At first I thought I had mastitis, which seems silly now as my kids were 9 and 12 at the time! I went to my doctor, who basically told me to go away, because of course I couldn’t have mastitis, and not long afterwards I felt a lump in my breast. I didn’t feel I could go back to the doctor at the time, but I kept getting people to feel the lump- everyone kept saying it was just a cyst.
I was referred to the hospital and, two weeks later, went along to the breast clinic. My appointment was ten past two, and I just remember thinking ‘I hope I’ll be done in time to pick the kids up from school’.
I started to lose my hair, which, at the time, was the worst part of the whole thing. People don’t tell you that it actually hurts- a bit like when you have sensitive skin from the flu. My eyelashes started to fall out, and I was wearing sunglasses in January because my eyes were so sore. I had really long blonde hair, and I had started to cut it shorter, but it started to fall out much more and I eventually decided to shave my head.
My partner shaved it for me, in our kitchen, while my 9-year-old was bawling upstairs- he was so upset by the whole thing. I know it’s all for a good cause, and people are really well intentioned, but I really hate those ‘brave the shave’ campaigns- in real life, you don’t have crowds of people cheering you when you have to shave your head, and your hair doesn’t just grow straight back. I had a wig fitted, and I did wear it most of the time I went out- it was really important to my kids that things stayed as normal as possible and this helped.
After my mastectomy I had a course of radiotherapy and was put on Herceptin. At the start of treatment the nurse told me it would take a year out of my life- in reality it was nearer to three. There were some positives that came out of the whole thing- I was working in an admin job but was made redundant during my treatment so I decided to change my career. I enrolled on an Open University degree course, volunteered with Home Start and ended up working for Shropshire Council as a Family Support Worker for Children’s Centres where I still am. I’d had experience of being a single parent and I wanted to help other families who may be vulnerable or need some support. I moved on and life was good.
I don’t smoke, and I had absolutely no symptoms. I still don’t really have symptoms, other than those caused by the treatment. What is really amazing is that the rib pain was a red herring – I had a bit of inflammation in my cartilage but nothing major. If it wasn’t for that, my cancer would not have been discovered and my position today could have been a lot worse.
I have lost some friendships over my illness – some people just don’t know what to say and can’t handle it. People are afraid to ask questions, and it’s amazing how many people I have had to comfort, when they get upset about me being unwell. I hate it when people say I’m ‘brave’- I’m not brave, but I am angry about it; it does all seem very unfair.
Now, I’m feeling reasonably well and we’ve had a good year. My partner and I got married during my chemotherapy in March – on my birthday, to ‘counteract’ my mastectomy on my birthday seven years earlier. I was in hospital the week before and I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the wedding but it was a brilliant day. We had a ceremony at the Shrewsbury Museum and dinner at the Golden Cross. We only had 25 people there, so we’re having a big family dinner later this year, and a massive party for all of our friends. We’re social people, we normally have a big New Year’s Eve party, and as I was diagnosed just before Christmas we nearly cancelled. In the end, we went ahead and turned it into a bad taste wigs party. As much as it kills me inside to have to wear my wig, I just decided to embrace it and it was a great night.