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Nicole was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at the age of 27. She speaks about losing her mum to the disease, and her hopes of one day becoming a mum herself.
Note: this blog was initially published in March 2021. We are re-sharing it now with some updates from Nicole on how her life has changed in the last year.
I lost my mum to breast cancer at the age of seven. Because I was so young, I have some memories of her but not lots. The most vivid are the ones when she wasn't well. I remember visiting her in hospital and she just seemed sad. She obviously knew she wasn't going to be here much longer, but I was oblivious.
Now I realise she was being strong for us. I can't imagine having to leave your children behind, looking in their eyes knowing they’ll have to deal with the loss.
A mother’s instinct is to protect their children, so to think of my mum being in that position breaks my heart.
At that time, I didn’t know much about cancer, just that it made her very sick. I was angry at the nurses and doctors for years because I didn't understand how she could be given the all-clear then be told it had come back again.
I genuinely thought they had missed something, but I guess I was looking for someone to blame and direct my anger at. It wasn't until I was diagnosed that I realised it wasn't their fault, it just happens.
I found out I had triple negative breast cancer when I was 27 in July 2019, after finding a lump in my right breast.
The first thing I said to the doctor was, ‘that's what killed my mum.’ In that instant I believed I was going to die just like she had. I cried loudly for a while while the doctor sat patiently waiting for me to digest what I had just been told. I then looked at my dad who had tears in his eyes and my heart broke for him.
It was after that I was sent to a genetics clinic where we found out I had the altered BRCA1 gene.
Determined to have a family of my own one day, but concerned the treatment may affect my fertility, I started IVF treatment. This stimulated the production of 14 eggs which were then harvested under sedation and frozen for the future.
There is only a 30% chance my eggs will work but, hey, 30% is better than none! I found this very difficult at the time, mainly because most of my friends were new mums or pregnant.
I hope one day I can be a mum, as it's something I have always felt strongly about. They can test embryos for the altered BRCA1 gene - but if it isn't supposed to be, it's just something I'll need to deal with when the time comes.
In August I had surgery to remove the tumour. In September I began a course of six chemotherapy sessions, which meant my long blonde hair started to fall out. My dad shaved it for me as it was too upsetting watching it come away while showering.
My dad has always told me ‘bald is beautiful’, as he is also bald!
I had discussions with the doctors who informed me there was a 60% chance I could go on to have ovarian cancer due to the altered BRCA1 gene. I made the decision to have my ovaries removed in January 2020. I found this difficult to deal with, as I knew I only had limited chances of becoming a mum.
During treatment, I mainly did jigsaws and read books. I also spent a lot of my time researching everything as I wanted to know all the facts and understand fully what was going on. I would visit my work from time to time as I didn't want to lose contact with everyone and figured it would help me when I came back if I stayed in contact.
A few months after that, I returned to work in the Scottish Ambulance Service, I always thought it would be an instant relief after it all, but that's not the case. I was tired all the time and had forgotten that, while I was in my own little bubble with treatment and fighting to stay alive, the world had kept turning and so much had changed.
However, a year later I found I was the happiest I have ever been and had finally settled into life after cancer. My main focus now is to help charities that helped me in my time of need.
Nicole and her mum
Because I was so young when I lost my mum, I pretended Mother’s Day was just another day – even though it left me with a heavy heart. I was quiet and seemed to get more upset about it as I got older. I would give my nana a card, as she was like a mother figure to me. She didn't replace my mum, but she did a great job at trying to make the absence of her just that little bit better.
To anyone else who has lost their mother to breast cancer, I want to say it’s ok to be angry or sad. The person that carried you for nine months and brought you into the world is no longer here, and you will always feel a part of you is missing.
Even after many years, I find certain things do trigger emotions for me - it's only natural. For years, I didn't speak about my mum, as I was worried the other party would find it too awkward. But I wish I hadn't had mindset for so long, as this isn't the case. If you want to speak about her, speak about her.
Since first sharing my story with Breast Cancer Now in 2021, a few things have changed! Firstly, I got a job as a student technician out on the ambulances. I'll be starting my role properly at some point later this year.
Breast cancer still continues to affect my day-to-day life, however - mostly through the constant worry of it returning and the scars that it left behind (both physical and mental). I also have very bad menopausal symptoms, but am unable to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) because of the increased breast cancer risk.
Breast Cancer Now helped me the most when I was unwell. They were a real lifeline. I found answers to all the questions I had, and reading other people's stories made me realise there was a community full of people who knew exactly how I was feeling.
For younger women with breast cancer, there are no magic words that make how you are feeling go away, but it's important to know you’re not alone. Everything you are feeling is totally normal, but help and support is always available from Breast Cancer Now.
Cancer takes away so many things, but you can't let it take away your smile.
Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever type of breast cancer you have. Whether you need us today, tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, we’re always with you.
To help us support people like Nicole and her mum, please consider donating to Breast Cancer Now.