Location: London, UK
Diagnosis: Breast Cancer (Stage 2)
It’s been harder than I imagined putting into words what has happened over the last 5 months. I was diagnosed with cancer on Thursday 21st June 2018 at 28-years-old after an ultrasound, mammogram and needle aspiration biopsy revealed a 7.5cm cancerous lump in my left breast.
My medical report read: HER2+++ ER0 PR0 stage 2 breast cancer.
The first two weeks surrounding my diagnosis were the most difficult and surreal weeks of my life to date; I barely slept, I struggled to concentrate at work, I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore and I questioned ‘why me?’. I’ve come to accept the question really is ‘why NOT me?’.
Cancer doesn’t care where you come from, what you do, your age or the path you’re on.
For myself, I was living in north London, working as a freelance graphic designer for a number of fashion offices and making plans for the summer ahead. Cancer uproots your life, turns everything upside down and forces a new perspective on the things you had previously overlooked or not even begun to think about. Within weeks of my diagnosis, my boyfriend and I had packed our life into boxes, moved the 50+ miles to be close to my family during my treatment and made the decision to undergo IVF to increase our chances for a family in the future.
I've received so much love and support, not just from family and friends, but also from acquaintances and even kind strangers. There's the 10/10 boyfriend who shaves his head to reassure you that losing your hair doesn’t need to be scary. The family who fly across the world and drive across the country to be there for you, sleep on your sofa bed so they can cook and clean for you – no ask is too much. And the friends who call to check in and send messages and surprise care packages to show their support. There will always be those who try their best but fail to understand, those you thought would be there for you but sadly disappoint.
The reality is many will try really hard to be there for you and those are the ones you will share your life with throughout and beyond cancer.
I've learnt it's not just the patient who is affected by a cancer diagnosis, a partner and close family live and breathe it too – through choice and not because they have to.
I discovered an online community that I never knew existed pre-diagnosis. A community like no other that demonstrates strength and solidarity and is a testament to the power that women supporting women can have. You’re welcomed with open arms by women you’ve never met with no questions asked and no judgements. These women become like family; an integral part of your everyday life. We laugh together, we cry together, we celebrate each others highs and are there for each other in our lowest and most impossible moments. Women who inspire you to tell your own story.
There's no doubt in my mind that the next year will be the most challenging of my life so far.
The 5 months since my diagnosis have felt like I accidentally got on a non-stopping service train speeding to some unknown destination and I have no choice but to sit and wait until it eventually stops.
I’m still mourning the life I had pre-cancer but embrace the life I have now and will have after. I'm learning to appreciate the little things, to not give time or thought to the things that don’t matter and to take something good from the year I’ve embarked on.
With that in mind I’ve decided to document my experience; I really want to leave something behind in an effort to help others. Brave Collective was formed as a creative outlet to raise awareness, create a space for the cancer community to tell their story and support one another, and to give back to just some of the amazing charities helping young adults living with cancer. As one of my fellow cancer sisters so wisely said to me recently, we've found solidarity in suffering, and I couldn't agree more. In spite of it all, we’ve found we’re that much stronger when we stand together; we are braver together.
Some advice for anyone facing a diagnosis:
Take someone with you to your hospital appointments. It's a scary time, with a lot of information to take in; you'll appreciate the extra set of ears.
Your extended family and friends will probably want to know how you're doing and want to be kept up to date with your latest medical updates, but as amazing as it is to feel so supported it can be quite overwhelming. Nominate a family member or close friend who can relieve that pressure and relay information for you.
The waiting time for results in the initial weeks can be really difficult for not just you, but those closest to you as well. Practice some self love; look after yourself and make plans to look forward to. It breaks up the monotony of all the hospital appointments. Day trips and a nice meal out or appointment to get your nails done with someone you're close to before or after a hospital appointment makes all the difference to your state of mind.
Reach out to others who have been or are in a similar position to you and talk to some of the amazing charities set up to help you. A potential diagnosis can make you feel really isolated and lonely, but I PROMISE you, you are NOT alone.
Laugh, scream, cry – whatever you need to do, do it. There's no right or wrong way to deal with a potential diagnosis. Do what's right for you! Don't feel pressured to be positive all the time, especially for the sake of others, it's OK not to be OK sometimes.
Some advice for anyone who knows someone facing a diagnosis:
Don't treat that person any differently to how you already do. We crave normality in these moments. Sympathetic looks and the 'I knew someone who had cancer...' stories are not what we need right now, especially if that someone died! We don't expect you to know exactly what to say, we just need you to be strong and positive for us, but also realistic. Remember the recent Macmillan campaign 'a mum with cancer is still a mum'? Well, a friend with cancer is still the same friend they were before, tumour or no tumour – we might just be a little bit lumpier than we were before!
Know that if we don't reply to your message straight away, it's not that you've necessarily upset us with a 'foot in mouth' situation and it definitely hasn't gone unnoticed. There's just a lot going on right now, but your message means more than you know.
It's ultimately all about the person facing the potential diagnosis, but don't forget those closest to them. They accidentally got on that non-stopping service train too and also need support.
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.