Louise found out she had breast cancer after a routine scan last December and began treatment just before Christmas. She reflects on the toughest parts of the last year, and how she hopes to keep moving forward.
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis during COVID-19 was awful
Last year, I went for a routine mammogram. I didn’t have any symptoms of breast cancer, but the scan showed something, so I was called back for a needle biopsy. In December 2020, I was diagnosed with a grade 3 ductal carcinoma.
Obviously, it’s difficult to go through a cancer diagnosis at any time, but having to go through it while COVID-19 is happening is even harder.
Because of restrictions, I got the news alone. I found that to be very overwhelming. I was tearful, scared and uncertain. It was a time when I really needed my loved ones, but they couldn’t be there. I was anxious and angry.
I needed surgery just before Christmas
When I started treatment, it had a huge impact. I was unable to do everyday things because I was so tired. Plus, going through radiotherapy and chemotherapy meant I had to avoid seeing my family as, with COVID-19 being about, I had to be extra careful.
Christmas, especially, was affected by my diagnosis. I had a lumpectomy on 15 December, so I was healing from that while also being worried about the treatment I still had to come. It really took the shine off the festive season.
This year, now things are different, I hope I can spend the holidays with my family.
I struggled after finishing breast cancer treatment
To be honest, though, I found things harder to deal with after treatment had finished. When that happens, people think that you’re back to normal – that you’re your old self again. But that’s not true.
It’s very daunting not having regular appointments or being surrounded by doctors and nurses like before. You worry about cancer returning, and you can’t talk to the treatment team about it.
For me, personally, I also have a lot of body image issues. Because of radiotherapy, my right breast has shrunk a lot and is very noticeable if I have a tight top on. Losing my hair was also a big thing for me and, even though it’s growing back now, I don’t like the way I look.
On top of that, my skin is dryer, I have aches and pains, and there are still days where I’m more fatigued than others. My mental health has also taken a battering throughout.
My advice is to take things one day at a time
Though this, I have learnt that it’s so important to keep talking to family, friends or services that can offer support. Over the last year, I’ve found Maggie’s to be a great resource, as was Breast Cancer Now’s Moving Forward Course.
If I could go back and give myself some advice, it would be to take things one day at a time, one treatment at a time. Try not to think or worry about things that are too far ahead – just what’s coming next.
It also helps to write down your feelings as a way of clearing your mind. And, if you have any worries, you can talk to your team – they're always there for you.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be difficult to manage at any time, and you may find that you need even more support once treatment is over. No matter where you are on your journey, we have services and resources to support you.