When Chloë was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, the first thing she did was fly back to the UK for treatment. She found support through our Someone Like Me service.
I decided to come home for my treatment
I was living and working in the US when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early March 2020. It was a shock, but I focused mainly on navigating the complex healthcare system there and making sure my health insurance covered everything. I didn't have too much time to think about the emotional aspects.
In mid-March, I met with a surgeon in the US who proposed chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I didn't think at the time to ask about other options, as everything was moving so fast. That same evening, I talked it through with my family and decided to come back to the UK for treatment. I was living alone in the US and was worried about how I would get support if the COVID-19 situation grew worse. I am so glad I made the decision to come back.
It took a while for the diagnosis to sink in
Once back in the UK, my GP got me straight into the NHS system. My first consultation was very weird, as I was the only person at the breast care centre due to COVID restrictions. My NHS consultant suggested a mastectomy with delayed reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy with targeted biological therapy, then radiotherapy and hormone therapy. He wanted to do the surgery first as he was worried about the potential for COVID to delay chemotherapy treatment.
It was only at that point that it started to sink in for me how complicated breast cancer and its treatment is. That's when I started to look online for support.
I was drawn to Breast Cancer Now because it is dedicated to people with breast cancer and because my specialist nurse gave me some of the booklets, which I found really helpful as a reliable source of information about all the different treatments. For me, understanding the science behind my treatment was hugely important before I felt ready to think about the emotional impact.
Someone Like Me has been so helpful
I wanted to talk to others who had been in a similar situation to me. I spoke to one friend in the US who'd been through breast cancer treatment last year, but when I came back to the UK it was lockdown and I felt quite isolated.
When I noticed the Someone Like Me service on the Breast Cancer Now website I was delighted. The staff were so friendly when I rang up to find out more. I particularly liked it when they said that all volunteers were 'physically and emotionally healed', as I was worried about having to deal with others' emotions while I'd barely got a handle on my own!
I've used Someone Like Me twice now, once to talk about reconstruction and once to discuss Zoladex (goserelin) as a possible treatment. Both of the volunteers I spoke to were absolutely wonderful and it was such a relief to speak to someone who'd been through a similar situation to me.
I feel more informed about my treatment now
I had read up on reconstruction and wasn't sure if it was right for me. The questions I wanted to ask were the non-medical ones, about issues like comfort, practicality, and starting a new relationship. Speaking to my matched volunteer was so reassuring and helped me feel comfortable with my current decision not to seek a reconstruction.
For my second conversation, I wanted to know about the side effects of taking Zoladex during and after chemotherapy. The idea of going into an induced menopause at the same time as having chemotherapy was a bit daunting! My volunteer was able to share her experience which, together with information from a phone call conversation with a Breast Cancer Now nurse, made me confident in requesting a follow-up call with my oncologist, and helped me make the decision to go ahead with Zoladex.
Being able to talk to others who have been through this means so much
The Someone Like Me team did a great job of matching me to volunteers with very similar experiences to me and around my own age. Both conversations with Someone Like Me volunteers were amazing and I can't emphasise enough how much they helped me.
As well as answers to my specific questions they gave me so many extra tips (elderflower cordial ice lollies for chemo dry mouth!) and managed to inject a sense of normality into what is a very stressful time. They also made me realise the value in talking to others who've been through a similar situation, and made me brave enough to try the Breast Cancer Now Forum. I've joined a monthly chemotherapy thread and the support and positivity of everyone on it is fantastic.
If you are looking for some support after a breast cancer diagnosis, our Someone Like Me volunteers are happy to help.