I was checking myself in the shower one morning when I found a hard, pea-sized lump in my right breast. I thought it was probably nothing to worry about, but knew I had to get it checked out straightaway.
I saw my GP, who examined my breast and told me to come back in a few weeks, after my period. It was Christmas so I tried to put it to the back of my mind, but I couldn’t help worrying.
Then, a week after New Year, my GP referred me for a mammogram so we would know for sure what the lump was. He called the following day, asking me to come in to discuss the results. My gut reaction was to ask if it was cancer. He said the mammogram was a bit suspicious and that he’d made an appointment for me to see a consultant at St James’s Hospital in Leeds the next day.
At the hospital I had to have another mammogram, a needle biopsy (which extracts cells from the lump for analysis) and an ultrasound scan. The results came back later that day. Miguel was with me when the consultant told me I had breast cancer. He explained the cancer was locally advanced, which meant it had spread around my breast. He told me I’d probably need a mastectomy. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me – I felt numb.
That night Miguel and I talked things over. I was distraught but he was so reassuring. He told me we were in it together and that he’d always be there to support me.
But we were scared. When someone says, “You have cancer”, you immediately think you’re going to die. And I was worried about the treatment – about losing my hair and feeling ill and tired all the time. Then there was the prospect of losing my breast.
The way Miguel and I coped over the next few days was to read up as much as we could about breast cancer and we contacted Breast Cancer Care. We then researched a new trial the consultant had recommended, which involved a course of chemotherapy before surgery.
A few weeks later I began a four-month course of chemo. It was a grim experience. I felt exhausted, run-down and nauseous. Within two weeks my hair had started to fall out.
The chemotherapy did shrink the cancer, but I still had to have a mastectomy. I tried to prepare myself for it and the night before the operation I felt amazingly calm.
I decided against having reconstructive surgery – I wanted to face up to things and come to terms with how I looked. It really helped that my relationship with Miguel was so strong.
After the surgery I didn’t want to feel self-conscious, so when the bandages came off I showed Miguel straightaway. I was sad I’d lost my breast and that I was left with such a visible reminder of the cancer. But because Miguel was so supportive, I didn’t feel I’d lost my femininity. Miguel still made me feel attractive.
But then I received another blow. My consultant told me there were traces of cancer in the lymph nodes under my arms and that I needed more chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I didn’t think I could go through treatment again, but Miguel was so optimistic about our future that he helped me believe I could do it. The second round of chemotherapy was difficult, though. I made the decision to work part-time because I felt so ill.
My last treatment was in December 2000 and now I feel as fit and well as ever, which is great news. I still see the specialists regularly and will have a mammogram initially every year. The fear that the cancer might return is the hardest thing for me to deal with and it’s something I think about every day. However, there is a sense in which, with every month that passes, the future looks a little bit brighter for me.
During my treatment there were times when I felt like giving up and I struggled emotionally. That’s when I really needed Miguel and he never let me down. He also tried to keep a sense of normality and gave me space when I needed it.
I don’t worry about my body image and I’ve found a really good breast prosthesis, which fits into my bra. I feel it’s really important that I’m confident about my body, and I’m taking part in Breast Cancer Care’s fashion show this month.
Fighting breast cancer has made my relationship with Miguel much stronger. It’s even made us more spontaneous and fun loving. I couldn’t have got through it without him.
This article appears courtesy of Top Santé/Sally Janes