“Like many people today, I have personal experience of family loss due to cancer, both my parents had died as a result of cancer.
But breast cancer was something other people got!
So when I went for an investigation for another breast lump (I had a history of cysts), it was a devastating shock to be told I had breast cancer; I was totally unprepared for that news. I was “lucky”. I was diagnosed about half an hour after seeing the specialist, so was spared the agony of waiting for results. I was in the Jane Ashley Breast Care Unit, at the Churchill in Oxford, having a lumpectomy within ten days. Unfortunately the biopsy showed that the tumours were ‘multi-focal’ and further surgery was needed.
So six weeks later I was back having a bi-lateral mastectomy. This was followed by radiotherapy. I was fortunate that someone I knew well had been through the same procedure; she was my “rock” throughout the cancer journey. Someone to ask those niggling questions that you don’t like to ask the professionals in case you seem self-absorbed or to be a time-waster. She introduced me to the group Bosom Friends. The ladies were all in the same boat - affected by breast cancer, either currently or previously.
I’d never seen myself as a “support group” sort of person, but these people were all just like me – ‘normal’ (debatable, some might say!) but happy to share their experiences to ease someone else’s fears, when the occasion warranted.
A couple of years later the two ladies who had been co-ordinating the group for around 13 years decided to step down, and invited me to step up in their place. I was amazed that they thought I was up to such a task and declined, but it was obvious that the group must go on, so together with another colleague we agreed to carry on where they left off”.
“It seems everyone these days sadly knows someone who has, or has had, cancer.
Nevertheless, when you are diagnosed with the Big C, it’s the most devastating and shocking news.
I was 44 when I received my cancer diagnosis. Far too young for cancer, I naively thought – but, of course, cancer doesn’t discriminate. When I found a lump in my breast I went to see my GP straight away. She said she suspected it was breast cancer. A few days later, having had mammograms, biopsies and much medical prodding and poking I was told the news that my family and I had feared the most: I had breast cancer.
A couple of weeks later I had a mastectomy. I was scarred, my body had changed considerably, I felt very unattractive – and I was very concerned about my future health. It was at this point that I decided I needed to speak with someone who knew – really knew – how I was feeling following my diagnosis. I searched online and found the Bosom Friends’ website and went along to their next meeting. It was at the home of one of the members. We had coffee and cake, chatted and laughed a lot. The ladies were all so friendly and encouraging. Some had been members for 15 years; I found this really reassuring – 15 years post-diagnosis, they were all still very much alive and kicking!
A few weeks later I started six sessions of chemotherapy – cancer-beating drugs pumped around my body every three weeks. I chose to try the cold-cap in an attempt to keep my hair. I didn’t lose it all but my hair was certainly a mess (the Friar Tuck look is not a glamorous one). Chemo left me feeling exhausted – physically and emotionally – but the weeks went quickly enough and before I knew it I was starting radiotherapy at the Churchill Hospital. For me, the rads were a walk in the park compared with the chemo. I was lucky I didn’t burn but I must have gone through tubs and tubs of aqueous cream!
I was generally able to go to most BF meetings throughout my treatment and I’m so glad I did - my new friends at the group were supportive and encouraging.
Four years on, I’ve got used to my new ‘normal’. I’ve had reconstructive surgery, my hair is back, I feel pretty healthy - and I still meet with my Bosom Friends once a month. I’m very glad I found these lovely ladies and hope to be involved with the group for many years, sharing experiences and hopefully giving support to new Bosom Friends”.
“I am grateful to say that I have reached the grand age of 65, given that I have had two primary cancers. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with primary bladder cancer, grade 3.
At the time statistics stated that for 50% of people developing bladder cancer, smoking was a contributory factor, they were usually over the age of 67 and this type of cancer was more common in men. I did not fit into any of these categories. I had always been a non-smoker, seldom drank and couldn’t get enough fruit and veg!
Soon after my diagnosis I asked if there was a support group which I could attend. I was informed that there wasn’t such a group at that time and even if there was, it would mostly be men affected and that generally they are less likely to attend such groups. I am very happy to say that this has now changed - so that is brilliant.
I was still pretty naive, as although I was aware I could get a secondary cancer, I didn't think I would get another primary cancer whilst still receiving treatment for the first one. However in March 2009 after my third routine mammogram I received a letter for a call back to Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Several tests later I was diagnosed with Grade 2 lobular breast cancer. I vividly remember those lonely scary times when you wake up and relive your nightmare news - and of course you do not want to wake anyone up at that time to offload your fears.
It became part of my life to travel 50 miles to the Churchill Hospital in the morning and then rush back to attend Stoke Mandeville on the same day in the afternoon for breast cancer clinic.
My breast cancer did not present itself as a lump but as a thickening in my breast so I consider myself extremely lucky, yet again, that the mammogram had detected it.