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Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 37. After a tough experience with chemotherapy, she’s also had to wait a long time for reconstruction. Thankfully, her friends have helped her through it.
I first noticed something was wrong one morning before work. I couldn’t lift my arm properly. When I felt underneath it, I found a lump.
I didn’t have any other symptoms, really. I remember being quite tired at the time, but I didn’t think it was anything serious.
Even when I went to the doctor about it, I thought it would just turn out to be a cyst. I never dreamt I’d be told I had breast cancer at the age of 37.
At the time, breast cancer wasn’t something I even thought about.
When I was given the news, I was in shock. It felt like I was in a noisy pub with everybody talking around me. There were just too many thoughts going through my head.
Telling my family was hard.
I live with my dad, and my sister had to tell him about my diagnosis. I found it too tricky to do it myself. It remained a tough subject to talk about for a while, too, as none of us knew what to expect from treatment.
When I did go through treatment, it affected me badly. I lost all my hair by the third round of chemotherapy and I lost a lot of weight because it made me feel so sick. At the same time, a blood clot was found on my lung, so I had to have treatment for that.
I was already afraid of needles, so having chemo and injections to help thin my blood was a lot to deal with!
The worst part of all of it was that the first type of chemotherapy did not help shrink my tumour. When it was checked, the lump had actually grown from 4cm to 7cm.
When we found that out, I was scheduled for emergency surgery. I had a single mastectomy, and the surgeon said that – if it all went well – I would only have to stay in for a night. He was true to his word, as I went in on the Friday and was back home by Saturday evening.
Because of the pandemic, it’s been delayed a bit, but I’ve been sent a letter saying that I should be able to have my operation soon.
It still gets to me sometimes. I can’t help feeling that I am not ‘normal’. When I had the lump, I couldn’t even look down at my breast. It was like I’d gone blind, but I hadn’t - I just had to block it out somehow.
One of my friends helped me out by telling me about a site called Knitted Knockers. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s a charity that provides breasts made out of wool to women who have had mastectomies. When I got mine in the post, the lady who made it had included some good luck charms, which was really lovely.
My friends helped me feel better about it, too.
One time, a friend invited me to her parents’ wedding anniversary celebration. She told her dad about my knitted knocker! I wasn’t sure how people would react, but we ended up having a big laugh about it.
Another time, I met up with a friend who I don’t see very often and we were messing about throwing stuff at one another in a supermarket. I remember at one point I shouted, ‘I’ll throw my boob at you!’ We found it so funny – other people must have thought we were mad.
When I finished my treatment, a group of my friends actually turned up in fancy dress to ring the bell with me. I had no idea they were going to do that!
I also found a way to have a laugh with my wig. I would take it off to surprise people – nobody ever knew how to react.
It was quite useful during chemotherapy, too, as my head would get so hot and my hands would get really cold, so I’d just warm them by putting them on my wig. The staff would laugh with me about it, and it made things a bit easier to deal with.
I’m at a point now where I can enjoy things again.
For a long time, I couldn’t eat my favourite foods because of chemo, but I can finally eat cake! I have a friend who’s also been through cancer, and whenever he visits I get him to bring me some cake or KFC – he knows what it’s like to have been through it, so it’s good that we can share that.
I’m also more aware of health-related things than I used to be.
Not long ago, a friend of mine also found a lump under her armpit, and asked me what to do about it. Of course, I said she should go to her GP. Thankfully, it turned out just to be a fatty lump, but the doctor asked who had told her to come along and reassured her it had been the right thing to do.
I will always say now that all women should be checking themselves more often, and to go to the doctor if anything doesn’t feel right. Even if it’s nothing, it’s always best to check.
We want everyone to be aware of the signs of breast cancer, find out more about what to look out for.