Michelle, from West Felton, describes her experience of recurrent breast cancer, the treatment she went through, and the support she received from Lingen Davies.
“I was first diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer on 4th February 2015; I will never forget that date; 8 weeks before my wedding and completely out of the blue. I was rolling over in bed one night and I felt a little pain – I found a lump in my right boob – I thought it would be a cyst but booked in with the Doctor to get it checked out.”
I went through numerous operations and fertility treatment, to preserve my eggs, as chemotherapy can have an impact on fertility. I also had intravenous chemotherapy, radiotherapy and another drug called Herceptin. All in all my treatment lasted for 18 months from start to finish.
We decided to go ahead with the wedding as cancer wasn’t getting in the way of our plans. I had the results of a full body CT scan two days before our wedding day, and that confirmed the cancer was localised, and had not spread to other parts of my body. It was an emotional wedding day; happy and sad at the same time! We managed to delay the chemotherapy by a week, until after the wedding. Instead of going on our honeymoon I was hooked up to a chemotherapy machine at the Lingen Davies Centre, at Shrewsbury hospital. I had a cycle of chemotherapy every three weeks and had six cycles. The hardest part to accept whilst going through chemotherapy, was that I looked like a cancer patient with no hair. I think that related to me being in denial about what was happening, and that I was actually a cancer patient. It still feels surreal for me to say that! I completed the chemotherapy and other treatment, well, and managed to get through it. I then went on to have more surgery for preventative reasons, to try and stop me getting breast cancer again.
My surgeon said I wouldn’t have picked up the new tumour, as early as I did, if I had not had the preventative mastectomy, so, there was some good news in all of this, in a weird way. I caught it super early, it was the size of a grain of rice. My surgeon also said it’s impossible to remove all the breast tissue in a mastectomy, so there is a small chance cancer can grow. She said it was like scooping out a lemon; some cells are still present because the breast tissue spans a wide area; the outer of the breast, upper chest and near to the arm pit area are just the main breast area. .
My medical team were flabbergasted that it was breast cancer again! A completely different one to my first breast cancer, and unrelated.
When I was diagnosed the second time, they sent me for gene testing at Birmingham Women’s Hospital because it was rare for someone under 40 to have had two un-related breast cancers in the space of 3 years, in opposite breasts, even after a preventative mastectomy. I was tested for 15 known cancer faults and they thought I might have a TP53 fault. This is where you have a syndrome where you are highly likely to always have some form of cancer. The results came back all clear, which was a relief, but still very strange that I didn’t have something, because of my cancer history!
I was determined to not let the cancer beat me, so I tried to be as positive as possible and of course, as a human being with feelings, I had my down days. My husband, family and friends, were a great support to me and were strong in trying to be as positive as possible, for me, whilst themselves dealing with the uncertainty of whether I would be ok and get through it. It was a tough time.
The level of care form the NHS Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals, I would describe as a platinum level of support and treatment. Every single person that cared for and treated me – whether that being my breast surgeon, the fertility staff, my oncologist, my breast care nurse, the operating theatre staff, the radiotherapy and chemotherapy nurses, the health care assistants, the tea ladies, the counsellors, the anaesthetists and the list goes on! Every single person has been amazing and I will be eternally grateful for such a high standard of care and treatment.
I also had counselling through Hamar Centre that was brilliant, fantastic, and really good! Everything has just been better than what you’d expect.