I’ve lost two of my best friends to breast cancer, so it didn’t feel strange to me when I started chemo the day my kids started school. The disease was already such a big part of my life. From here on in, while my kids were learning their times tables, I was learning to live with the fear that I might not be around for their graduation.
Having lost my friends to the disease, I knew just how important it was to stay vigilant with self-examinations and mammograms. And in fact, a few months earlier at my regular mammogram and needle biopsy I had been given the all clear. There was no need for concern – I had no history of breast cancer in the family and I looked after myself well. But he suggested a digital mammography for my next breast check.
As soon as he uttered those words, the need to opt for this more advanced screen check kept playing on my mind over and over – even though he said it wasn’t necessary until my annual check-up the following year.
Two months later I could no longer put up with the degree of doubt dominating my mind, and I decided to get the digital mammography to put my mind at rest. However, it turned out my deepest and darkest worries soon became a reality – the discovery of a tiny grain-like shape which turned out to be stage 3 breast cancer.
I underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and ended up having a large part of my breast removed when they discovered they couldn’t reach all the cancerous tissue. At that point my doctor advised a mastectomy, yet I opted to have not one but both breasts removed at Christmas in 2008. It may seem a drastic step to some people but as a mother of two young children (then aged seven and four), I wanted to do all I could to ensure I had the best chance of survival.
After surgery, I began a gruelling three months of chemo. Managing the school pickups in between the nausea and trying to explain to my kids why Mummy had lost her hair were particularly tough.
My first instinct was to protect my kids from what was happening to me but the fact is, children are perceptive and they knew something serious was happening.
Breast cancer is definitely not a journey that you can walk alone and not something I would wish upon my worst enemy. It impacts every single aspect of your life and the life of everyone who knows and loves you. As tough as those months were, it was my husband and kids that gave me the strength to get through it.