Louisa was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in April 2017, four years after her father died from cancer. She shares why it’s important to know the signs of breast cancer, and how yoga nidra and breathing exercises helped her cope with her diagnosis.
I waited nine months to check my lump
I first felt a lump in my breast around nine months before I got it checked out. I thought it was caused by hormonal changes, but it wasn’t going away so I decided I really needed to get it checked it out.
I’ve got no idea why I waited. I was working in the City and felt like I didn’t have time. Perhaps I was scared to find the lump as well, because what if it was cancer? I was living in denial.
I associated breast cancer with older women
The biopsy confirmed that it was oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer. I had a full body scan to start considering treatments, which revealed that the cancer had also spread to my liver. I was told that I had incurable secondary breast cancer.
I started chemotherapy – six cycles with treatment every three weeks – which left me pretty wiped out. Luckily the cancer responded to it really well. I was then started on palbociclib, letrozole and Zoladex and have been on that ever since.
My dad had cancer and passed away seven years ago, so I knew a bit about his diagnosis. But although I knew about breast cancer, I associated it with older women. I was 34 years old at diagnosis. None of my immediate circle of friends have had breast cancer. I’m the first in the friendship group and hopefully the last!
Yoga nidra and breathwork became my coping mechanism for treatment
I was a yoga teacher before I was diagnosed. When I was going through my treatment it became my coping mechanism. I started meditating way more than I had done before.
I couldn’t do power yoga due to my fatigue, so started doing more yoga nidra – guided relaxation meditation. I really enjoyed it so trained in that after chemo finished.
I got into breathwork and met some amazing teachers. I have also had some counselling, some talking therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I’ve been finding my own way as I’m quite proactive and practical.
I had left my permanent job before my diagnosis so didn’t have financial security. I really would have benefited from some financial help and support with getting benefits – there were awful applications to try and process. I still don’t receive certain benefits, which I can’t understand.
One of the biggest impacts has been on family. I didn’t have any children before my diagnosis and now it’s so much more complicated. I met my boyfriend just over a year before my diagnosis and he’s still here supporting me. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise.
Despite lockdown, my treatment has still been going ahead
I’m being treated at Guy's Hospital and things have been going ahead. Though the cancer centre is in lockdown I still had my scans and have been getting my three-monthly blood tests and consultations over the phone. My palbociclib treatment is being couriered over to my flat.
I like to look at the positives. Having telephone appointments means that I can be in the comfort of my home rather than waiting in the hospital. I think the hospital may now be looking at video calls too, which I would much rather have when getting scan results in particular.
I was shielding at the start of the pandemic but have popped up to Nottingham a few times to see my mum as she’s by herself. I’m taking lots of precautions and being sensible. You’ve got to be so careful. But then also you get anxiety about leaving the house when you haven’t done that for a while. There has to be a balance.
It’s so important to know how to check your breasts
I have phoned the Helpline a number of times. It has been really valuable to speak to the nurses, especially when I’ve been waiting for scan results. Your mind can go to not very happy places.
Just knowing that they are there, and that I can offload and get everything off my chest, rather than carrying it with me or bombarding my family, really helps.
If you haven’t been affected by cancer you might not feel confident about checking your breasts. It’s so important to get to know your breasts and spend some time understanding your body. Educating yourself on how to check and doing it regularly is so important. See your GP as soon as possible if you notice a lump or change to your breast.
Find out more about Louisa’s breathwork at Breathe Balance Breathe.
Find out more about the signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer.