When Lorraine found a lump, she thought nothing could be done to help her. After her treatment and recovery, she turned her attention to helping and educating others on breast cancer.
I wasn’t sure what to check my breasts for
My discovery of my cancer had begun many months earlier. I used to check my breasts on a regular basis – or so I thought. On one of the occasions, I felt something under my skin at the edge of my nipple area. It was odd and felt like a cross between a thin grain of rice and a small splinter.
I didn’t panic, but wondered whether this was normal; was it something that was always there, and I hadn’t noticed? What I did know was that it didn’t feel like the pea-size lump which we women had often been told to check for.
I decided not to act on the grain of rice but told myself to keep an eye on it.
When I found the lump, I thought that was it
My life was very busy. I was a lone parent with two football-mad young sons who had long-term health conditions. I also worked full-time as a manager of a community mental health team. So, I forgot about my grain of rice.
Several months later, in one of my calmer moments in life, I remembered it again and went to check if it was still there. It wasn’t, but in its place was a solid golf ball-sized lump.
I looked at my breast in front of the mirror. The lump wasn’t visible, but I could see a very slight inversion of the nipple area.
I now had a dilemma on my hands. The family's rucksacks were packed and we were due to fly to Malaysia that evening. A multitude of thoughts was dashing through my mind. Should I try and see the doctor before I go? What if they say I can’t travel? This might be my last holiday with my children.
It was this last thought that made me decide that my GP visit would have to wait. I wanted to create wonderful memories of us as a family so that my children would have something to hold on to when I was gone.
I had no idea breast cancer could be treated
As certain as I was that I had breast cancer, I was also certain that people didn’t survive breast cancer. All my experiences and contact with people that had had breast cancer had shown me that there was only one outcome, and that was death.
Therefore, on returning from my holiday, my purpose in seeking medical treatment for my cancer wasn’t about survival but extending my life. I had two boys and I desperately wanted at the very least to see my youngest start secondary school (he was nine and the eldest 12), and at the very best to see them both grow into teenagers.
Given this belief, could you imagine my shock and confusion when the consultant told me that, even though my cancer was a fast-growing aggressive tumour (the type that was more likely to come back and spread), with the right treatment, it was not only treatable but curable?
I’ve since met other women like me
The news that I might survive was harder to digest than the fact that I had breast cancer. There was an element of disbelief, so I continued getting my house in order – updating my will, making plans about who my children would live with.
That was over 11 years ago. My sons are now adults and the eldest has flown the nest.
I decided from the off that I was going to be very open about my diagnosis. I had no intention of wearing a wig or covering my head when the chemotherapy destroyed my hair follicles. My baldness became a topic of conversation on the chemo ward, at work, in the supermarket, and I received a lot of affirmation.
But it also prompted others to express their beliefs – some of which I had previously held – such as, 'We've all got to go sometime'.
Since my diagnosis, I have met so many other Black women who, like me, have lived seven years or more after a primary breast cancer diagnosis.
Breast Cancer Now helped me move forward
When I reflect on some of the things that have helped me through this process, I think first of my treatment (mastectomy with reconstruction, chemotherapy, hormone therapy), second of my family and friends, and third of Breast Cancer Now.
Breast Cancer Now came into my life three years after my diagnosis. I had given up work and my career to become a stay-at-home mum, partly due to the ongoing side effects of my cancer treatment.
I was still struggling with my memory and ability to concentrate, had lymphoedema, and was in a constant state of tiredness.
The final nail in the coffin was when I was told that I had permanent heart damage caused by Herceptin.
I was feeling depressed when I decided to participate in a research study that Breast Cancer Now was conducting. They were looking at the barriers preventing women of African heritage (Black) who had been diagnosed with breast cancer from seeking support from the charity.
I want to encourage others to share their stories
Following on from this research, a new project, PROWESS, was developed, and I volunteered to be involved in the development of it and to facilitate the groups.
I then went on to volunteer on another project promoting breast awareness in diverse communities and became a breast awareness volunteer. I also started working as a Moving Forward Facilitator.
Doing all these roles gave me a new purpose in life and opened me up to new opportunities, such as talking about my experience at a parliamentary reception in the House of Commons and being interviewed for newspaper articles.
They also gave me the opportunity to challenge some of the fatalistic narratives and taboos that exist in some communities and have also hopefully allowed others in my community to share their stories.
Thanks to people like Lorraine, we are able to offer support for people who might otherwise find it difficult to open up about their experiences. If you'd like to share your story and help others in your community, we'd love to hear from you.