Jo, Breast Cancer
When were you diagnosed and what with?
In August 2016, aged 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer
How did you find out you had cancer?
I’d noticed some changes (hardness, discolouration rather than a lump) and on my second visit to the GP I was referred to the Breast Imaging Unit at my local hospital. After an ultrasound and several biopsies my consultant appointment was moved forward and on 31 st August 2016 I was told I had invasive ductal and invasive lobular breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes.
What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?
In the time between my GP, scans and consultant appointments I tried to come up with alternative reasons to explain the changes. Nothing fit and I did fear the worst, but nothing can prepare you for being told you have cancer. My initial reaction was of absolute shock, stunned to silence (unusual for me!). I then jumped to wanting to know what could be done and they talked me through the treatment plan. I had a mammogram, another scan and biopsy just after I was diagnosed, and I remember putting on a brave face, making jokes with the radiologist, just wanting to go home and breakdown there.
How did the people around you react?
My mum and one of my best friends were with me at the hospital on the day of my diagnosis. They had been more optimistic that me and it was a massive shock for them to process. My mum instantly asked, “why Jo?” and my friend was outside the room wondering what was going on. I couldn’t say anything when I left the room as I was trying to keep it together, but it was obvious from my reaction it was not good news.
I’m an open person and had told a few people about the changes I’d noticed which broke the ice but still that part was very hard; seeing the effect of the news on their faces and having to say the same words over and over. They all enthused their love and support and I wouldn’t have got through the last 15 months without them.
What treatment did you have?
I started chemo on 30 th September 2016 and had 6 FEC-T treatments. After that it was a mastectomy and node clearance in February 2017 followed by 15 radiotherapy sessions starting in April (over my birthday!). I was HER2+ and started on Herceptin on my 4 th chemo session. I was also ER+ and have been in a chemical menopausal state since my first chemo session and continue to have four-weekly Goserelin/Zoladex injections to keep my ovaries “asleep”.
How did you feel through treatment?
I found this inner strength throughout treatment that I never knew I had. Still it’s a rollercoaster of a ride with lots of up, downs, spins and shocks! I coped reasonably well with the chemo side effects (high) but the weird and painful sensations I experienced post-surgery took me by surprise (spin) and I felt quite sad when radiotherapy finished (low). You get into such a routine with treatment and it’s the proactive response to the devastating news of the diagnosis. When it ended I felt like my comfort blanket had been taken away.
What happened after treatment finished?
I took a few more weeks off after the end of treatment and went back to work in June on a phased return. I had ongoing treatment with the Herceptin and Zoladex to manage alongside my workload. I also undertook genetic testing (negative result). It’s been a massive adjustment and I still have to manage my fatigue but luckily I have a supportive and flexible boss.
How did you get involved with Shine?
I saw a leaflet for the jointly facilitated Working after Cancer course and met Emma there. I joined the Facebook group the same day and not long after a Hampshire
group was formed. I now go to as many meet-ups as I can!
What difference has Shine made to you?
Being able to talk to others of a similar age, diagnosis and experience is amazing. My friends and family are incredibly supportive but to talk to someone who can fully sympathise with everything I have been through gives me a real boost. Steph (the Hampshire leader) tries to mix it up with the meet-ups and we’ve had a board games night, ice cream and future events include a Christmas meal, ghost walk and Escape rooms.
How do you feel now about your experiences? What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?
It still feels very surreal. A mixture of a bad dream and a harsh reality. It’s crazy how much I’ve adapted and just get on with it. If somebody had told me I would have coped with things as well as what I have I would never have believed them. I cold-capped throughout chemo so did keep my hair but it’s thinner, a different colour and at different stages of regrowth. I find it so frustrating not to be able to style my hair as I did before and dearly miss my shiny, healthy, blonde bob.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?
I put too much pressure on myself and beat myself up when things don’t go to plan, so I’d tell myself to be kinder to myself and that I’m doing the best I can do given the circumstances.