Until my own diagnosis, I was one of those people who's life had not been directly touched by cancer. None of my family or friends had suffered with or died from cancer. The closest encounter I'd had was taking part in fundraising for the Cancer Council and NBCF's Pink Ribbon initiatives.
It was a genuine shock to be diagnosed with Stage 2B/Grade 2 Breast Cancer with a 3cm invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast.
So, what does all this jargon mean peeps?
Stage 2B: Tumour is 2-5cms in diameter and has spread to the Lymph nodes.
Grade 2: Intermediate abnormal & fast growing cells.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: Tumour begins in the milk duct and grows through the duct wall to the surrounding breast tissue. It can also metastasise (spread) to other parts of the body.
What amazed me the most about my diagnosis was the size of the tumour. Why hadn't I noticed such a large lump earlier than I did? It goes to show you how important regular self examination is. I'd let myself drop to the bottom of my priority list, too busy looking after my family to worry about me. (PLEASE...check your boobs girls, get to know how they look and feel and see your GP if anything seems out of place!).
First things first...cut the vile little sucker out of me!
In January 2013 I had a nipple sparing mastectomy on my right breast with an immediate reconstruction using a silicone implant. My surgeon also removed fourteen lymph nodes from my armpit. Pathology came back showing that there were cancer cells in one of the nodes.
Next stop...a high dose course of chemotherapy.
March was the start of chemo. Six treatments in total, once every three weeks. Suffice to say that it was hellish and I'm so very glad that its over!
Treatment number three was radiation which kicked off in July, three weeks after chemo finished.
Twenty five sessions over five weeks and although towards to end it became quite painful, was a great deal more pleasant than chemo.
I started Tamoxifen in September 2013 and will be popping a pill once a day for ten years to suppress the hormones that my type of cancer feeds on. Side effects range from fatigue & fuzzy memory to hot flushes and weight gain. My body has taken some time to adjust to the hormonal shift.
The preventative mastectomy and reconstruction of my left breast was completed in August 2014. The surgery was a success but emotionally I fell apart, my stiff upper lip well and truly wibbled, and it took months of counselling and anti-depressants to help me move forward.
I am hoping that by hitting it hard with everything offered to me, I'll still be around in ten or twenty years (let's make it an even fifty hey!). I have no intention of entertaining a secondary cancer or falling off the perch any time soon thank you very much! I'm far too busy for such nonsense!
This cancer malarkey was always going to be challenging but I wasn't expecting the incredible amount of goodness that has come from it. Kindness, such kindness from beloved friends, family and complete strangers! The Human Spirit is a wonderful thing!
I've managed to surprise myself too...my attitude to adversity in particular. I used to sweat the small stuff and become easily flustered when things went wrong. Now...now my priorities and perspective have shifted significantly and it takes a lot to make me lose my bottle.
The Big C has turned my world on its head but I don't spend my time wishing it away...there is nothing for it but to Keep Calm and Carry On!
Thanks for following my journey. xxx