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Surviving breast cancer: refusing to take no for an answer

Surviving breast cancer: refusing to take no for an answer

Surviving cancer is as much about catching it early and being positive about the outcome, as it is about the treatment. I am Carolann Bruce, and I am a breast cancer survivor, but only because I refused to take no for an answer. A dream 

My worries, breast cancer and mindfulness

My worries, breast cancer and mindfulness

Laura is a mindfulness meditation practitioner, leading group and one-to one sessions in both the private and voluntary sector. For more information, visit A worrier from childhood I have always been a worrier. That natural ability that we all have to worry about things 

Cancer: the birthday present no one wants

Cancer: the birthday present no one wants

Emma Herring is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

A routine mammogram leads to a shock diagnosis

My cancer was the birthday present you never want to receive. Having reached the age of 50 and celebrated in style with my husband in New York, I went for my first ever mammogram. Having no symptoms or concerns, I was shocked when I was recalled to the breast clinic.

A distressing afternoon spent having more tests and biopsies led to an initial diagnosis of high-grade DCIS and I was told I would need a mastectomy. It was hoped that the surgery would be all I would need.

But 15 August 2017 is a date that neither I, nor my husband, will ever forget. It was the day I was told that the results from the pathology revealed a grade three tumour, along with cancer in a lymph node, and it was also HER2 positive. I think everyone heard my screams. I spent days in shock and was so scared.

Struggling to get through treatment

Next followed chemotherapy which I found a great struggle. I had to have a port fitted as the chemo nurses struggled to access my veins for blood tests and chemo. Losing my hair was awful. I refused to have it cut short, but after my first dose it came out in handfuls and my husband and I both cried in the kitchen as he cut off my remaining hair. I always wore a wig, or a scarf, and my husband was the only person who ever saw my bald head. I also reacted badly to one of my chemo drugs which led to a change to a weekly chemo regime.

After chemo I had further lymph nodes removed – luckily all were clear of cancer – and then 15 sessions of radiotherapy and my dose of Herceptin every three weeks.

The distraction of a new puppy

I didn’t cope well with my treatment. I just about managed a short walk most days and was grateful for friends and family who helped and walked our puppy who arrived the day after I had biopsies at the breast clinic. We had wondered if we were doing the right thing getting a dog – but our lively cocker spaniel was such a brilliant distraction. For my husband she was great company and an opportunity to get out for a walk when he had to cope with my fear and steroid rages! For me it was good to walk around the fields close to our house and not think about cancer and laugh at her enthusiasm and excitement for life.

Difficulty concentrating affects my work and self-confidence

I found concentrating very difficult and reading and writing hard. As a writer by profession, it made working tough. I managed to do small amounts, but the cancer treatment had really dented my confidence. My sister was a great support and brought me novels to read and a book of writing prompts to help me. I had support from the charity Maggie’s and did its ‘Where Now?’ course after my treatment ended. I also discovered the Ticking Off Breast Cancer website and reading about others who had come out the other side of treatment and having the tips and advice was a big help.

Coping with post treatment fatigue and rebuilding my confidence

Coming to the end of treatment was hard as I had terrible fatigue and although I’d had immediate reconstruction with an implant, I still had to wear an infill prosthesis to balance me out. I hated it and found it very uncomfortable and was so pleased when I could have symmetrising surgery in 2019 and I could do away with the prosthesis.

I had read stories about people who after having cancer re-evaluated their lives and made big changes, learnt new skills and changed jobs. But I was so tired and beaten that just getting through each day was an achievement. I was trying to work but the fatigue was an issue so was pleased when I got some work coaching from the organisation Working with Cancer. My coaching sessions gave me a real boost and helped me get back my confidence and start working again with some new clients.

Joining the Ticking off breast cancer team

It’s only now that I can look back at what happened and think about what I went through. I’m really pleased to be part of the Ticking Off Breast Cancer team and look forward to helping others as they navigate breast cancer treatment.

Guest blog: The Osbourne Trust

Guest blog: The Osbourne Trust

Who we are I’m Emma and I founded and now run The Osborne Trust, the only national charity that focuses all of our support on the children of a parent with cancer. The Trust was launched in 2014 after my own cancer diagnosis aged 36 years with 

Guest blog: Navigate – a new support for parents

Guest blog: Navigate – a new support for parents

As a Breast CNS Team in a large NHS Trust, we see breast cancer patients who we support from screening, diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Our role has changed over the years and non-more so than in the last twelve months since the coronavirus pandemic hit 

Guest blog: My daughter was 15 when I got cancer

Guest blog: My daughter was 15 when I got cancer

This guest blog is from Gloria whose daughter was fifteen when Gloria was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was 54 years old when I found a lump in my right breast. It was late September and in October 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a total shock and the icing on the cake, because it came at a time in my life that was already so difficult. I didn’t know how I was going to cope.

Nothing prepares you for those words, “You have cancer.” I just cried.

My daughter was 15 and at the stage where she was finding teenage life difficult. Our relationship was so strained I thought I was going mad. I just thought that life couldn’t get any worse. I was alone with a teenager and now a cancer diagnosis.

My family were not living close to me so I went to all my hospital appointments alone and felt I had to be strong around my daughter. She knew I was upset but I kept the crying for when I was on my own.

Taking to a teenager about such a difficult situation when they are going through big life changes themselves is so tough. The hug my daughter gave me when I told her that I had cancer was so beautiful – it had been a while.

She was getting ready for her GCSEs and was very stressed. As a mother, it was important that I told her what I was going through but in a way that could put her mind at ease. It wasn’t easy.

I went from being told that I would have a lumpectomy (which was not too invasive) to needing a mastectomy and losing my nipple. Then more surgery to give me a new nipple and to adjust my other breast to make both breasts look similar.

I was heartbroken.

But through it all, having my daughter to think about made me stronger. I had to think of her as well as myself. And this gave me the strength I needed to be strong.

Thank you Ines, you have been my rock at the most difficult time in my life.

I think it was helped by the fact that after a while, going through cancer for me was just like having a cold. And I think I did a good job at the most difficult time in my life.

Now two years on

Now 2 years on I have a new breast and hopefully my phase 2 will happen soon. My daughter is now at university and I feel lucky to be alive to tell my story.  It’s not easy but my goodness, cancer and teenagers show you how strong you can be when you didn’t know you had it in you to be.

Guest blog: telling my children (10-year-olds and 14-year-old) I had cancer

Guest blog: telling my children (10-year-olds and 14-year-old) I had cancer

This guest blog is from Mary Huckle, in which she talks about how she told her 10-year-old twin girls and 14-year-old son she’s been diagnosed with cancer. She shares her tips for dealing with children of this age group. 7 Things to Consider When Telling 

Guest blog: Motherhood through Cancer

Guest blog: Motherhood through Cancer

Motherhood is hard enough without a cancer diagnosis! In a time of pandemic, being confined to our homes, home schooling and wearing countless hats of not only parent, but teacher, entertainer, friend, sibling, chef and cleaner, having a ten-year-old pre tween daughter and going through 

Guest blog: Mum Guilt

Guest blog: Mum Guilt

People talk about mum guilt a lot. It would seem that you have children and then the sense of responsibility leads to an enormous amount of guilt about everything. Am I doing enough with them? Am I over stimulating them? Are they eating enough fruit and veg? Are they eating too much fruit and veg? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they having too many naps? All the guilt, all the time. 

And then a cancer diagnosis comes along.

As soon as I’d been diagnosed with cancer, that pesky guilt seeped in immediately… even if my logical mind knew it was nonsense. I’ve ruined their innocent childhood. I’ve brought cancer into their lives. They understand too much too soon about concepts I want to protect them from. 

Our minds are tricky and sometimes not particularly kind to us. In the face of a diagnosis that would take all my strength and resilience to face with courage and grace, my mind was trying to tell me I had failed my children somehow. 

Throw a lockdown into the equation too and suddenly these young, energetic, creative and curious minds are stuck at home with a fatigued, foggy, weary, run down Mum. I was the ‘do it all’ Mum and yet I’d become the opposite. I was the ‘hundreds of plans in a weekend’ Mum and the ‘stretch myself too thin so everyone could be happy’ Mum. This new version of Mum they were seeing was everything I wanted to shield my kids from. Instead, ironically, I was having to now shield inside, with them off school, seeing all the chemo side effects in all their glory. Having them at school would have meant I could ride the worst of the chemo out without them around. My battery was flat with them at home constantly and my guilt went off the scale. 

With my husband stepping up to every role that I could not be at this time, I had to adjust to being the ‘hugging Mum’, the ‘always in her bed Mum’, the ‘one with all the kisses Mum’, the ‘read a story Mum’ and the ‘rarely playing Mum’. It was the hardest adjustment I have ever had to make. Knowing that I could no longer do everything I wanted to for them. Seeing in their faces the bewildered looks the days I simply could not get out of bed as even my face muscles felt fatigued.

And then the windows of energy would come and the appreciation of being able to do more for my children would kick in. Throw anything at me, I will cope.  These pockets of energy would have me savour every bit of my babies – lapping up the joy of being out with them, or playing more with them. Filling my cup right up allowing my guilt to ease somewhat.

The thing about children as I start to come out of the worst of it physically is, they don’t dwell on what has been. My babies are seven and five and they wake each day with a renewed excitement for what today might bring. Even in lockdown. Even with parks being about our only exciting outing. Practically every day has still been an adventure. 

Have they been impacted by my cancer diagnosis? It will always be hard to know the full extent due to lockdown and lack of their usual routines having its own impact too. They sometimes refer to me being ill and my daughter especially likes to remind me that I have a dreadful memory now. But my illness does not define their days. They remember a summer of fun and not a summer where I was in hospital for a week. They remember spending lots of time at home, but very rarely mention how much I slept during it. They live for today and remind me to do the same each day. 

Living in the moment, present day to day, leaves no room for guilt to play its part. Guilt is regretting what you haven’t done and being present is dealing with what you can do today. My children don’t dwell on what they haven’t done this past year so why should I. Especially when one day I will be able to explain to them just how much my love for them spurred me on during my darkest days of my treatment. And as a friend once pointed out to me when I was having a guilty moment, one day they will have a greater understanding of all that we faced as a family this year, and it will teach them resilience, strength and the ability to face uncertainty with positivity. I wish cancer hadn’t touched their lives so young, but perhaps the lessons we will all gain from this experience will be more positive than I can imagine yet.  Guilt will try and rear its head but we can only play the cards we are dealt; do the best we can do and not dwell on a life we cannot have. So, my verdict on feeling guilty with my cancer diagnosis moving forwards… Not Guilty. 

Clare’s personal story: I didn’t tell my son I had cancer

Clare’s personal story: I didn’t tell my son I had cancer

You’ve been diagnosed with cancer. The big question is… do you tell your kids? As parents we naturally want to protect our children from anything that might hurt, upset or worry them. It’s part of a parent’s make-up. If we could wrap our children in 

Guest blog: Advice for parenting children while going through cancer

Guest blog: Advice for parenting children while going through cancer

This guest blog is from Sara Olsher, founder of Mighty & Bright, a company in the US focusing on support systems for children who are faced with traumatic situations such parents going through cancer or a divorce. Here, Sara talks about why she started Mighty&Bright 

Guest blog: telling my two year old I had cancer

Guest blog: telling my two year old I had cancer

In this guest blog Laura talks about how she told her two year old son that she had cancer.

“Mummy’s got Cancer” – The hardest words I’ve ever had to say.

How do you tell a two year old their mummy is sick?

I think telling your child you have cancer is probably the most difficult conversation you can ever have as a parent. As a mother, your first instinct is to protect your child from anything that could upset them or hurt their feelings, so how do you have a conversation that could do just that?
Some people may choose not to tell them, but for me, it was important Frank knew.

Yes he was young, but he is so bright and intuitive that he knew something was going on. He saw me absent for hospital appointments, at times looking sad, tired, emotional, and he needed to understand that it wasn’t anything he had done wrong. He has always needed routine, so I wanted to try and prepare him for the fact that things were going to be a little bit unpredictable for a while.

I waited until I had all the details, and decided I just needed to give Frank the basics, he wasn’t going to understand any more than that anyway. 

There is no right or wrong way to tell them, it’s not correct or incorrect to not say anything at all… and if it’s a conversation that you’re gearing up to have, then my heart goes out to you. It truly does. I’m not even going to begin to think I have any answers for you, but I thought if I shared how I told my little boy, it might make it easier for others to be able to form a plan of their own.

Don’t overthink it 

Go with your gut feeling and tell them what you think they need to know. You might chose not to tell them at all, but I wanted to be honest with Frank, and I wanted to make sure he got all the information from me rather than overhearing something in a conversation that he wouldn’t understand and might confuse him.

What information do you want to give them?

For me, it was just the basics. I wanted him to know I had cancer, that I was going to have to go into hospital and that I was going to lose my hair. That I might be poorly for a little while but it was eventually going to make me better. 

Pick the right time

Once I had all the information I was going to get, I waited until I got my head around it and picked a time that I wasn’t feeling over emotional or upset. I didn’t want him to pick up on any vibes.

Keep it simple and to the point

I personally don’t think you need to share too much, especially to a toddler. They aren’t going to understand what you are saying, no two year old knows the meaning of the word “cancer” so just figure out what you’re going to say before hand and give them time to ask questions if they want.
I’d asked my breast nurse at the hospital for some advice and she gave me a book which I found very difficult to read but it did help me articulate what I was trying to say to Frank. I read it to him the night I told him. It’s called “mummys lump,” if your treatment team haven’t got access to it, you can download it HERE or get the kindle version HERE.

Frank’s nursery

As a side note, I also told Frank’s nursery what was going on. Again, this is completely down to personal preference but I really wanted to make sure that he was going to have the support he needed on a daily basis whilst I was going through treatment. I knew there might be times he was upset or confused or just didn’t understand what was going on and that he might start acting up as a consequence of that. They were absolutely amazing, his key worker even started a journal for me which she kept up to date with pictures and stories of what he had been getting up to on the days I was too ill to pick him up.

It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to have, but kids are so resilient. They instil a sense of normality to your life when the rest of your world has been turned upside down. And they make you laugh, even in the hardest of times… and laughter, they say, is the best medicine. It’s very hard to sit and feel sorry for yourself when you’ve got a toddler trying to pick your nose for you.

Guest Blog: Fruitfly Collective advice on telling children

Guest Blog: Fruitfly Collective advice on telling children

This is a guest blog from the Fruitfly Collective about how to talk to and support your children throughout your cancer diagnosis. One of the reasons why it so hard to tell your child that you have cancer is the primal feeling of wanting to 

Guest blog: parenting with cancer (17 month old and 4 years old)

Guest blog: parenting with cancer (17 month old and 4 years old)

Natasha had a four year old son and seventeen month old daughter when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and here she explains how she talked to her children about her cancer diagnosis and generally managed her parenting while going through cancer. My diagnosis When