I went to see my GP because I had a cyst in my breast. I’d had cysts before, and I was expecting this to be a usual appointment, where the cyst would be drained and that would be it. This time however, the mammogram showed something unexpected behind the cyst.
I was completely oblivious to the idea that this appointment might be any different from previous ones, so I didn’t have anyone with me. It would have been great to be fore-warned, but of course they can’t do that until they have done the biopsies. I had a long wait of a week, which felt like a month, before I got the news that, yes, I did have breast cancer. From there on I thought, well, OK, what do we do now?
My mum had died eight months earlier from secondary bone cancer, so I was prepared for it from a carer’s point of view, but not from a personal point of view. I knew rather more than most people would do, which helped.
I eventually made the decision to shave my head and wanted to make a bit of a celebration of it – my neighbour did it for me, and I decided to have some fun with it in one sitting – my hair went to a Mohican, then a “Tin-Tin”, and then completely shaved off. I did get fitted for a wig, but it wasn’t for me- the style I ended up with was called ‘Audrey’, and it did make me look like my Auntie Audrey! Instead, I gave up on the wig had a lot of fun with daft hats, silly scarves and bandanas. A lot of the time I just walked around with nothing on my head- even though it was winter, I had hot sweats as a result of chemo so it was more comfortable. At home we called these hot sweats ‘tea-towel moments’, because that is what I needed to wipe my baldy head.
I had 21 sessions of radiotherapy, which was there to completely make sure they had caught every cell of the cancer. It’s a quick and simple process and it didn’t hurt, but it was exhausting. They put little tattoos on your skin to make sure the treatment is going in the right place: my husband had always said that he’d divorce me if I ever got a tattoo but now I’ve got three and he’s assured me these ones don’t count, so he’s still here! It does cause a bit of soreness on your skin, but there are creams that help a lot. It’s a bit like sunburn and I ended up with a nice golden brown tan on a really small part of my skin, while the rest of me stayed white!
I was given Tamoxifen but I didn’t take to it. I was then put on Anastrazole instead; this is normally given to post-menopausal women and because I hadn’t gone through the menopause yet, I also had to have hormonal implants once a month for the next four years, in my stomach. These aren’t comfortable and I was so glad when I had my last one.
I’ve had great support from Macmillan, and from Lingen Davies through the equipment the charity has funded to get me through chemo and radiotherapy. The Hamar Centre [at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital] have helped me psychologically; I struggled to get my head around the effects of lymphoedema and I now say that if anyone argues with me, my right hand is my boxing hand – it’s got a lot more weight behind it!
I did a Race for Life not long after my treatment with my “Wheatley Warriors” team and again for the following 3 years. I do a lot of voluntary work for Macmillan, getting involved in fundraising, photography and throwing paint at Hawkstone Park colour run. I act as a Patient Champion at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, talking to patients who are newly diagnosed or just starting treatment. If we aren’t willing to stand up and say those things [about our experience], and be open and honest to say these things to people, how are they going to know what to expect? I am more than happy to speak out, if it is going to help others.