This week is a guest post from Jenny in Australia who blogs and presents a podcast (ohitscancer) about going through breast cancer.
Almost my one year anniversary of diagnosis
As I write this post I’m just over a month away from my one year anniversary of being diagnosed with ERPR+ HER2+ breast cancer. Despite many, many months of treatment, I still find it somewhat unbelievable to think I had cancer – it just doesn’t seem like something that was part of my life plan… and yet here we are.
My diagnosis at age 37 of early stage, aggressive breast cancer came as a complete surprise – I have no family history and had not felt a lump or seen any changes to my breasts prior to finding a hard, jagged lump at the top of my right breast. It seemed to me at the time that at the height of a really enjoyable period of my life, when I was feeling really confident about who I was, what I stand for and where I was heading, the universe had decided I had had enough fun and threw this at me just to mess things up.
My warrior mindset
Facing the diagnosis with this so-called warrior mindset, I was ready to endure whatever it took to rid my body of this invader and was determined to do this whilst still maintaining some sense of normality. So whilst continuing to work full time, I underwent 4 rounds of AC chemo, 12 rounds of Taxol, and threw in some Perjeta and Herceptin for good measure. 5 months of chemo was without a doubt one of the most physically and emotionally challenging periods of my life. I then had a lumpectomy and a couple of lymph nodes removed and then 25 zaps of radiation. I’m still receiving Herceptin injections every 3 weeks, take Tamoxifen every day, and a tablet to help my heart recover from some hopefully temporary damage sustained during treatment. Despite all this – I am one of the lucky ones – I have had a complete pathological response to treatment, meaning that the chemo did its job and I am now cancer-free.
Life after cancer
I had this illusion that after the heavy-lifting of chemo, surgery and radiation was behind me (and yes, the majority of this treatment took place during covid!), that I’d be establishing a new life, where cancer was some kind of distant memory. Oh, how I was wrong. Right now, this ‘life after cancer’ is proving to be quite challenging. I feel like I’m at the stage where I look healthy, my hair is growing back and I can do most things that pre-cancer Jenny could…. And yet on the inside, the trauma of experiencing a life-changing situation is still bubbling away. The rational side of me says “come on, get over it, don’t dwell” and yet another part of me needs the time and space to digest what has happened, and to figure out what the ‘new me’ really is.
In the early stages and until quite recently when I’ve made some new “cancer friends”, I found the cancer journey to be incredibly lonely. I was often the youngest face at the hospital, am not really one for support groups and found a lot of online forums hard to connect with – I wasn’t the “married woman with kids” or the “grandma facing chemo” – I was ME, a young woman living a great independent life, with career ambitions, awesome social life and no real desire to be starting a family (shock – that’s right, not every woman wants to have kids). As much as they try, friends and family cannot possibly understand what you are experiencing – it’s just not something you can describe unless you have been there and done that yourself. So I took matters into my own hands and created my own online community, through my Instagram page ohitscancer. I was determined to share my experiences as a young woman with breast cancer in an open, unfiltered manner in the hope that others similar to me would find their experiences validated – and their voices heard. In the initial months after my diagnosis, I was keeping my friends updated via a WhatsApp group, and got into the habit of leaving voice messages as I found it easier to disseminate large volumes of information and actually kind of enjoyed it a bit more than writing messages… and this then evolved into the creation of my podcast series ohitscancer (available on Spotify or Apple Podcasts).
As I face the world this morning, I do so having lived experiences that I never thought I’d face, with an acceptance that life has changed and with confirmation that you cannot control life. I acknowledge that as a woman living in Sydney, Australia, a major metropolitan centre, I have had access to world-class medical professionals and treatment options that have granted me my cancer-free existence. As an educated and confident woman, I am able to speak my mind, challenge and critically assess my healthcare options… and I know that these factors combined mean that my outcomes have been better than those who are not privileged enough to have the same pathway. It is upsetting to me to think that these factors have an impact on your health and life expectancy but that’s where we are at.
What we can do is continue to use our voices to spread education and awareness about cancer to those in our networks, to keep finding a cure at the top of the agenda and if you happen to know someone facing cancer, just know that the battle doesn’t end – the journey exists for a lifetime… so be kind.