Esther was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in October 2020. She is still in active treatment, but she’s found a way to focus on the positives.
I never suspected cancer
I noticed a lump in my breast one morning and showed my partner, Stu, who said I must call the doctor ASAP. I rang the next morning and was seen the same day.
The doctor said that, if she was a betting woman, she’d say it was a cyst – but she referred me to be safe. Three days later, I was in the hospital having a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. The consultant told me it was potentially a complex cyst, and that I should come back in a week.
When I did return, I had planned on going alone, as I thought it would be nothing. Luckily, Stu insisted on coming along last minute, so he was with me when I was told I had breast cancer.
I was utterly shocked. The lump had been on the top of my breast – I didn’t even know you could get cancer there. In hindsight, though, I’m glad I didn’t suspect cancer. I would have worried far more otherwise!
Waiting for results was scary
Another two weeks later, after an MRI and some more scans and biopsies, I met with my oncologist and was told I had grade 3 triple negative breast cancer (which I had never heard of). Waiting for those results was the biggest scare factor during this time.
It was then agreed that I’d have chemotherapy followed by surgery.
I had a tour of the chemo suite and met some of the team, at which point one of the nurses suggested having my eyebrows microbladed. Stu managed to find me an appointment, and I think it’s one of the best things I could have done – especially once I’d lost my hair.
On 5 November, a month after I first went to the doctor, I had a portacath fitted. It’s such a fabulous bit of kit; it saved my veins during chemotherapy!
I’ve had many side effects, but they are all manageable
I began a six-month chemo plan the next week. I had three months of epirubicin and cyclophasphamine (EC), followed by 12 weekly sessions of paclitaxel with additional drug, carboplatin added every third session.
Life began to revolve around chemo quite quickly and, though I was still able to work for the first four months, I started to get very tired and had to cut my hours. Stu would take me to treatment and pick me up, and my parents would look after our son, so I had plenty of help.
Throughout chemo, I experienced headaches, sickness, dizziness, backaches, brain fog, extreme fatigue and nosebleeds. The latter treatments were easier to deal with than EC, but had a cumulative effect and so I’d get lots of side effects at once.
Even so, all of the side effects were treatable in some way, and I’ve had far more good days than bad – so I’m happy. Plus, the hospital staff were amazing, and I feel blessed to have had such good treatment, especially during covid.
I learned that, while treatment isn’t pleasant, it is doable. You can still lead a normal-ish life, but you’ll feel exhausted a lot. The important thing is to be honest with nurses and consultants, as they really help to get you through.
Within just a couple of months of treatment, an MRI showed the tumour had shrunk from 2.7cm to 1cm. This was the boost I needed, as I realised that chemo was working and worth every minute.
I celebrated the small successes
While that was happening, on 4 December, my birthday, I had a counselling session for genetic testing. I had the test and found out in February that I did not have any genetic abnormalities, which was a huge relief.
Around the same time, however, my red blood count started dropping. It was managed with iron tablets and diet changes until I needed a blood transfusion in March. After that, I felt so much better, and it really helped me get through the rest of my treatment.
My final scan in April showed that I had a full radiological response. I was truly delighted.
After that, I had a lumpectomy, reconstruction and sentinel node biopsies (which were thankfully clear). During the operation, the surgeon found a tiny remainder of the tumour, which was successfully removed.
Because a small remainder of the cancer had been found, I needed more treatment along with three weeks of radiotherapy, which I began in July.
I've experienced interruptions to my treatment
After that, I was due to have 18 weeks of capecitabine and should have been done with treatment by December 2021.
Unfortunately, this last phase of treatment has been put on hold as I had a heart spasm that registered as a heart attack. Until all is sorted, I can't continue with the oral chemotherapy.
I have had numerous scans and cardiologist appointments and they are confident there is no lasting damage to my heart - so that’s the good news. However, they do believe it may have been caused by the treatment, so I'm not sure if I’ll be able to resume the course. At the moment it’s looking very very unlikely.
I'm conscious this sounds quite negative, but I don’t want to scare those on oral chemo as it is quite rare to have these side effects!
Let people support you – for your sake and theirs
During this time, I’ve felt truly blessed to be surrounded by my amazing family and friends. The hardest part was telling them the news, especially my parents, son and close friends as it’s hard to watch people you love feel sad for you when there’s nothing they can do. You want to take away their pain.
I treasure everything they do for me – their kind words, the money they’ve raised in my honour, and all the messages, visits, cards, and gifts they’ve given me.
I also have a best friend who googles things for me and reports back with good news or facts, as it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole if I do it myself. If I do need to look for information, Macmillan and Breast Cancer Now are my go-to websites.
It’s so important to let people support you. You need it, but they also need to feel that they are helping.
The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is to stay positive and to celebrate every bit of good news. Be proud of your strength, but be flexible as things change. Get out in the fresh air when you can. Take time to relax. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
If you have any worries about side effects during treatment, or simply need someone to talk to, you can get in touch with our Helpline on 0808 800 6000 or email the Ask Our Nurses service.