Breast Cancer – Caroline’s Story

Today I’d like to share with you the story of Caroline who tells her story of her battle with Breast Cancer.

What do you think of when someone is diagnosed with Cancer? Long term sickness, hair loss and death. I thought of all of those when I was diagnosed 5 years ago. I was diagnosed with grade 3 breast cancer in 2005, a year after I nearly died with a rare, incurable disease called Churg Strauss Syndrome.

I found my lump one evening, whilst ironing! It was a Friday night, so I knew I d have to wait until Monday to see my doctor. The doctor reassured me and said that as the lump moved it was most likely just a cyst but had to refer me to the hospital as standard procedure. Two weeks later I saw Mr Smith at the Royal Berks, he also seemed to think the lump was just a cyst, so aspirated it and said to come back for an ultrasound. Another two weeks later I went for the ultrasound, the cyst had filled back with fluid, so it was aspirated again and that when they found the lump, hiding behind the cyst! A core biopsy was done then another wait of two weeks for the results. Life inbetween waiting for results continued as normal.

I went to my appointment alone; I d convinced Darren, my family, friends and myself that it was going to be okay. However, I soon realised this wasn t the case. I was the last patient to be called in, never a good sign! As soon as I entered the room I knew it was cancer as there were so many people in there. Nothing really prepares you when someone says you have cancer. I remember the room spinning and not being able to focus on anyone, just shear panic that I was given another death sentence. I managed to pull myself together to get the facts together, before being sent home with a date for surgery in two weeks time.

I d left Lily, who at that time was 16 months old, with my sister Ju and Isabelle, who was about to turn 3 at preschool. I called Darren at work and asked if he could pick up Isabelle and meet me at Ju . I honestly can t remember what words came out; probably just I ve got cancer! I cried on the way to Ju .

Telling my husband, family and friends was the hardest thing I ve ever done. They d already gone to hell and back the previous year and now this. Cancer just seemed to be rife in our family, Dad had throat cancer in 1999, Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. Unfortunately Mum lost her brave battle with cancer 2 years later. It had spread to her bones, lungs and liver. I was pregnant with Isabelle when she past away. It was hard on everyone, Darren and Ju remained strong for me and never really showed they were scared. Dad was shocked to the core, it was too soon after losing Mum and now his daughter was going through it. I dread to think what was going through their minds. Throughout the two week wait I remained calm and tired to push bad thoughts to back of my mind. We had a birthday to celebrate and celebrate we would! There was no way I was cancelling Isabelle birthday party.

My next hurdle was explaining to a 16 month and 3 year old what was going on. Children are very perceptive and I didn t want to hide anything from them. So I said that Mummy had a sore booby and was going into hospital to have the sore bit taken away.

I had to wait another 2 weeks after surgery to get my results. The tumour was 3.5cm and a grade 3, but thankfully there was no spread to the lymph nodes. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and 5 years of hormone therapy were the next stages. It was also mentioned that I could have screening to see if I carried the BCRA 1 or 2 gene, because Mum was diagnosed at an early age. At that time I just wanted to get chemo over, screening would come later.

I managed to have a normal Christmas Day, Boxing Day and even got to the Next sale before starting chemo on 28 December. I d already experienced the chemo ward with both Mum and Dad, so I wasn t scared or apprehensive. I knew that the nurses were kind and caring and that I would be in safe hands. I opted out of having the cold cap as I didn t want to spend all day at the hospital. Losing my hair was the least of my worries!

The 1st lot of chemo went by without to many problems except hair loss and super extreme fatigue. I d had my hair cut short before chemo, but a few days after, everytime I touched it, hair would fall out. I felt like a Christmas tree losing all of its needles. Two weeks later whilst in the shower it was coming out in clumps, so I got Darren to shave it off. The girls were horrified when they saw me and burst into tears. Thankfully this was short lived; 5 minutes later it was as if nothing had happened! The new bald me didn t look too bad after all!

Chemo came every 3 weeks, the first week after chemo I was ok, then bam, tiredness set in. Some days I couldn t even make it out of bed, the tiredness was crippling and the feeling of wanting the throw up was overwhelming. I tried to do normal things with girls when I felt fine and then rested when I felt too ill to get out of bed. I was so lucky that I could rest on my bad days with girls going to family or friends houses at a drop of a hat.

Everyone got used to the bald me, I lost half my eyebrows and some of my eyelashes, but still managed to look good, or so I was told!! It was definitely easy getting up in the morning, the only dilemma I had was what hat to wear! I tried to remain upbeat and positive throughout, it wasn t easy and I did have bad days, but with the support of my husband, family and friends I got by. Having the girls definitely helped the recovery, at the end of the day; I was still a Mum and had young children who needed me.

After finishing chemo I had a short break before starting radiotherapy. This was 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Radiotherapy was a breeze in comparison to chemo and I could do this on my own. My breast got a little sore and red, but again I managed to cope with that. The hardest thing was not being able to wear deodorant during the summer months and having to keep covered up!

I started hormone therapy in November 2006. This has been by far the worst! A simple tablet once a day and an injection once a month brings on artificial menopause. After sickness and soreness came the dreaded hot flushes and weight gain! Yuck, yuck and yuck! The hot flushes at first were unbearable but over the years I ve become accustomed to them, they come in waves, some weeks being worse than others.

In 2008 I decided to go for BCRA testing. In May 2009 the results came back, I did indeed carry the BCRA 1 gene. Carrying the BCRA 1 means that you have 85% chance of getting breast cancer in your lifetime and 60% more likely to get ovarian cancer. It also meant that my sisters, brothers and daughters have a 50% chance of carrying the gene. As it currently stands Isabelle and Lily can t get screened for BCRA until they are 30. Hopefully by then, there will be a cure for cancer.

When I found out I carried this gene, I decided to have a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction. Because I ve already had cancer, I m more likely to develop cancer again, so I wanted to reduce the odds. By having the mastectomy reduces the risk to around 10% for breast cancer and 5% for ovarian cancer. I breast surgery in April 2010. After surgery I was in quite good spirits but a few days later the pain set in. I couldn t sleep, eat, sit, stand everything was so uncomfortable. I was supposed to be in hospital for 6 days, but ended up in for 17 days! I had a few complications due to my long term steroid use and one of the implants had to come out. Some days I didn t want to speak or see anyone, not even Darren or the girls, I just cried and moped about. I was told by all the nurses that this is a normal part of the healing process. When I came home, I shuffled round home not being able to reach or lift anything. Seven months done the road and I can now lift my arms in the air and do every normal day to day things around the house. I m back to work full time and feeling great. I have to go back in next year to have the other implant put back in, but this will be a breeze in comparison to everything else.

Life thrown some big things at me over the last 10 years, but I ve managed to bounce back with the love of my husband, children, family and friends. I ve taken all the advice given to me by consultants and nurses and managed to get through this difficult time by staying positive. I also joined a support group called Bosom Buddies. We meet once a month and do fun things together. It helps to be able to speak to people that have also gone through breast cancer. I still attend now and have met and made friends with lots of lovely ladies.

I ve just had my √¢‚Ǩ≈ì5 year all clear√¢‚Ǩ ù, but I don t know if anyone is every cancer free. For me, I just live each day as it comes and try not to thing of what could have been or what the future holds.