I am 34 years old, mama to two amazing kids, a wife, a nurse and a student. In February 2018 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer in my left breast after experiencing an awful shooting pain.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer is rare and aggressive. And it doesn’t usually present with a lump which means that it is often not diagnosed at an early stage. I only went to the doctors because my boob was incredibly painful. My symptoms started with an inverted nipple and pain. These symptoms wouldn’t automatically be associated with something seriously wrong. Unfortunately, for me, these symptoms were associated with something seriously wrong – inflammatory breast cancer. It turned out that I was one of the 10% of inflammatory breast cancer cases to have a tumour (the other 90% of inflammatory breast cancer patients don’t have tumours). In fact, it measured at 9cm in length. I was told that it had already spread to my lymph nodes and I started chemo a week later.
My treatment plan consisted of 6 rounds of chemo (FEC-T), a non-skin-sparing mastectomy and auxiliary node clearance, 15 rounds of radiotherapy, 18 rounds of Herceptin injections, hormone tablets for 10 years and I am due to start Zoladex next month which will put me into early menopause (15-20 years earlier than I should be).
I have struggled to accept this diagnosis – it’s always been my job to care and look after other people. Then all of a sudden, the tables have turned and it’s been me that has needed looking after (but I’ve only allowed myself to be looked after on a few occasions). But looking after others doesn’t automatically mean you are immune to getting a life-threatening disease. I wish it did! I often wonder why did this have to happen to me? But I guess the question is, why NOT me?
I have learnt so much from my diagnosis and still have a lot to learn. Before I was diagnosed, I knew I was stubborn and having breast cancer made me realise just how stubborn! The first thing the oncologist said to me was that I was going to be “poorly”, this was not the case at all. When I was having chemo, I made it my mission to carry on as normal, I did all but 2 of the school runs in the 9 months I had treatment. I carried on working on my degree whilst in the hospital having chemo. I hiked up and down Yorkshire’s beautiful coast for my 34th birthday right before my 3rdchemo. This was a real achievement for me as chemo does affect your physical health. Everybody deals with the effects of chemo differently and out of the 4 months I had chemo I would have only classed myself ‘poorly’ for 2 weeks out of the whole 4 months. I learnt that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.
During the heat wave we had this summer, I did both school runs without my wig because it was just too bloody hot – why should I make myself feel uncomfortable for the sake of others! Oh my god!! You can imagine the stares, but I had nothing to be ashamed of, I held my head up high and quietly cried when I got back home, because that took GUTS!! I’m a strong woman but I’m not a ‘warrior’, ‘a pink princess’ or a ‘fighter’ or any other cancer cliché. I am just a mum who reluctantly did as she was told (did I tell you I hate being told what to do?!) and was LUCKY enough to be given the all clear.
Breast Cancer is a scary diagnosis, I won’t lie. But primary breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. The treatment is horrendous – not only the physical side effects but the mental side effects as well. And whilst you feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill at the time with no way of getting off, it really does end. Your hair will start to grow back, quicker than you ever imagined it would do. The scars do fade and the memories whilst still vivid will make you think ‘did I really go through that?’ My advice to you, now you’re going through this, is LAUGH and LOVE. It’s not easy and you will have days where you want to punch a wall. The LOVE and LAUGHTER I got from my family and friends got me through the toughest time of my life. Accept help from those that offer it, don’t be proud. YOU need to come first.
For more information about inflammatory breast cancer, take a look at the Breast Cancer Care page on inflammatory breast cancer. And in the meantime, here’s some basic information from them…
- What is inflammatory breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, fast-growing type of breast cancer. It is called inflammatory because the skin of the breast looks red and inflamed. This is caused by the breast cancer cells blocking the tiny lymph channels in the breast and the skin.
- What are the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer?
The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can develop quite quickly and may include:
• redness, warmth or swelling of the breast
• the skin of the breast changing colour or looking bruised
• dimpling or ridges appearing on the skin, or the breast looking pitted like orange skin (known as peau d’orange)
• an increase in breast size
• pain or tenderness in the breast
• persistent itching of the breast
• an inverted (pulled-in) nipple
• swelling or lumps in the armpit