stopped turning and you just don't want to believe it.

I prayed that it wasn't the big C, and looked up to the sky and said "Why, oh why?"...... I'm a strong bloody woman, but holy crap, I'm not sure I can deal with this too..... but I have!

So, after obsessively poking and squeezing the lump, and comparing to the other side, I had to conclude that I did in fact have a lump in my breast, and went straight to the doctors. They got me in for an emergency appointment with the doctor at 11am. So, is it sore? Any pain from the lump? Were the questions asked by my GP. Well, no it wasn't until I started frantically poking at it for the last hour, was my response. It is like you don't want to believe that you've found a lump. A million thoughts go around your head. Obviously one thinks it could be cancer, and you try to calm your emotions by telling yourself "It's ok, it may just be a cyst. Lots of women get cysts all the time, and most breast lumps turn out to be nothing." But that big dark cloud "It could be cancer" doesn't ever quite leave your mind until you know.

Knowing that my mother got it at the same age as me, 46, and having seen her journey, I just didn't really fancy it, but then who does. So, I was referred to Ninewells hospital, one stop "tit" clinic for a mammogram, ultrasound and possible biopsy. I was told I'd be seen within two weeks. Which seems like nothing, but Jesus that was the longest two weeks of my life.

I think deep down I did know right from the start, that it wasn't going to just be a cyst, it just didn't feel right.

The waiting for that appointment was torture. I was one right crabbit wee cow, with absolutely no tolerance for anything, especially idiots.

Anyway, after a very long wait, my appointment came around, on the March 19th. I was examined by dr Rees. I'm not sure where she was from, but I think possibly Germany. She was very pragmatic, and to the point, which is actually a trait that I like in a person. I especially did not need 'fluff' at this time. After her examination, I was whisked off to the mammogram department. I need to ask you a few questions first, said the nurse. Firstly "Do you have implants?" To which I laughed looking down at my naked breasts, and responded.... "Do you not think I'd want a bloody refund if I did?!". I couldn't help myself. Not exactly being very well endowed in the boob department, and having endured 'ironing board' jokes for years by my lovely sensitive best buddies. The nurse at that point, did tell me whatever the outcome today, to make sure I keep my sense of humour.

Having never had a mammogram I didn't really know what to expect. The nurse was very efficient at her job, and a few swishes on my boobs, to iron out the creases we were done. It was actually ok, just a little uncomfortable trying to squish my wee fried eggs in between two plates.

The next stop was ultrasound, and I could see it wasn't fluid in the lump. My heart sank for the second time. I felt again, like the world had stopped for a moment. Again, it all felt a little surreal. You just don't think it's ever going to be you. I thought, well, whatever it is, it is. I can't have any control over what it is, but I can control and decide how I choose to deal with this. And I decided that the gloves were on, I was ready for the fight.

This little bastard is not going to beat me. Quite frankly, I saw it as a major inconvenience and a right pain in the tits. Please excuse my sense of humour. I also chose to believe that these things are sent for a reason, and that something very positive would come out of this. Yes, the timing was rubbish, but then there is never a good time for these things really. Living in the caravan with my 5 pets, on a building site, building my own home! So, whatever this was, I'd deal with it and find the positive in it all. It would just be a necessary journey that I would have to take, and my friends, family and a slightly inappropriate sense of humour would get me through it.

A week later on March 26th, 2018, it was results day. All I really heard was cancer, treatable and good prognosis. I'd advise taking someone with you who can actually take in the rest. I knew it would be OK, and that it was just going to be a bit of a rough ride over the coming months. I was bloody determined to get through this, and also determined to make changes in my life. My mother had fought breast cancer and she was an extremely positive role model for me. If she could do it, so could I. I'd been extremely unhappy in my soulless, pointless career for many years, and if anything changes your perspective on life immediately, it is getting a diagnosis of cancer. I felt lucky, as mine is treatable, there are always people worse of than you. Yes, I'd maybe lose some months, perhaps feeling like a bag of shite, but this was my wake up call. I needed to get out of the corporate world and do something worthwhile and something I found pleasure in.

So, the journey was to involve a lumpectomy, so lymph nodes removed and 4.5 months of chemotherapy and then 5 weeks of radiotherapy, which I have just started.

I am not going to lie, it had been a roller coaster. On the whole, I have been extremely positive, and have maintained my inappropriate sense of humour throughout. My friends and family have been amazing.

The most challenging part of the treatment was the chemotherapy. The first three doses of FEC were ok, the last three doses of Docetaxel were more challenging. I took each day at a time, and rested when I needed to. Even on my worst days, is still went out for a walk. One of the best things to do for the fatigue is to exercise. I found getting out was great for my mindset. It allowed me to just be in the moment and not focus on chemotherapy and its side effects. All women are different, I wasn't concerned about losing my hair. It started to fall out after two weeks, and I then shaved it off and embraced baldness. I thought it would save me a fortune on hair products and I wouldn't have a bad hair day for at least 5 months! But I know for some women, it can be very emotional and their hair is a huge part of their identity and femininity, for those women, there are amazing wigs and beautiful head scarfs.

I also found the charities such as Maggies and MacMillan hugely helpful for advice. They also provide emotional support if required. I didn't really need that, as I coped ok, all be a few mini meltdowns. I don't think I'd be human, if I didn't. I did get to a point at times through chemo, when I felt horrible and exhausted, and felt like I wanted to stop it. I did get past it, I did get better and I did find the strength to battle on through the dark days. I found my friends invaluable. They were amazing, and did listen to me on my hard days and made me laugh!

So, I think we all surprise ourselves at how strong we can be. Cancer and it's treatment for me was a necessary journey I had to take, and am still taking. As I said earlier, we can not control it, and if it's going to happen, it will. We can control how we choose to cope with it.

All I can say, is check your mammaries, and if you're not sure how to or what to feel, then go and ask your doctor or nurse to show you. Catching it early will save your life. It doesn't matter how insignificant you think a change in your breast is.... get it checked.

Thanks for reading.

Written by another survivor of breast cancer.

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