Fiona MacKinnon has been a wonderful supporter of our work in Scotland for the past four years. Here, she shares her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer and how writing has helped her to express her emotions and allow her loved ones to gain a greater understanding of her experiences.
How a new dress changed my life
Going to try on a dress and a new bra wasn’t something that I would ever have thought could change the course of my life, but this is what happened when my mother-in-law was undergoing chemotherapy for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in October 2010 and had suggested a special family meal when she got out. I was really looking forward to the meal and thought that, as it was a special occasion, I would also treat myself to a new outfit.
I went off to my local department store, Debenhams, and into the changing room to try on a dress I liked. Due to the neckline of the dress, I also picked up a different bra to try on with it to get the complete look. On raising my arm in front of the dressing room mirror I noticed a large dimple or pucker of skin. This looked unusual to me and I hadn’t spotted it before, and my immediate thought was that it could be cancer. I didn’t waste any time in making an appointment to see my GP the following morning and from there I was urgently referred to a one-stop breast clinic.
Everything happened very quickly and on the Tuesday after my visit to the breast clinic, I went into hospital to undergo a left sided mastectomy. The medical team explained to me that the breast tumour was 6.5 cm, stage 2, grade 2 oestrogen positive and was 0.5mm from my chest wall.
I ended up spending 10 days in hospital, but on the day I was due to be discharged, they told me the cancer was also in my lymph nodes. I was obviously feeling mixed emotions about being discharged at this point, but it ended up that I was only to be re-admitted a few days later on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas in hospital.
'The trials and tribulations of treatment'
Following the initial operation, I had lots of treatment including five chemotherapy sessions but I failed to get the final one as I developed an abscess in my bowel. Because of having no real immune system due to chemo, I also developed septicaemia and had to have life-saving surgery.
This wasn’t the end of my surgeries, as after already having four weeks of radiotherapy and some time to recover a bit more of my strength, I also had to have a colostomy which was reversed five months later. I went on to develop two incisional hernias after that surgery, so in total I had seven major operations in less than 24 months and septicaemia twice.
It was a really difficult time for me and all of my loved ones while I was going through all of the trials and tribulations of treatment, but I’ve always tried to maintain a strong, positive outlook on life and have found writing to be very therapeutic.
I am fortunate to have a very loving and supportive family, including my husband and son who have really given me all of the love and care to come out the other side and beat cancer. I had previously lost a son during open heart surgery and I really feel that my inner strength helped to pull me through this and cancer.
Sharing my story
I often share my poems with my family and also some of my friends who are going through breast cancer treatment, as it helps me to explain some of my emotions and also gives me a different way to talk about my experiences.
I think it’s really important to be breast aware and this is how I initially got involved with Breast Cancer Now. These days I also volunteer as a Breast Cancer Now local representative; I’m really proud to give talks to companies and groups to promote the work of the charity and help raise awareness of the vital work that they do.
I’ve been through many scary and challenging experiences throughout this time and it has certainly changed parts of my life. I hope that by sharing my story others will also feel confident to open up about their own experiences and, in turn, really talk about the importance of early detection.
My Cancer Journey
I was busy living life
Being someone’s special wife
And trying to be a mother
When I had lost his brother
One day I tried a dress on that made me feel great
Only to reveal something that would make our hearts break
I prayed, I cried, I ached
My world about to have a massive shake
This lump, from me it had to leave
Or my family may be bereaved
My friends were by my side
So there was nowhere for fear to hide
The days that passed filled with pain
Both of physical and inside strain
Many dark days and months passed
Unsure that these would be the last
The days, the weeks, the months went by
The clouds lifted, my eyes would dry
The way forward was not to die
But to get more help for others to try
One day breast cancer we will beat you
My only wish that this come true
- Fiona MacKinnon
Our Local Representatives are a network of dedicated volunteers based throughout the UK. Find out more about how you can give your time to raise awareness of the charity and our life-saving work.
Find out more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer