When Catrin was diagnosed with breast cancer she felt like life had ‘derailed’. She tells us what helped her get back on track and move forward - from the memory of her mother, to throwing her energy back into work.
I had no symptoms of breast cancer
I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2015 after a routine mammogram, further scans and a biopsy. I felt like I walked into a new world unexpectedly when I heard the news. I had no symptoms and felt well - surely it couldn’t be me? Worry crept in immediately as my mother died of breast cancer 10 years earlier.
My surgeon told me I had several treatment options. I felt like I was in a sweet shop I didn’t want to be in, overwhelmed with choice. I opted for a left-breast mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with an implant. I also had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The lab results showed I had triple negative breast cancer.
My children told me ‘Grandma faced this too’
My late mother had a different primary diagnosis to me and was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer years later. She remained positive throughout her experience, so when I got my diagnosis, my children were philosophical about how their grandmother, ‘Mamgu’, had ‘faced this too.’ In a way, I think the memory of her managing her diagnosis made them feel less alarmed. There were surreal coincidences too – my mastectomy was around the same date as my mother’s and we were diagnosed at the same age.
Life didn’t stop during treatment
During treatment, life didn’t stop for me. I was determined to carry on as normally as I could, and this made it easier for me to get through treatment.
Mid-way through chemo we bought chickens to start our production of organic eggs. I also watched films, read books and pottered around the garden. At times, I couldn’t do any of these things, and would also worry about whether I could attend weddings and family holidays coming up – but I managed to!
I was lonely and anxious after treatment
When treatment finished, I felt lonely and had anxiety about my triple negative diagnosis, because there was no further medical treatment, apart from six-monthly Zometa sessions for the next three years. So, I felt like I had to do something. My empowerment came through changing my diet, and commencing on a rehabilitation fitness programme, offered by the NHS, to get fit and back to my trim self.
Adversity also brought new social opportunities, as I attended a local Breast Cancer Now Moving Forward course. I found it to be a supportive, interactive and informative session.
My outlook on life has changed
Since my diagnosis, my outlook on life – and how I live it – has changed. Whatever I had worked for seemed immaterial – including my career and pension plans. I had an “illness” which initially seemed out of my control. One which needed medical intervention, one which had eventually claimed the life of my mother, two of her cousins, and close friends too. My express-train, career-driven life, which included raising three children, had been completely de-railed.
I got ‘back on track’ in partnership with my medical team and my family and friends. Here are some other ways I found support moving forward:
In 2016, I got a new post as Clerk to my local town Council. This gave me great pleasure and offered me a fresh focus in contributing to the community. Throwing my energies in to work was a great help. I enjoy having a challenge.
I’m fortunate to be a member of a mixed choir, three of whose members have also been treated for breast cancer in recent years and can offer support.
I appreciate the bond I have with a close friend, Glenda, who has also received breast cancer treatment. We appreciate each other’s good company and understanding.
I also find acupuncture beneficial for relaxation and to help with neuropathy after chemotherapy.
Breast Cancer Now’s mobile app, Becca, also has great blogs that remind you that your feelings after treatment are normal. You can also dip into Becca when you want, and it’s portable so you can use it when you feel comfortable. It's more private than a book or leaflet.
Moving forward is not always easy
While I’m a very positive and determined person, I must admit that it is not always easy re-adjusting to the new “me”. Sometimes the fear of cancer returning lurks in the back of my mind and negative thoughts creep in. Sometimes I also feel very tired. There are good days and bad days. I’d encourage anyone to not shy away from seeking support when you need it.
Find more blogs, plus hints and tips for moving forward after treatment, in our free Becca app.