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When Judi found out she had breast cancer in January 2021, she worried about navigating treatment alone. More than anything, she needed to find people who understood what she was going through.
I got invited for a routine screening during lockdown last year. I almost didn’t go, but I realised that a lot of people probably weren’t being given the opportunity for one at the time, so I felt I should.
I had my mammogram in December and was recalled in January. I had a biopsy and was told I had grade 3 breast cancer. They actually told me they thought it might be cancer before they did the biopsy, so I knew they must be pretty sure.
It was a bit of a shock, especially as I’d lost my husband to cancer only 15 months earlier. I was worried about how I would deal with treatment on my own.
In February, I had a therapeutic mammoplasty to remove the affected breast tissue. When the pathology results came back, they showed that it was actually only grade 2, so I wouldn’t need chemotherapy. I felt really lucky to have avoided it.
In April, I had radiotherapy, and then in June I had equalisation surgery on my other breast. It was all done so quickly.
Obviously, I wasn’t lucky to get cancer. But, compared to what other people go through, I’ve been really lucky in terms of what treatment I needed and how fast I was able to access it.
Because I live out in the countryside, I was quite isolated.
I don’t have any family close by and, because of COVID-19, they couldn’t visit me. That was difficult for them, as they wanted to support me. It was hard for me, too, but I had a couple of local friends that were able to help out.
One friend I was in a bubble with was able to take me to appointments and stay with me when I got out of hospital. She made sure I was OK and that I had help if I needed it. Another friend came around to help me with cleaning and those sorts of things, which I really appreciated.
A neighbour helped me out by walking my dogs for a couple of weeks while I was still recovering from surgery, but I tried to get back to doing it myself as soon as I could because I know the exercise helps with fatigue.
When I was diagnosed, I got a big folder from Breast Cancer Now with lots of helpful information. I went on the website to find out more and ended up joining the Forum. Through interacting with people on that, I found out about the Moving Forward Online course.
I’m not normally somebody who gets involved in these sorts of things, but my whole life had been turned upside down twice in such a short space of time – I felt like I needed connection with other people who had been through something similar. I thought that would help me make sense of what I was feeling.
The first thing we had was a ‘getting to know you’ Zoom call, and hearing other people share their experiences was eye-opening. They made me realise that what I was going through was normal, that I wasn’t on my own.
I worried that I didn’t deserve the support as I’d only had surgery and radiotherapy, but nobody made me feel that way. Everyone was really supportive, it was great.
I also got lots of helpful hints and tips, especially on dealing with the side effects of tamoxifen.
We spoke about the worry of the cancer returning, which is something I still struggle with.
What scared me most was the fact I had no detectable symptoms before my diagnosis. The cancer was right at the back of my chest wall, so I hadn’t been able to feel any lumps or bumps – I had been totally fine, as far as I was concerned.
I did actually go back and speak to my breast care nurse about what I thought was a lump in my breast, but when I was referred to the consultant he assured me it was just bruising from radiotherapy and surgery.
If I hadn’t been on the Moving Forward course, I probably wouldn’t have got that checked, as I worried I would be bothering the doctor. Having the support made me realise it was OK to get checked out.
I’ve got my first follow-up mammogram in December, so I’m a little bit nervous about that.
I would absolutely recommend the Moving Forward course for anyone who has had a recent diagnosis. If you find the Zoom calls daunting, you don’t have to speak or have your camera on. You can just sit in and listen.
It gives you space to talk about things that you might not want to tell friends or family about, and it’s an absolute lifeline for that. You learn so much about side effects, fears of recurrence, navigating intimate relationships – all sorts of things.
It helps you accept that you’re not going to be the same person you were before, but that’s OK. You might be different, but you can still move forward.
If you have finished treatment for primary breast cancer and feel you may benefit from our Moving Forward Online course, we’d love to have you. You can talk to experts, meet people who understand and share experiences to move forward after breast cancer.