Phillippa felt lost after treatment, but she found enduring friendships on her Moving Forward course. They call themselves ‘The Knockers’ and meet up once a month to support one another.
I noticed a lump in my breast
In 2014, I noticed a lump in my right breast. While that lump ended up being a cyst, I was diagnosed with extensive DCIS in my left breast and needed a mastectomy. It was a massive shock as I hadn’t noticed any symptoms on my left side. I had an immediate reconstruction and felt lucky I didn’t need further treatment.
When I was first diagnosed, I thought: ‘Oh no, is this it?’ My parents had both died of cancer, and when I was diagnosed, my kids were young. My children didn’t cope well with the news and we needed to have a long chat about it. Thinking about that still upsets me now.
I had a recurrence in 2016
At the end of 2016, I started to feel pain under my reconstruction. There was a tumour on my chest wall. This time, I needed to have a full mastectomy. The reconstruction had to be completely removed and I chose not to have another one. Treatment involved chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin.
I struggled during chemotherapy
After my first chemotherapy treatment, I was sick for 12 hours non-stop and had to be readmitted to hospital. My anti-sickness medication needed adjusting and started to help on my third round of chemo. I had also just lost my dream job and had another health scare with a benign brain tumour. It was a scary time for me.
I felt lost when treatment ended
Treatment was so regimented – you feel like you’ve got a plan. Then you come to the end and think, ‘Now what? Who do I ask when I have questions?’ GPs don’t always have specialist knowledge and, while they can provide a bit of comfort, you still want to have someone to talk to when you feel niggles or experience side effects. You can feel like you’re on your own.
After treatment, emotionally I think keeping a brave face on is the hardest. People will make comments like, ‘Aren’t you happy you haven’t got cancer anymore?’ Then you’ll apply pressure on yourself too, telling yourself, ‘I should be getting back to work, exercising, or making the most of life.’ Your emotions are in a whirl.
I went on Breast Cancer Now’s Moving Forward course
I first read about the Moving Forward course in Vita magazine. The course allowed me to speak with people going through the same experiences as myself. When you don’t want to burden family about breast cancer anymore, but you also don’t feel quite ready to ‘go back’ to who you once were, people on the course really understand being in that place.
The general content of the course was so well thought out, including the parts on nutrition and exercise. After diagnosis, you do hear diet myths, so knowing what the research has to say about this helps.
I made friends for life
During the course, there was such camaraderie with the group. Our ages ranged from 45 to 75 and we just clicked immediately. We had such a laugh, swapped advice and looked forward to each session.
At the end of the course we said we don’t want to lose this friendship, how about we meet up again? A year-and-a-half on, we still talk every day on WhatsApp and meet up once a month.
The Knockers is our group name and ‘Stronger together’ is our motto. We also have a mascot called Lizzie the lizard – it’s a flat painted stone, and we take it in turns to take Lizzie on holidays with us. We enjoy going for walks and lunches and we'll be celebrating one of the Knockers' 50th birthday party early next year.
You can share your worries in a safe environment
The Knockers are friends who’ve gone through breast cancer and share the same worries as you. You know their advice and support is coming from their own experience. They’ve been through it all and know how you’re feeling. Together you can separate out breast cancer worries from other areas of your life, and share them in a safe environment. You can even have a bit of black humour about it!
I’m learning to be kind to myself
After treatment, you’re not the same person you were before your diagnosis – you’ve been through so much emotionally and physically. Every day, I’m learning to stop saying: ‘I should have done this or that’, acknowledge and accept where I am, and look to the future. I think it’s important to try and talk to yourself as you would your best friend.
Find personal stories like Phillippa’s, plus hints and tips for adjusting to life after treatment, in our free Becca app: