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Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her mum had finished treatment. Despite her fears, she felt supported throughout and beyond her treatment.
Last summer, I went to the GP because I felt a slight pulling in my breast. Because there was no lump, the GP wasn’t worried. However, I was a little paranoid because my mum had recently recovered from breast cancer, so I asked to be referred to the breast clinic.
My initial diagnosis was DCIS. When it was removed, it was found to be invasive but very small. I underwent a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. I also had to have a second operation to investigate the nodes.
I was upset initially, but then, after talking with the nurse, relieved it was an early-stage cancer. When they then realised it was invasive, I found it very hard. The wait between the first operation and the results coming out of the second operation was tough.
My husband was fantastic throughout it all. Going through treatment was a bit of a bumpy journey, but we tried to be pragmatic and saw it as something we just had to get through.
We never told our children that I had breast cancer, only that it could become cancer if I didn’t have treatment. In light of seeing my mum go through treatment (although she is now doing well), I thought that was enough to deal with. When we got the news that it was invasive, I didn't want to tell them any more unless we had to. Lockdowns and home schooling were enough stress for everyone without adding to their burden!
I don't know whether we did the right thing, I can only say it felt like the right decision at the time.
The first operation left me with quite low blood pressure, so it took a bit longer to recover from. Still, I was back at work fairly quickly. The second operation was very easy in comparison - my son said it was like I’d had a day at a spa!
The radiotherapy surprised me. The first day I really hated it, but you get used to it very quickly. I had some irritation, but it later calmed down, and the consultant is very pleased with my recovery.
I had some nerve damage from the node operation, but I have recovered a lot of the feeling in that arm. I'm still having physiotherapy to make sure I get back to fitness as quickly as I can, and to have a full(ish!) range of motion.
The team at the hospital were great. They really were aware of the impact of not being able to have people with you, which was quite isolating, I really appreciated my breast care nurse. I guess that’s the Covid effect: it makes you appreciate the support that you do have.
Friends and family were unable to visit (I haven't seen my parents for 16 months now) and couldn't help, and I think they found that hard.
When I finished my treatment, I was really pleased to be done but I found the lack of structure hard. Not having consultants and appointments was weird! There's something quite reassuring about putting yourself in their hands and doing as you're told. When you can't do that anymore, it does feel strange.
I wanted to know what I could do to help myself and give myself some structure to help me move through recovery in lockdown, which is when I came across the Moving Forward course.
Meeting other people who have had similar experiences has been so helpful. The content of the course was great and delivered well, especially considering the limitations of doing a course online. The best bit has been being able to meet other people that you can say anything to and they just 'get it'.
Some of the content was also what I really needed to know - there's a talk on recurrence that I pretty much had to watch from behind the sofa like a child watching Doctor Who, but it was genuinely useful.
I’ve also had some counselling alongside my recovery. I found it helpful to have a space once a week where I could just be me - not ‘mum me’ or ‘work me’. If anything came up the rest of the time, I could mentally park it and then talk about it in my session.
As well as that, it was helpful to stop work for a few weeks towards the end of treatment and take some time to just be. I also really valued weekly exercise classes where I could make sure I could keep active, whatever else was going on.
Before all this, I was terrified of developing breast cancer. But I can honestly say I feel very lucky that it was found so early and, although it was not at all something I ever wanted to go through, my treatment has been incredibly well-structured, and I have felt genuinely cared for. Early detection meant my journey through treatment was much more straightforward than it could have been (touch wood).
The Moving Forward programme has helped enormously with putting some structure around getting back to living life without treatment, and I have kept in touch with several of the women from the course. We Zoom call once a week and, while we all have ups and downs, it is good to know we can support each other.
I think for women of my generation (I'm 48), the outcomes for breast cancer have moved on so much from when we were younger and that's really good news. It's scary and it's not pleasant to go through, but you’re supported every step of the way.
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.