Jacqui was diagnosed with cancer in June 2019. Within the space of a year, she lost two friends and her dog to cancer, had to close her business, and was alone for months during lockdown. This is the first part of her story.
My first ever mammogram detected cancer
In June 2019, I had my first ever routine mammogram. I was later called back for a second one and a biopsy, at which point I asked them how likely it was that I had cancer. The mammographer told me the concern rating was about four out of five. At that point, I knew that it was going to be bad news.
I went for my follow-up appointment. I had been told by people that if there were three people in the room, I’d be screwed. When I turned up in July, there were three people waiting for me.
I remember the consultant being quite wordy and detailed, and I just had to say, ‘Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but can you just spit it out?’ So he did. I had cancer.
I tried to cope using humour
As soon as it was out, I was surprisingly calm. I just made inappropriate jokes, which is what I do with pretty much everything in life, and then I decided to get drunk.
I had taken my two best friends with me, mainly to save me having to tell them the news later on. I also knew I didn’t want to walk out of there on my own. Once the consultation was done, we headed to the pub over the road. I wanted a glass of prosecco, but it was only about half 10 so they wouldn’t give me one.
I said, ‘Can I not have a drink even if I’ve just found out I have cancer?’ and the guy said no. I joked that I thought there would be more perks to this.
Everything happened so fast
On 15 July, I had a single mastectomy. That was the scariest part. I'm a bit of a control freak, so the thought of someone else being responsible for putting me under and cutting a part of me off was terrifying.
The hospital staff were very caring, which helped. I remember trying to get up to use the bathroom and I felt like a baby giraffe on ice, but the nurse was patient with me and said she’d come back when I felt more ready.
I recovered very quickly after that. I actually went to the hairdressers within a week of my surgery, which I wasn’t supposed to do. I was under house watch by my friends, and I thought, enough of this, I'm going to escape! I went to the salon just to get my hair washed, because I couldn’t lift my arm up to do it myself.
It all felt a bit surreal. In the space of two weeks, I’d found out I had cancer, had an operation, and had then gone back to feeling sort of normal.
I was careful about my treatment
When the results came back after surgery, I found that the lump in my breast had only been about a centimetre wide, but 32 of my lymph nodes had been removed, although the cancer had only spread to one, which was a good sign that it probably hadn’t spread anywhere else.
I was recommended for chemotherapy, even though my hormone results weren’t back yet. I had quite strong feelings that I didn’t want it, so I pushed for more tests. My Oncotype DX test came back with a low score, so I didn’t have chemo in the end.
One of the things I really struggled with is that doctors can appear blasé sometimes. I know they’re not, and they’re just doing their jobs, but it did feel that way to me. The fact that I could have been put through chemotherapy without really needing it got to me a bit, but the consultants didn’t see it that way.
The problems started after radiotherapy
I did end up having radiotherapy, which was fine for the first two weeks. During the third week, it all just hit me. I felt like I'd been run over by a train that had reversed and run over me again. I was so hot, I felt like I was on fire.
I had started taking tamoxifen the same day I'd started radio, so I wasn’t sure what was causing it.
On the very last radio session, the radiographers noticed some fluid around my lungs and told me that it looked like I had a chest infection. They told me to go to my doctor and get some antibiotics, which I did.
Around the same time, I had this pain in my leg. I had problems with blood clots before, and had needed blood thinning injections, but this time I thought it was just because I hadn’t been particularly active and that I could just walk it off.
But it kept getting worse, and so did my chest. I hadn’t connected the two because I was told I had a chest infection.
I couldn’t breathe
It got worse and worse over the next couple of days, so I did something I really shouldn’t have done. I walked up the road to my friend Emma, who has sadly since passed away but also had breast cancer, and asked to use one of her blood thinners.
My thought was that, if I could sort the clotting problem in my leg, I would find it easier to get over this chest infection.
I administered one of the injections in my stomach, but it didn’t really help. I remember us both sat on her sofa, struggling to breathe. We joked that, if an ambulance turned up, it wouldn’t know which one of us to take.
I had been in communication with the hospital already (I emailed them to let them know what was going on), and when I got back home I had a call from one of the nurses. I explained my situation and what I had done, and he encouraged me to get to the hospital immediately.
I was told I nearly died
Somehow, I managed to drive there within six minutes. When I arrived, I just collapsed on the floor. I was struggling to breathe. One of the nurses who came over to me thought I was having a panic attack, and I had to explain to her what was happening.
They put me on oxygen and scanned me, only to find that I had massive blood clots on both my lungs. I got a bit told off for not contacting them sooner or more urgently (‘Who sends an email when they can’t breathe?’ they asked me), and I got blue-lighted over to the main hospital.
I had to come off tamoxifen after that. I should have been getting better, but, unfortunately, everything just went even more downhill.
Jacqui’s story will continue in next week’s blog.
Breast cancer can impact mental as well as physical health. For more information and support on this, take a look at our mental health toolkit.