Melanie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. During her treatment, she wondered: is it ever possible to ‘win’ at breast cancer?
It was hard to accept my diagnosis
I found out I had breast cancer after falling over in my daughter’s flat. It was quite funny at the time. I remember saying, ‘I think I’ve popped my boob’. A few days later I was checking to see if I had a bruise and found quite a large lump.
I initially reacted to my diagnosis with disbelief.
Then, I had the incredibly hard task of telling everyone, because only my husband, best friend and a couple of colleagues knew about the lump. I had to take a year off work – my oncologist wouldn't let me carry on due to a risk of infection.
There were obviously tears, a bit of anger, and jealousy that others were carrying on with their 'normal' lives. But on the whole, life became about treatments, trips to the hospital, and just getting through each day.
Is one diagnosis ‘better’ than another?
With all that going on, then, is it possible to ‘win’ at breast cancer?
The question came to me while wig shopping. Maybe it was a weird thought to have; but how do you win at cancer?!
I was with my daughter, Lauren, and there was another lady there looking at the wigs who seemed quite upset. Me being me, I tried to make light of the situation and said, ‘At least you can be who you want to be.’
She replied, ‘But it’s the reason I’m doing this.’
‘Me too,’ was my response.
She then went on to tell me that she was triple negative. ‘Er, I’ve got some positive bits,’ was my reply.
She clearly knew more about this cancer jargon than I did but it got me wondering about her diagnosis and whether it was ‘worse’ or ‘better’ than mine.
We all try to ‘win’ at certain things
Let me explain. I compared it to childbirth. If you have a labour of 72 hours, a hell on earth that results in an emergency caesarean, then you might feel like you ‘win’ when discussing it with other mothers. You also might feel you’ve won if you give birth in 20 minutes, with no pain relief and hardly break into a sweat.
But if you have a ‘normal’ 12-hour labour, use gas and air and any other pain relief offered, then you most certainly do not win anything. You are average, nondescript, boring!
And don’t we all try to win with our nearest and dearest? I can’t think of many times that I have said I’ve got a cold without my husband saying he has flu, or a bad back without him saying he can hardly walk. And I’m sure we have all complained about having a bad night and the response being, ‘Well I only had 20 minutes' sleep all night!’
So, is it the same with cancer? Do we always have to one-up each other?
You deal with difficult situations however you can
On another occasion, I had to have a clip fitted in the tumour so that if the chemo reduces the size, the surgeon would know the area to remove during surgery.
While Lauren and I were waiting in the reception area, a lady kept crying clearly worried about being there. The nurse told me that the rest of the people there that day were recalls from routine mammograms where they had either found something or couldn’t read the results clearly.
So, on returning to Lauren I said, ’Well I’m winning today – these people don’t even know if they have cancer or not!’ Is that heartless? Maybe – but you deal with stuff in whichever way gets you through.
My only hope, obvious I’m sure, is that I win for myself by getting through treatment. I’m sure that will really mean I’m winning.
Since writing this blog post, Melanie has finished treatment for breast cancer. She says she has a fear of it returning, but she isn’t going to let it dictate her life. Instead, she’s using it as a motivator to live well.
If you’re looking for support with your breast cancer diagnosis, we’re here for you.