When Deb was diagnosed with DCIS last year, she didn’t panic. Now, she’s just finished radiotherapy – and she explains why she’s still feeling optimistic.
I know how important it is to check your breasts
When I noticed something on my left breast, I hesitated about going to the GP, but only because we were in a pandemic and I’d had something similar to eczema in this area before. However, I am one for checking yourself and getting to know your boobs, so I still thought it was worth mentioning to the doctor who referred me straight to the hospital.
Two weeks later, I had a mammogram. It turned out there was nothing wrong with my left breast at all – but the other side showed signs of breast calcifications. I knew something was up because I had to have further mammograms an ultrasound and core needle biopsies, all at that first appointment, but I felt calm the whole time. The team were brilliant.
I had to wait two more weeks for the results. I’m not the most patient person in the world, and waiting that time was the worst bit.
COVID-19 restrictions made things a bit tricky
I was told my breast cancer diagnosis was DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ).
I just thought, okay, how quickly can the team deal with this. I knew they wouldn’t be able to tell me everything until I’d had the surgery, but I came prepared with a list of 22 questions all typed up!
I asked the surgeon my questions, he was very helpful in answering everything he could. Really, I just wanted to know more about my diagnosis and what, if anything, I could do to help. I just wanted to know what the plan was, which he kindly and calmly explained to me.
Because I work for the NHS, I know there are good outcomes. I'd just started a training course on cancer journeys, so I didn’t worry too much.
Due to COVID-19, though, I had to be at all appointments on my own, and there wasn’t any of the usual waiting room chat with other people because of having to wear masks. I noticed it more because I’ve worked in hospitals, I know what these things are usually like. The breast care nurse even said she wished she could give me a hug, but she obviously couldn’t.
I found practical ways of helping myself
One of the first things I did to help myself was source a local group: The Ridgeway Breast Care and Support Group. I emailed them and wanted to know as much as I could. I was put in touch with someone who had the same cancer as me. She told me what to expect, which was really helpful.
The group are excellent. They have a virtual coffee morning regularly, have hosted online quiz night fundraisers, and they also supply wonderful comfort bags to people going through treatment.
I’ve also been keeping a photo journal throughout my treatment and documented everything. I studied to be a photojournalist, so I’ve found it interesting and quite therapeutic. It’s given me something to focus on.
I’ve been very lucky with my treatment
When I went back for my follow-up, the surgeon said they had found and successfully removed a 6mm invasive cancer and a further small area of DCIS. My treatment ended being a therapupeutic mammoplasty, followed by a second procedure with a sentinel node biopsy (which was clear) and then five days of radiotherapy. Now I’m on five years of hormone therapy.
I was astonished I was treated so quickly, considering it was in the middle of the pandemic. I didn’t even have that ‘Oh no, I have cancer’ moment. It all just happened so quickly.
It seems strange to say it, but I’ve been very lucky throughout this. I am very lucky that I haven’t felt unwell, I wouldn’t have known about my cancer if I didn't have the mammogram.
I even managed to fundraise while being treated
The surgery was sore, I won’t lie, but the aftercare was brilliant, and it all went smoothly. For my first op, I stayed overnight, but for the second one I was out on the same day. I was given some exercises to do for my arm, and I’ve even been able to complete the 1,000 Squat Challenge for Breast Cancer Now while going through treatment.
I heard about the challenge through Facebook. I saw someone else doing it and I thought, ‘I’ll have a go at that!’ I took a video of myself every day so that people would know I was actually doing it. I even got my husband to record me going out in the snow one day!
I was rubbish to start with, but I knew that if I was sponsored it would make me do it. I really enjoyed it in the end, it gave me a real sense of achievement. Plus, I beat my fundraising target. I only set myself a £100 bar, but I’ve reached about £230 now.
I am grateful not to feel ill
Although I had to attend my appointments and treatment on my own, my husband and three children and my friends have been very supportive. I've been surrounded by the people that I love and we’re working from home, so I've had time to recover.
My work colleagues have also been very supportive. I’m still here, I’m the same me. I may have wonky boobs, but I’m not ill.
I know everybody’s journey is different, and I know a lot of people get worried – and there’s no right or wrong way to deal with a cancer diagnosis, it a personal journey. To anyone else going through cancer, I want to say try not to panic. We are so lucky to have our wonderful NHS – they know what they’re doing. They really do care, and they are brilliant.
If, like Deb, you have finished active treatment, but still feel like you'd benefit from some support our Moving Forward courses are designed to help you transition into your 'new normal'.