Today, Nic writes about being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer…
Completing treatment for my primary breast cancer is quite possibly the most surreal experience I have ever had. My friends and family celebrated their huge sense of relief that I was through the darkness but if I am honest, I felt a bit lost. In the 7 years between my primary and secondary diagnosis I never quite felt brave enough to say I had beaten the ‘big C’ perhaps deep down I knew it would call on me again. So, I immersed myself in all the aspirations I had once had, almost as if I was in a race to achieve as much as possible before the C word reared its ugly head. I wish someone had told me to slow down, to take time to process what I had been through.
My desperate need to claim back every second of my life, every dream it felt like cancer had stolen was in some ways a blessing, I graduated with a first class degree, bought my first house, got married had two beautiful children, achievement after achievement. It was great while it lasted and I am in no way saying you should not strive for all those things you dream off, just be kind to yourself in the process.
My career meant that I was always painfully aware there was always a risk of recurrence and I think in truth that’s why I buried my attention in everything but cancer, but with each year that passed I became a little more complacent, maybe cancer was actually done with me. Just before my eldest child’s first birthday, almost 5 years post primary diagnosis I was brought back down to earth with a bang. The approaching 5-year clear milestone had sent my anxiety into overdrive and I approached my oncologist to ask for a scan. One solitary little lesion in my liver was detected, and I underwent what seemed like a million scans, a biopsy and an ablation to be told the lesion was non-malignant, my head was spinning and the overwhelming sense of relief meant I didn’t think to question any of the information I was given, I was still cancer free and that’s all I needed to know. I went on to have my second child and suffered terribly with back and rib pain while pregnant, I ignored the fact that this could be a symptom of recurrence, and even felt angry when someone (non-specialist) suggested that my pains could be a sign my cancer had returned. Eventually I was forced to face it, secondary breast cancer to my liver and multiple bones.
Thankfully, treatments have advanced at an incredible rate over the years and hopefully will continue to do so. Secondary breast cancer is increasingly being managed more like a long-term condition rather than a terminal illness and while it remains incurable, prognosis is not always as bleak as it may once have seemed. I’ve been taking the same cocktail of meds for 2 and a half years now, of course I know someday this will stop working but to know there are second, third and even 4th line treatment options gives me so much hope for the future.
So, if you have just rung that bell in celebration of the end of treatment, firstly my biggest congratulations! Never question that achievement, celebrate it and at the same time allow yourself to grieve for what you have lost, the time you cant get back, your altered appearance, your hair loss, and that all important sense of normality. Enjoy all those dreams and aspirations you thought you may never get to do, but be mindful of your body, listen to it, it’s scary to face the possibility of recurrence but ignoring symptoms is literally the worst thing you can do. Don’t be afraid to question your specialists, knowledge is power when it comes from a reliable source.