Andrea shares with us her friend Donna's journal entries recounting her experience of breast cancer. Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2016.
Andrea’s friend, Donna, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2011, and later with secondary breast cancer. While her treatment was initially successful, she succumbed to infection in February 2016.
Donna was a keen diver and she lived her life to the full, travelling the world and making many friends along the way. She leaves her mum, Bev; dad, Jeff; brother, Lee; sister-in-law, Tania; and niece, Neve.
While undergoing treatment for her breast cancer, Donna kept a journal recording her feelings and experiences. Andrea and Donna’s family hope that by sharing some of these journal entries, they will be able to help other women going through a similar thing.
In this blog, we’re sharing some extracts from Donna’s journal. Please note, these are Donna’s personal views and treatment choices and every woman’s experience of diagnosis and treatment is different.
So one day you find a lump, the next day you get an emergency appointment at the doctors, then two days later you are being x-rayed, ultrasounded and biopsied – and told… it doesn’t look good. Where do you go from there?
The realisation I had cancer was huge, however, the determination and confidence that came at the same time was incredible. So was the support and warmth that came in; the surge of love and friendship. Realising the power of friendship and cutting the ties of those that drain – making conscious choices about relationships.
To this day, 11 September 2011, not a single negative thought has passed into my head. It’s a month since I found the lump.
Of course I have fear, anxiety, concern, and now that the chemo has started, all sorts of little aches and pains that I never had before. This treatment will be tough, but so am I!
I have had four massive tears (one a week I think is healthy): the diagnosis; when my mum left me for the first time; my first consultation and confirmation of chemo; and after a wedding.
I couldn’t even get up the stairs for the rocking sobs. Never in my life had I felt so alone, terrified and confused, but I knew I had to face it.
The wedding was odd. I felt totally isolated, in a bubble, where everyone was warned but no-one understood. This made me realise that I needed to speak with others like me, especially as it gets tougher. I will reach out. It’s incredible really, I still feel lucky to have the family and friends support but it’s amazing to have the network of buddies at the Fountain Centre.
I was terrified of the chemo and what it would do to me. It’s nothing like you think. It’s not easy or a breeze – it’s a mind game.
My first chemo was, I think, one of the most anxious times I have ever encountered. I couldn’t hug Mum or Dad. I was terrified. The treatment itself was fine – the care, excellent and, to be honest, three days on, although tired and drained, I feel incredible. I feel positive.
Every day – in every way – the team are incredible. My family move me to tears. I was lucky enough not to react to my injections, my perky pills are great, and I know I have Rolls Royce drugs going in to me.
I wish I could take the pain and worry away from others, it’s so very hard to watch. I want them to believe as much as I do, to feel my strength. I will endure pain and sickness and lethargy – each bit simply is the cancer dying, the pain I feel, it feels. It’s doing me good.
Perhaps I will feel differently, I’m sure I will. I just hope I can look back here in three months and remember feeling good and happy and knowing I’m half way through.
Very odd feelings – still no negative thoughts, perhaps it’s too early or perhaps if you don’t allow it to enter your head then it’s ok. Maybe I am strong and alive and I just want to do so much more.
Secondary breast cancer
It’s not what you want. Today I had the realisation of what having a secondary tumour means. After the consultation, all I focused on was my hair – and cutting it.
Today for the first time, I considered something negative. That I would never be cured, that I may need to live with cancer for the rest of my life. It was a massive reality check. They are right: cancer does change you – maybe today I accepted it a bit more.
It still feels like it’s not happening. I still don’t feel any anger or self-pity, acceptance is the way forward. We are in a more serious situation – but the body is reacting well to the chemo. Chemo is my friend. Each chemo helps me to live. I have advanced cancer, my hair is falling out, my spots are coming out and somewhere, somehow, I need to find more inner strength. I have a bigger hill to climb.
Coping with the side effects
Suffering from headaches, jaw ache, bone heaviness and massive ache of the shoulders like I’ve done lots of exercise. Big, big ache on skin, eve bra straps hurt. Totally knackered. I feel like a pumped up ball – must be the steroids.
Recovering at mum and dad's; I feel so cherished. I feel warm and cared for and I feel different. I know that I might deal with this for a while but at the end of the day, it is what it is. I am supported and loved and it feels lovely.
I love the ‘medieval battlement’ in my body. I love my battalions going in to rid the castle of the evil king. I love the fact that I’ve organised trips to the theatre, and I’m cooking good food, have hypnotherapy and just getting on with things.
That pain, shock, and anxiety – it could come back, but I will be ready this time. I just want to get through this and then we can see what happens next. The drugs are ok, I’m ok, it’s ok. I really do feel different inside. A happier more contented me, it’s so odd. Reflecting back on those first six weeks, I never want them again. So much fear and worry and concern. The pain for me and the others around me is too great to bear.
Now it’s down to my attitude – and my body fighting as hard as it can and just being who I am.
Went to have Reiki. What an amazing experience. Felt so centred and calm, and the heat to the bones. Wow. Funny too. She said she couldn’t find any negative areas, that I was a very positive person – no stress or fear in me, that my energy was good.
Five days later
Today I don’t want cancer. Today I wanted to be normal, just have my normal life back, not to be tired, just to be whinging like normal people – not teary – just a bit fed up – come on little soldiers, do your stuff!
I cried when I looked in the mirror and saw my one eyelash, and my bald head, my red-rimmed eyes, and I just didn’t like it. I felt so very lonely. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for myself. For the way I look, for the loss of my hair, for my lack of fitness, for my soldiers.
I am holding it together, I am ok, I will be ok. I don’t know what it is – it’s not lack of fight, maybe I’m just a bit tired, not physically tired – but tired of being average. Tired of not being able to do things. Tired of needles, steroids and tablets. Just running on empty a bit.
One piece of advice is that you can’t control your body, but how you deal with it mentally makes all the difference. I went to work and did a long day today. Used my brain and it was a great distraction – can cope again. Note: maybe doing more, even when feeling rotten is better. Fresh air and seeing people. DO IT!
It’s amazing how it gets so much harder as time goes one. No one to get me through these days but me, with a determination and a day-by-day attitude; it’s the only thing to have.
Here I am with seven chemos under my belt, a strong head and a lighter heart. I really should congratulate myself. Now it’s time for the balance to right itself and for lots of lovely stuff to come my way. So many people couldn’t do this. I can. I will.
If you would like to read more of Donna's story, her brother will be sharing more entries from her journals on his own blog
If you’d like emotional support or advice from a nurse or counsellor, you may wish to visit the Breast Cancer Care website or call them on 0808 800 6000. If you’d like emotional support or financial advice, you may wish to visit the Macmillan Cancer Support website or call them on 0808 808 0000.
If you'd like more information about secondary breast cancer, including information on the services available in different parts of the UK, please visit our secondary breast cancer section.