Location: Bromley, UK
Diagnosis: Breast Cancer
I always knew I would probably be diagnosed breast cancer in my lifetime, I just didn't expect it at 25-years-old.
There's a lot of family history of breast cancer on both my mum and dad's sides (and as it turns out, with no known genetics), so I'd always been told from an early age that it was incredibly likely that I would have to face a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in my life. I was advised to always keep an eye on my breasts and to prepare myself for the likelihood of that day.
I thought maybe it was something I would have to deal with in my old age – way past the age of 50 or 60 like other family members – but I never expected to have the cancer in my twenties.
On 2nd January 2019, I was diagnosed with an Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), a fairly common type of breast cancer. I already have a long term health condition called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), more commonly known as M.E., which I've had since I was 14-years-old. It made me so unwell that I was unable to walk or talk and at my worst, I had to be carried to the bathroom. A long, slow, 11-year recovery journey later, with a major relapse in the middle, I finally felt like my life was almost back on track. I had just graduated with a Master's degree in Psychology in December 2018 and my job hunt was to begin in the new year. However, biopsy results from a small suspicious fibroid lump confirmed I had cancer and thus my job hunt was put on hold. Actually, everything went on hold.
The first three months of 2019 was a whirlwind of MRI's, ultrasounds, mammograms, a second site scare in the other breast, a surgery, fertility preservation treatment and many consultations. I am now 2 rounds into 8 rounds of chemotherapy, I'm in a medically-induced early menopause and I've accepted that this year is a bit of a write off.
Already living with a long-term health condition made the addition of cancer almost seem like the universe was out to get me. I’m sure everyone who gets cancer feels this way, because nobody deserves to get cancer.
I felt victimised. I was ready to stop being a student, start a job and crack on with life. I was almost at the peak of my health and suddenly this huge obstacle called cancer had gotten in the way and threatened all that progress I had already made. My poor health had delayed my plans yet again, but I take some comfort that my life won’t be on hold forever.
As the craziness died down and my treatment plan was put into place, I felt that I had regained some control.
One relief from already identifying as a disabled person is that my life didn’t change. My identity didn't change (I've been poorly for a decade), I didn't grieve for my healthy body (it wasn't fully healthy and now it's grown me some cancer!), I didn't give up anything or have to compromise much (#unemployed), I didn't feel isolated or misunderstood (I didn't have any chronically ill friends before, and cancer is taken seriously and easier to explain compared to M.E.) and the symptoms associated with chemotherapy I'd mostly experienced and lived with for a long time (looking at you in particular, brain fog and fatigue). I have wrestled these demons before so I was spared this time. I had no financial commitments, or many responsibilities at all for that matter. I can only imagine how difficult cancer can be if you have a full time job, a mortgage and bills, children to take care of etc., let alone the emotional labour and change of identity that comes with cancer, so hats off to those people who go through it all.
I’m still terrified for my health. One of the hardest parts is wondering if this brutal treatment schedule will make my M.E. worse, will it send me back into relapse? Will I one day be unable to talk?
The unknown battles feel like the scariest ones yet: relapse, fertility, more cancer in the future; the 'what if’s' and 'why’s' with no answers. Only time will tell.
All I can do for now is do as I am told by healthcare professionals, look after my body the best I know how to, pay attention to my mental health, embrace every valuable lesson or opportunity cancer offers and make recovering my full time job.
One piece of advice:
DO try to take EVERY resource offered to you (especially therapy – your life just got wild).
DON'T Google anything! You will just scare yourself!
DO read the resources that are provided by your doctors and nurses, knowledge is power.
DO use social media to connect with others and find the best hints and tips for what is to come e.g. scarf tying, eyebrow application, what to wear/bring to chemo – these give you a sense of control and preparedness, which is invaluable in the storm you're facing.
DO get a hobby that is not on your phone or watching TV - preferably something arty (think knitting, crochet, sewing, drawing, colouring, calligraphy etc.) and ask your friends to recommend you some good books.
DO have a pity party for yourself (think Bridget Jones style) – cancer is awful and some days everything might feel really bad.
But DON'T let those bad days be your majority, if you can't shake the funk, tell someone and ask for some help.
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.