Everyone has to die from something and 1 in 3 women get breast cancer, those are just the facts of life. That is until it happens to you or somebody close to you. As a child, my Nanny Mary had breast cancer, treatment and a …
Tag: breast cancer
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 …
Laura is a mindfulness meditation practitioner, leading group and one-to one sessions in both the private and voluntary sector. For more information, visit www.lauraashurst.co.uk
A worrier from childhood
I have always been a worrier. That natural ability that we all have to worry about things seems to have accompanied me for as long as I can remember. I can’t recall a time during my childhood when I didn’t worry. When I dealt with one worry, I would lie in bed and think about what my next worry would be whilst my twin sister slept soundly in the bunk bed above me. Lizzie used to sleep on the top bunk because she didn’t wet the bed and I did. I think my worrying and bed-wetting were very good companions. Why am I telling you this?
Being open about being a worrier
I’m telling you because I’m no longer ashamed, not about me wetting the bed, although I’m not ashamed of that now either and growing up I used to be, but about me being a worrier. I spent so many years trying to cover up my worries; lots of them would have appeared trivial and ridiculous to other people. I worried about what people would think of my worries.
As you can see, the level of attention I gave them extended to them being protected from the opinions of others. It was time consuming, life robbing and totally destructive. My carefully honed exterior appearance worked extremely hard to cover up what was going on inside my mind. I became very skillful at masking how I was feeling. My worrying habit’s crippling effect was a well-kept secret.
And then, aged 34, in the summer of 2001, when our daughter Megan was 3 and our son, Jack, was six months old I found a lump in my right breast when I was in the shower. Within three days I was being examined by my GP, who felt the lump and suggested that what I’d presented with was probably benign and ‘nothing to worry about’ but that she would refer me anyway for further tests to get a definite answer.
Waiting for a diagnosis: permission to worry
Telling a worrier not to worry is like taking an ice cube out of the freezer and expecting it not to melt. Of course I worried, excessively, (worriers don’t like the word ‘probably’) whilst at the same time trying to convince myself that it was going to be ok. Anybody reading this who has walked in the shoes of ‘have I got cancer or not?’ knows the amount of bargaining that goes on at this potential pre-entry point into the cancer world.
Suddenly I felt normal because wouldn’t everybody, albeit at varying levels, worry until they got their definitive results upon finding a lump? I was given a glimpse into a world where it felt like my worrying was being given permission to flare up and in a very odd way that felt calming to me.
Being told I have the ‘best type of breast cancer’
I had no idea what ‘ductal cancer in situ – micro-invasive’ meant when the results came back, but kept hearing, ‘that’s the best type of breast cancer to get’, which made no sense to me at all. Nothing that I read or heard made me feel any better. My diagnosis had the ‘c’ word in it. That was my main point of focus and of course I blamed myself.
The judgmental aspect of being human that my worrying had significantly developed for me over the years arrived easily at my front door. Sampling of twelve lymph nodes showed no subsequent evidence of cancer cells. A lumpectomy, and 25 sessions of radiotherapy followed which was the recommended course of action.
The worry doors were now very firmly wedged open to what if, and when, worry routes into the mental corridors of my mind. And all the while I wasn’t capable of caring for my baby son or my daughter properly. Worries about being a terrible mother plagued me whilst on the radiotherapy plinth.
Another primary breast cancer diagnosis followed by a secondary breast cancer diagnosis
A condensed version of the next six years included another diagnosis of primary breast cancer and a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer in December 2007, six weeks after my 40th birthday. Life had dealt me a card that included an inbuilt ability to worry about my own shadow along with two primary breast cancer diagnoses and a Stage 4 secondary breast cancer diagnosis by the time I’d entered my fourth decade.
Creating a mindfulness toolkit
I was referred to an amazing clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Annie Hickox from whom I continue to receive mental health support. Alongside that, I discovered mindfulness and its ability to totally transform the way that thoughts, feelings and emotions can be viewed, with some distance created between you and them, so that the huge ball of worry that’s so very easily created in our minds can be managed much more effectively.
My mindfulness took kit includes self-kindness and self-compassion; hugely welcome tools that have the ability to make me feel nurtured and supported as opposed to the destructive nature of self-sabotage and self-loathing created by excessive worrying. It has been life enhancing and given me a renewed sense of self in relation to the body I inhabit, an awareness of reacting rather than responding to repetitive thoughts, and importantly, it’s given me choices.
What mindfulness has taught me
Mindfulness has taught me that I can choose to spend every day worrying, becoming more and more tangled up in my thoughts, missing so much of what goes on around me as my worries gnaw into my precious time or I can choose to be mindfully aware of and acknowledge my thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them, helped along by my breath as a constant anchor. Mindfulness allows me to live presently.
Living with secondary breast cancer
I have been living with secondary breast for 13 years. I currently reside in that most luxurious of places called stability where every person living with Stage 4 cancer aims to be. The privilege of being stable and still alive is not lost on me as I reflect on the median survival rates for secondary breast cancer. Gratitude is one of the fundamental pillars of mindfulness.
I am hugely aware of just how fortunate I am that the aromatase inhibitor drug Letrozole is currently controlling the nature of my metastatic disease whilst Zometa is supporting the damage that long-term exposure to it has caused to my bones. And, I’m aware of course that nothing lasts forever. Whilst this drug is working well now, nobody knows what the next round of tests will show.
Daily mindfulness and mindfulness meditation helps me to enjoy each day full
Practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation daily is helping me to enjoy each day fully. It’s helping, knowing that whatever the future holds for me, I haven’t wasted precious time being bound and chained by the heaviness of my excessive worrying. I am living, and I will not allow my worries to live my life for me. The hamster wheel of worry and rumination is often still present but now I choose how fast it spins.
Laura is a member of the ambassador team for the Building Resilience in Breast Cancer Centre led by Professor Naz Derakshan where she leads monthly mindfulness meditation sessions for its private Facebook members. She is driven by the need for women to be fully supported to develop their emotional resilience following a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Laura is a member of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Campaigns team where she has been involved in lobbying the government since 2011 in a range of campaigns to help cancer patients receive better standards of care and treatment. Laura has also campaigned on behalf of people living with secondary breast cancer with Breast Cancer Now as part of their Secondary Breast Cancer Campaign Group. She is a professional speaker, talking publicly about her experiences of living with secondary breast cancer.
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 …
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 us.
We have had to adapt and adjust how we manage patients, developing new ways of supporting our patients with minimal face to face contact. In addition the support mechanisms around us have also had to change and this has impacted in our ability to refer to networks, counselling and charities.
The support offered to women in these situations can vary but in normal times would include specialist nurse support in clinics and onward referrals to counselling or community teams. Information leaflets are available and with professional and family support the majority of patients simply get on with their life changing experience.
Issues often arise once treatment or regular contact with a service stops. The patients may feel abandoned or left to cope on their own, unsure of where to go with that uncertainty or question that feels trivial but also important.
During the last twelve months life has been different for all of us but especially those with a cancer diagnosis. The adjustment to having little or no social contact and the informal support networks we all use have been restricted. The feeling of isolation becomes a real issue, who can these women turn to for support and advice in a ‘no contact’ world.
As a team we have seen an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with primary, secondary or metastatic breast cancer under the age of 50 years, (many with young children) we recognised this has the potential to add another layer of anxiety in an already challenging situation.
Just how do you juggle chemotherapy with home schooling?
The CNS team has found this a challenging time and recognised the gaps in support for these women – both in a professional and informal way.
Moving forward we want to make sure women are supported, that they have the right information to make informed decisions – it’s what we would all want for our family and friends.
We felt what was needed was ‘time’ – a time for them to talk, – about themselves, as themselves with no judgment.
To talk about how they were coping, with cancer, with the housework, with cooking, with childcare. We want to give women the opportunity to bring along their young children so we could develop ‘family centred’ support.
We want to provide a way to Navigate the conversation, keep the communication open and honest so that it becomes okay for the children to be inquisitive, so they can learn about mummy’s cancer, why mummy’s hair has gone, why she is napping a bit more today, why we can’t go to the playground.
Our second focus, is Resources………….
What more reading material can we provide to our patients and what is available that we haven’t used before.
We have found a huge variety of books, blogs, phone apps, charity websites, learning kits and flash cards! We recognise the use of more interactive tools is useful, being able to sit down with them in clinic and talk about individual family needs where we can work out how they might adjust their language and explain to their children more about mummy’s breast cancer.
We recognise that this support and resource isn’t offered as standard, and may account for more negative outcomes and experiences.
Our vision is to make this part of our core service provision.
We have applied and are currently waiting to hear about our application for a charity grant to support and take this initiative forward – this it is just the beginning………………….We want to be able to provide family centred support to other cancer groups, not just breast.
But for now, we want to set up our service, allow it to develop and grow, directed by our patients and what works best for them. We want to prepare our patients for open discussion and sign posting to appropriate resources for their individual needs.
We are very excited for the future and look forward to bridging the gaps in support and to better meet the needs of our patients facing breast cancer in a holistic and family centred way.
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 …
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 …
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.
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 …
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 …
In this guest blog, Bronwyn talks about being diagnosed with breast cancer with a three month old baby.
So where do I start, the having a baby part or the getting diagnosed with breast cancer part. Let’s be honest, the two do not make the most ideal mix. One in itself is life changing enough let alone the combination.
I found a lump in my breast three weeks after giving birth to my first born. At the time I wasn’t too concerned as I was breastfeeding and was reassured that it was ‘just a blocked milk duct’ and it happens all the time so don’t worry, just massage it out. However, this did not do the trick and over the course of the next seven weeks my ‘blocked milk duct’ (aka aggressive cancerous tumour) grew to 39mm. By this point I had given up on the idea of it just being nothing and started the process which led to my diagnosis.
I was diagnosed when my son turned three months old and I started my five months of chemotherapy two weeks later, just four days before my 29th Birthday… Happy Birthday to me.
Now the mix of young baby and chemo is not something I would wish upon anyone. I struggled to say the least. The sickness hit me like a truck at high speed and I spent most of my mothering hours just trying not to think about it until it was baby bedtime and I could collapse into a heap on the floor.
Treatment would have been so much easier without a baby in tow, I could have stayed in bed and rested 24/7…. But no.
I do see it as a positive though, I still got my rest like a normal mum ha! But I also had someone who literally made me focus on something else and definitely kept me busy.
The thing is, you need to keep yourself together as you have to take care of someone else as well as yourself. It’s so hard but it can be done.
I did not have the greatest support network around me, everyone close to me kind of freaked out and didn’t know how to help so they just didn’t. I lost friends, I argued with people who let me down including my partner at the time. The stress and upset of all those around me who just weren’t helping was too much at times. I was dealing with being a first time mum and going through aggressive treatment for cancer and the only person I could rely on was myself. I had to get myself through this treatment not only for me but for my son.
So how did I do it?
Firstly, I knew I had to. I didn’t want to be unwell or not be around to watch my son grow. I had to get through this. I would look down at my baby boy and just cry, why did this happen to me? Why now? I wanted to focus on being the best mum I could be but instead I was so unwell and in and out of hospital. But at the end of the day I did have him, he was my motivation, the little light in my life that kept me going and made me want my life back more than anything.
He got me up and out every day, I kept active and busy all throughout my treatment. Going on daily walks and trips out with my little boy, yes it was exhausting but I always felt better for it. My focus was him and my health. Keeping myself busy, in a strict routine not only for me but for my son and keeping distracted was essential.
I found it extremely hard asking for the help I needed during my treatment, mainly because it’s just not in my nature. At the start of my treatment I had spoken to those around me and asked them to help with certain things to ease the stresses for me. This didn’t last though and slowly I found myself needing to ask and ask and ask for simple things from those around me. I can honestly say that this was the hardest part of my treatment, the lack of support from my loved ones. I always look back and wonder how my experience would have been if I had been surrounded by more naturally nurturing people.
With that being said, I do look back and see that I got myself through the toughest battle of my life, with very little love and support while raising my first child. I look back and think, wow! I did so well to keep it together. I am so strong. My son will be so proud of his mother.
Something that really helped me, before, during and after treatment was doing my own research on what I was going through, the treatment I was receiving, if there was anything I could do to improve my chances of not only surviving cancer but to recover my body from the brutal treatment it had just been through. It gave me a sense of empowerment and still now, two years out of finishing my treatment I feel in control of my life, health and wellbeing.
Cancer opened my eyes to the world, to my world. I did a huge detox after finishing treatment both physically and mentally, cleansing my body of the toxins it had been crammed full of and having a fresh start in life. I removed myself from negative energy and didn’t allow what I had been through to hold me back. I moved to the other side of the world and made the decision to leave my partner and go out into the world as a single mum, I am the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been in my life.
There is so much more I could say about my struggles over the past two years, the fear, stress and heartache that cancer brings into your life is never ending. I do truly believe that taking charge of your health is the first stepping stone to dealing with all of this. For me, it really is as simple as a healthy diet and exercise. Telling myself that I am strong, healthy and happy. I can get through anything life brings my way, I beat cancer. I struggled but I did it.
My son was my cheerleader, although he didn’t know it at the time I will tell him when he gets older how he helped mummy survive, just by being by my side.
Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer by Jennifer Young, Founder of Beauty Despite Cancer Coming from a scientific background, Jennifer Young is an experienced microbiologist and associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who decided to combine her knowledge …