For me I was a new mum with a 7 month old trying to get my feet after pregnancy and adjust to a happy and exciting stage of life. After my son’s birth I found a ‘lump’ in my left breast followed by a lump under my arm. After going to the GP several times (4 to be exact) they all thought I had mastitis and it was ‘nothing serious’.
I really had a sense that there was more to this as what I have read about mastitis is that it goes away with heat and things can ease this. I tried everything myself and then one night I noticed blood coming from my left nipple. I had such a bad feeling about this and went back to the doctor.
It then took two weeks for me to see a doctor who examined me and said that he felt I needed an ultrasound and a biopsy ‘today’. I was a little worried, but thought 'hey it’s not serious’ that is what the doctor had said to me. My thoughts were ‘I am a young’ and I hear breastfeeding is a preventative factor so hey, it can’t be me.
I waited a week for the results and then on that morning of June 6th 2012 I went into the doctor's room. He seemed to be happy so I thought he would have good news…but what followed was ‘I’m sorry to say that we did find cancer’. Those words imprinted on my brain like a horror story. I went numb and could not speak. He advised me to call my husband, which I did. So many thoughts went through my head: ‘Has it spread’, ‘Is this the end for me? ‘, ‘Will I see my son grow up?’. He then advised me to have further tests to see if it had spread to my lymph nodes and elsewhere in my body. The next two weeks were about waiting and agonising over this diagnosis.
My results concluded that it had not spread elsewhere in my body but was in my lymph nodes. The actual ‘lump’ was 3cm her2+ followed by a further 8mm lump which was oestrogen and progesterone positive with 3 lymph nodes that had cancer. Not the greatest diagnosis because Her2+ cancer is considered to be one of the most aggressive forms and usually effects young women.
They offered me IVF treatment as we hoped we would have another child after treatment concludes. They advised me that I would need to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery and then on going hormone treatment with the view that this will be gone completely. I started chemotherapy in July 2012 and finished in December 2012.
It was a LONG LONG 6 months where I had to look after my son while my husband went to work. We were living in London where I did not have any family support only support from friends and our local church. There were days I could not get up and walk up the stairs as one of the chemo regimes ‘Docetaxel ‘causes severe muscle and bone pain along with nausea and several other side effects. I had several hospital stays during this time as I had ‘neutropenia sepsis’ which means that my body could not fight infection so I required 3-4 days in hospital with IV antibiotics..
which for me was a double mastectomy and lymph node removal with a ‘diep – stomach reconstruction’. I decided to have a double mastectomy for prevention. Even though there is a slight risk it can come back after a mastectomy it significantly reduces this risk. For me it was clear this was the best option. It was all a bit of a whirl at the time and I didn’t really have time to process it until I woke up after surgery in agonising pain with surgical drains in me and couldn’t move! I cried.. for the pain and for what this cancer has done to my body and emotions!
Even though the 15-hour surgery went very well and the results look great (I'm getting my nipples soon...so that is good!) it still does not take away the heart ache of what this cancer can do to a person! For 8 weeks I could not pick up my son. During this time he was cared for by husband and my mum who came over from Australia to help). But, I slowly managed to regain my strength, picking up slight things at first until I could eventually pick up my son again.
It was then radiotherapy for me. In the UK they do 15 sessions so it was every day for 3 weeks (except weekend) and the side effect of this was extreme tiredness. To the point I thought I was going mad as started feeling dizzy. I requested a brain scan. Which fortunately was clear!
I then continued on my Herceptin treatment (which is an IV infusion every 3 weeks at the hospital to block receptors from the Her2+ cancer) and the ‘tamoxifen’ tablets every day for recommended 5-10 years which blocks oestrogen.. There are many side effects of these drugs which the doctors water down and don’t tell you much about. It is grilling! I am almost finishing up my yearly Herceptin injections. I am having regular follow up scans when needed. I have had two lots of counselling as well as support from family and friends.
My son is almost two and I was given the ‘all clear’ in January this year after my operation. I still have regular check-ups and scans which scare me. What continues to get me through is my faith, my family and goals for the future. I still have fears and doubts but my zest for life and living is what is continually gets me through. I think for me I have to continually make a choice to look at what I have now and appreciate what I have - no one knows when there time is up.. and there is life after a cancer diagnosis.
Sonia Miller is an Australian woman, mother and social worker. She is currently working in the UK but she will be returning to Australia in late 2014 with her husband and toddler.
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