After being diagnosed with breast cancer and discovering she had the BRCA2 gene mutation, Laura had her ovaries removed and a double mastectomy. Now, she considers her ordeal to be mostly over – but she continues to offer her support, positivity and encouragement to others with breast cancer.
We’re all touched by the same bad luck
A handful of times since my cancer diagnosis, a friend has got in touch to say that someone they know has also been diagnosed with breast cancer. If they ask whether I have any advice, my answer is always: yes, I have loads of advice, put me in touch with her, or pass this on.
To the newly diagnosed, I always first say that I am sorry. I know a lot of what you have coming, and very little of it is good. But I have a few thoughts and tips that will help you through your first few days of diagnosis.
1. Find the exact support you need
If you are a woman under 45, join the Younger Breast Cancer Network (YBCN) on Facebook. It’s like opening a hidden door into a world of the exact support you need. Two-and-a-half-thousand women who get it and who are there, day and night, to answer your questions about pretty much anything. It’s the best thing I did, hands down.
Attend one of Breast Cancer Now’s Younger Women Together weekends. It’s an intense way to spend two days, but it’s so worth it. Afterwards, every time you’re sitting in the waiting room and you’re the youngest by several decades, you can bring the women you met at that course to mind, and imagine they are with you.
Look Good Feel Better runs beauty workshops nationwide, and you get an amazing goody bag to take home.
Ellie’s Friends offers freebies and perks to cancer patients.
Something to Look Forward to offers gifts to cancer patients and their families.
The Osborne Trust provides support for children of cancer patients.
Mummy’s Star supports women who are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy or in the first year of their child’s life.
2. Cry whenever you need to
You’re going to learn so much about yourself. You’re likely going to learn that you’re stronger than you thought. That you can handle a lot.
But you can only handle so much and you should give yourself permission to cry and shout when you need to. You should give yourself permission not to get anything done some days; to wallow and wail.
Don’t bottle everything up. It has to come out, somehow. Chances are, you’ll be offered some kind of counselling. Grab it with both hands. And if it feels right, try your hand at creating some kind of art to reflect your experience. Visit the Breast Cancer Art Project and see what other people have done.
3. Be prepared for relationships to change
You’re also going to learn a lot about your people, learn which of your family and friends will keep standing by your side no matter what you say or do to them.
When people ask you to let them know if there’s anything they can do, say thank you and then give them very specific things to do, like ‘bring me a lasagne on Tuesday, please’.
You might be surprised by those who do and don’t stand up to the challenges, but try not to be too disappointed. The ones that fall away weren’t worth your time. Let them go. You need to make room, anyway, for the new ones who will come into your life.
4. Hold on to positivity
Laugh. You won’t always be able to, but when you can, laugh. If you're having chemo, sing ‘chemo number five’ to the tune of Mambo Number Five in the shower when your fifth chemo comes around and you’re (hopefully) nearly finished.
Laugh with your nurses, who (if they’re anything like mine) will be incredible people. Laugh with your friends, who (if they’re anything like mine) might send you gifts like trays of cakes with poo emojis on them.
Take care. I hope the people around you are kind and thoughtful. I hope they surprise you, in the best ways. I hope you can look back in a year or so and feel that, despite all the bad stuff, you’re probably a better person than you were before.
If you have any questions about your breast cancer diagnosis, you can speak to one of our nurses.