PUBLISHED ON: 5 April 2021

When Irene was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2020, she was so grateful for all her family support. However, she also needed to speak to people who understood her situation. 

Irene, an older lady with grey hair, smiles widely after finishing her treatment

A nurse prompted me to check myself 

I was initially prompted to examine my breasts after going for a routine smear test. Jenny, the nurse, asked if I’d checked myself recently, and I joked that, ‘I wouldn’t know what was a lump or a bump’. Being well-endowed, I’d just relied on routine mammograms to check for anything. 

‘Just check,’ the nurse said as I walked out the door. 

Later, I thought more about it. I go for smear tests and mammograms regularly, so why don’t I also check my breasts myself? I went for a shower and found a distinct lump straight away. Thinking back, I’d been feeling some unusual sensations in my breast, but I put it down to nothing. 

I was diagnosed with grade 2 breast cancer in February 2020.  

I felt betrayed by my body  

I was just in total shock.  

Physically, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in my life. I was 56 and I’d got super fit; life was so good and I felt invincible.  

These things don’t happen to people like me, I thought. It’s always someone else. I felt my body had let me down. I felt betrayed. I was frightened for my future, wondering about my time left with my family and what lay ahead.  

I endured all my treatment alone  

The initial plan for my treatment was to have a lumpectomy followed by radiotherapy, but after being assessed for risk of recurrence, it was recommended that I have four cycles of chemotherapy as well. I was so grateful for that. It was a positive thing to do.  

Chemo wasn’t as bad as I first thought. I had a great medical team around me and lots of support from the nurses. Because this was during the first lockdown, I had to go through all the treatment alone, but I was thankful to be receiving any treatment at all. 

I did find it distressing once my hair started to fall out, and I decided I wanted to cut it short so that the eventual loss wouldn’t seem as bad. My daughter and I had a girly night with some wine and got the clippers out. We laughed as we played hairdressers. 

I am so grateful for my family’s support 

My family was the rock that got me through it. My daughter had come back home from university. My husband quietly held me. We all got through it together.  

Because of lockdown, I had to Zoom with the rest of my family. My friends would message me. Everyone was so supportive. Together, we made everything fun. Having treatment meant that I was a step closer to not having cancer, so we embraced it with a ‘bring it on!’ attitude. 

It was a surreal situation due to the pandemic anyway, as – underneath – we were all hurting and dealing with our own emotions. 

Finding a support group for breast cancer helped immensely 

Because of my treatment, I developed lymphoedema. I spoke to my cancer nurse about it, at which point she mentioned the Moving Forward Online course run by Breast Cancer Now. I’d also read the Moving Forward book and found it really useful as a reference tool.  

The course made me realise I wasn’t alone.  

Meeting and talking with others with similar thoughts and feelings was a great support network. We could share experiences and speak openly away from our family who didn’t need to hear about those dark thoughts and concerns.  

It also gave clear, factual help. There were explanations and guidance about life after breast cancer, reducing future risks, looking after your body, diet and exercise, plus physical, medical and emotional issues and concerns.   

It let me know there’s always someone there for me.  

I’ve come a long way in the last year 

Exercise has been the most helpful thing throughout my treatment and recovery. I continued my exercise and it made me feel stronger, physically and mentally. Plus, I know it’s the thing that can help me reduce my risk going forward. 

I’ve also joined ‘Speak up against Cancer’ through my local football club, Brighton and Hove Albion.  

It has been helping to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the seven most common cancers in the Brighton area since it launched in 2016. It has also been promoting the importance of screening, with volunteers sharing their individual experiences of cancer.   

I will always remember that it was only because Jenny prompted me that I checked myself. If I hadn’t, things could have been very different. She might have saved my life.  

I feel that I can make my own cancer experience a positive one if I can help other people be more aware and encourage them to check themselves. I want to be that voice for someone else, the one that prompted me to ‘just do it’. 

 

If you have finished treatment for primary breast cancer and feel you may benefit from our Moving Forward Online course, we’d love to have you. You can talk to experts, meet people who understand and share experiences to move forward after breast cancer.  

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