Location: Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK
Diagnosis: Inflammatory Breast Cancer (Stage 3)
I was 33 when I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer doesn't usually start with a lump, it grows in sheets or nests – a bit like candy floss. My first symptoms were not typical of breast cancer. I started with a leaky nipple, my first thought being "Oh crap, I think I'm pregnant!". Pregnancy tests were negative, so I put it down to hormones and carried on with my busy life as a mum and a nurse. Then, at the beginning of January I noticed my nipple had become inverted. I did a thorough breast check which showed nothing else abnormal – there were no lumps. Again, because I had no lumps I didn't think too much of it until a few days later when I started getting the most horrendous shooting pains – they were so painful they would physically make me jump. At this point I decided to book an appointment with my GP and in the days waiting for this, my breast doubled in size and became rock hard.
The GP thought I had an infection so gave me antibiotics, but also sent an urgent referral to the breast care clinic. This decision saved my life.
Just 3 weeks after my GP appointment I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and was told that it had spread to my lymph nodes. I started chemotherapy 1 week later.
I went through 6 rounds of chemotherapy first, followed by a mastectomy radiotherapy and I'm now on hormone therapy.
During active treatment I prided myself on keeping things 'normal' – for my kids more than anything – but pretending everything was normal had a massive affect on my mental health.
For me, I can't look at my scar for very long – I hate it. I hate that this happened to me and I hate that things have changed so much between my husband and I, only 7 months after we got married. We don't talk to each other about our feelings as much as we said we would. Talking is painful and when you're trying so hard to pretend things are normal and be strong for the other person, breaking down is not an option.
I thought that once active treatment would be over and I went back to work I would be alright, but for me it didn't quite work that way. Not only has breast cancer left a massive scar on my chest it has left a massive scar on my marriage. The reality of everything that has happened is finally sinking in and a years worth of hidden tears have finally started to surface. I've now admitted that I'm struggling; not only with what has happened over the last year, but also with having to deal with the aftermath of medically-induced menopause. Things are not great between my husband and I right now, we know it's going to take time, but we're working on it. After all, it would be a tragic waste of 18 years with the most annoying man in Britain(!) but who I love more than anything in the world, if we let that scar come between us.
One piece of advice:
You can be strong, but there is also no shame in being vulnerable and letting people see you cry. Talk to those around you, whether it is your partner, husband, wife or friends. Don't bottle things up. I've found dealing with my emotions far more painful than active treatment, but to not address them only makes things worse. Always, always talk to people.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Brave Collective. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information.