PUBLISHED ON: 22 March 2021

Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine mammogram, and felt challenged by the side effects of treatment. Over time, she has been able to move forward. 

Tracy stands wearing a pink shirt and holding a pink sign that says, 'goodbye cancer, thank you NHS'

I had no signs of ill health 

When I received a call-back letter following a routine mammogram, I didn’t dream anything was wrong. When I went for the appointment, I was told I needed another mammogram, an ultrasound scan, and a biopsy – which was a more painful experience than I’d bargained for. 

Despite the tests, I was still feeling positive, perhaps naively. 

I was completely shocked about my initial diagnosis. I had no lump or signs of ill health, so it was surreal to fully take in the reality that I had cancer.   

I found it hard to absorb what the consultant was saying, but, fortunately, my husband was with me, so he asked lots of questions. Afterwards, I withdrew into myself. I felt completely numb. 

My energy levels dropped during treatment 

I was fortunate in that the two things I dreaded were chemotherapy and a mastectomy, and I didn’t need either. I did need three lots of surgery, however, plus radiotherapy - both of which left me with fatigue and some discomfort.  

Following treatment, I took plenty of rest and didn’t do any strenuous exercise.  

My employer was very supportive and said I could work around my energy levels and rest whenever I needed. This was partly during lockdown, which in many ways made it easier to have an adaptable working pattern. 

However, my levels of concentration and focus also diminished somewhat during my treatment, which affected my ability to deal with complex and detailed work issues. This has improved over time, but I believe it was also compounded by changes caused by COVID-19 measures. 

People’s responses varied throughout my treatment 

My emotions were heightened as the impact of each surgery and result took effect. This occasionally challenged my personal relationships. Plus, I couldn’t exercise as much as normal, and this adversely affected my wellbeing. 

The COVID-19 restrictions also meant I couldn’t celebrate my eventual No Evidence of Disease (NED) news in a way I would like to, and any socialising I did had to be through Facebook, Zoom or Teams. 

Even so, my husband, family and friends were very supportive, and I was overwhelmed by the cards, flowers, thoughtful gifts and messages of support that came almost immediately once I started to tell people. What was interesting to notice was who ‘stayed the course’, so to speak, and who stayed with me right through to my surgery and subsequent radiotherapy.  

I learnt that some people are naturally insightful and seemed to intuitively know what I needed. Others struggled but, deep down, everyone is doing their best. The C-word is scary for everyone, and nothing can prepare you or anyone else for it.  

Maybe my expectations were high or maybe I just felt that if they had told me the same news then I might have reacted differently. It’s hard to tell, as I’ve since learnt that just because my world has changed dramatically, everyone else’s has stayed the same (COVID-19 aside).  

I’ve also learnt that this is definitely my experience. On countless occasions, people would tell me about their friend, relative or neighbour who had the ‘same’ thing and felt they were helping me by recounting their experiences – but everyone is different, and no two people will ever feel the same. 

I also found a lot of support through Breast Cancer Now 

The Moving Forward Online course gave me a good insight into helpful information post-cancer: managing expectations, symptoms, wellbeing and generally about moving on with life.  

I found it was a challenge engaging with the course online as opposed to face-to-face, as I’m sure people would have connected more easily in person. However, I think it’s an invaluable resource and all credit to the team for creating this so quickly in such difficult times. 

I also use the Becca app the links to additional resources and the breakdown of topics makes it very user-friendly.  

The Breast Cancer Now website is a huge source of information and I used this both in my early stages of breast care diagnosis/treatment and still use it now. I think reading case studies from people in similar situations, and the current information on breast cancer and coronavirus are extremely helpful.  

I also like the promotions and ideas around fundraising, as I lead a group of volunteer workplace health and wellbeing champions in my job and find these campaign ideas very beneficial.  

Mindfulness was invaluable to me in recovery 

My outlook on life has changed to some degree since my diagnosis. I think that my thoughts and feelings about cancer oscillate between calm acceptance and huge gratitude for being alive to distress, and every emotion in between. 

Overall, though, I’m a person who looks at life very positively and am seeing this experience as something that can be an opportunity to learn and give back. 

I think what really helped me through this is mindfulness. I had spent a long time filling up my well of self-care, and now I am drawing from it. Taking time out and joining things like the Moving Forward Online course is an investment, and it is good to have those things to provide reflection. 

I have since discussed the impact of breast cancer at length with a psychosocial counsellor who specialises in this type of support work and have recognised the need to take time with healing. It cannot be rushed or ‘unexperienced’.  

This counselling came at exactly the right time for me. Through it, I was able to share my anxieties and learn how to accept that cancer is now part of my narrative and history. 

Cancer has taught me what’s important in life, what’s worthwhile and what isn’t even worth being in your headspace. Spending time with people you love, laughter, walking, exercise, yoga, music and the odd gin and tonic are the best healers!  

And to round off with a phrase from one of the cards I received: ‘Chin up, Boobs out, Onwards!’ 

 

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. 

Register for Moving Forward