Emma was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of lockdown last year, not long after her eldest daughter had leukaemia. She shares the impact it had on her mental health and her hopes for moving forward.
It felt like my family was being punished
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2020 after noticing a lump on my breast when drying myself after a shower. I was 38 years old.
My husband was very shocked and upset. Our eldest daughter, Mia, had leukaemia when she was four years old, so to be hit by cancer twice really impacted the family. We all felt angry and wondered why it was happening to us. It felt like we were being punished.
I had to have a lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy on 30 June 2020. This was followed by six rounds of chemotherapy from September to December and 15 sessions of radiotherapy from January to March 2021.
I am now having Zoladex injections every three months while I am on the waiting list to have my ovaries out.
I reacted badly to chemotherapy
Due to COVID-19, I was unable to have anyone with me while I had chemotherapy, so that was quite lonely. I was very unwell after each round and ended up in hospital.
For the first three rounds, I was given a chemotherapy called FEC. I was so sick on the first round that I had to go into hospital to have some IV anti-sickness drugs and fluids. With the second and third, I was in hospital for a few nights with possible sepsis.
For the remaining rounds, I was given docetaxel. The bone pain and mouth ulcers I had were horrendous and again after each round I was in hospital with high temperatures.
I was also unlucky to have had an allergic reaction to the PICC line dressing which I had on my arm, so then I had to have another type of access device put in. That then got infected twice and caused a blood clot in my neck. I also had to give myself injections whilst having chemo which I found hard to do and would often cry whilst doing it.
Throughout this time, I was having to home-school my two daughters while my husband was working from home, which in itself is very demanding and stressful.
My relationship with my eldest daughter changed and became strained. I am her mum, I’m not a teacher, and it was hard for her to adjust to that. She would dig her heels in when doing schoolwork, but I know at school that she wouldn’t act like this with her teacher.
Nobody else can really understand what you’re going through
I was really helped by Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me service, as the person who I had been assigned could completely understand and relate to what I was saying. This was one of the hardest things when talking to others about what I was going through: they could never fully understand, and that made me feel very isolated and alone.
I was also lucky enough to meet a lovely girl called Becky while waiting to have my chemo in December. We have spoken every day since then and have become good friends.
It was so nice to speak to someone who knew exactly what I was going through. Sometimes we’d just discuss which wig we were wearing that day or have a bit of a joke about things that would otherwise be serious and depressing.
I would also watch funny sitcoms, as laughing really helps a bad mood – especially in hospital. I started watching a series called Schitt’s Creek and it made me laugh so much.
At other times, many of my friends would catch up with me via Zoom.
My mental health has been hugely impacted
Since childhood, I’ve had mental health challenges, so the pandemic really knocked me. I couldn’t access the things that would normally make me feel better, like going to the cinema or seeing friends, so I had to find new things that would help when my mood was low.
Currently, I am trying to learn to play the ukulele and I want to start drawing again, as I’m a very creative person and it helps me to relax.
Now that I have finished active treatment, I am slowly processing what I have been through. At the time, I was like a robot and just soldiered through it all. I am still struggling physically and mentally.
I am grateful that I am here as I have met people along the way who haven’t been so lucky, but I don’t feel happy like I thought I would. I feel that cancer has robbed me of a year. It’s also changed how my body looks.
I’m still getting side effects from treatment and don’t feel I will be the person I once was, but I need to accept who I am now.
I am looking forward to spending time with family
This year, I’m looking forward to being able to spend Christmas with my husband, daughters and the in-laws. Last Christmas, we were limited to how many people we could have, and the Christmas before that we were in the hospital with my eldest due to her being unwell and having a high temperature.
I’m really hoping that Christmas this year will go to plan and all the family can spend it together.
Support people like Emma and welcome in the festive season at Carols by Candlelight on Monday 6 December at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, with an evening of candlelit carols, celebrity readings and festive cheer. Alternatively, tune in and sing along to classic carols from the comfort of your own home throughout December with our virtual option.
With inspiring speeches and uplifting carols, this will be an evening to remember.