Maxine was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 at the age of 32. Her first thought was for her daughter, who had just turned two.
I wasn’t worried when I found a lump
Last year, I found a lump in my left armpit. I didn't think anything of it, but still went to the GP. He wasn't concerned but said to return in a month if nothing changed. A few weeks later I found a large lump in my left breast, but I was on my period at the time so thought it was hormonal. When it didn’t go, I returned to the GP.
This time, I was told the lumps were probably cysts but was referred to the one-stop clinic. There, the doctor examined me and noted the lumps were both painful and could be cysts, but I needed an ultrasound anyway.
Breast cancer still hadn't even entered my head at this point. I wasn't worried at all and was moaning, wishing they would hurry up. I had my ultrasound, mammogram and biopsies, and then got called into a room with a breast care nurse present. This was the first time I was worried.
I was told there and then it was cancer, but I'd need to wait for the biopsy results to know which kind.
I felt my world shatter
I instantly broke down. My husband was with me, and we were both crying. I felt my world completely shatter.
All I could think about was my little girl. She’d turned two the day before I was diagnosed.
I had waited 10 years for her: five years of active fertility treatment including three rounds of IVF. I didn’t want cancer taking me away from her. I'd lost my mother-in-law not long before to bowel cancer and thought the same would happen to me.
Once we processed it, I went and picked my little girl up. I couldn't look at her for days without crying.
Being away from my daughter was hard
I didn't tell many people at first – just some family and a few friends. Everyone was in total shock. I had no family history of breast cancer, and never worried about any cancer up until this point.
I eventually found out my specific breast cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma and that it had spread to four lymph nodes.
I had scans to check it hadn’t spread, then a lumpectomy with partial reconstruction and full lymph node clearance.
The hardest part of surgery was being away from my daughter. She was too young to know what was going on, she just knew I had a ‘poorly boob’.
I had some good days
Chemo was extremely hard for me. I had lots of complications with blood clots and infections and had PICC lines and Hickman lines because my veins were awful. I don’t think anyone can prepare you for all the side effects that come with it.
I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t get out of bed. I spent Christmas Day on the sofa. I wanted to quit every single day.
But, as hard as it was, I had some good days. And even though I struggled with the looks and comments I would get during chemotherapy because of my hair loss, I tried to make wearing scarves fun for myself by trying lots of different styles.
Plus, the hospital staff were amazing and helped me every step of the way.
I finally finished active treatment in May 2020, and am now on hormone therapy.
I felt guilty
The biggest impact was on trying to look after my daughter. My husband had to have time off work and my sister helped whenever she could. She was always giving me pep talks and staying level-headed, especially when I would feel afraid of dying.
Those thoughts plagued me every day at the beginning, but it’s getting easier. I still have thoughts when I feel some pain pop up, and I don’t think that will ever go away, but I deal with it much better now.
I also felt a lot of guilt. I felt like I was failing as a mum and a wife. My husband still wasn’t over the loss of his mum, and he was suddenly thrown into looking after our daughter and the house while working full-time. I think I said sorry every day.
But my little girl also gave me strength and positivity. She was the future I wanted.
I am a different person
My experience with breast cancer has definitely changed me – in some ways for the better, and some for the worse.
I no longer stress about the small things in life. I don't worry about the way I look anymore. And I appreciate even the littlest moments – a pyjama day with my girl is a blessing! I just want to be surrounded by the people who love me.
But it’s changed me into a person who's always worried the cancer will take me. Still, I know now I have a fight in me.
Younger women should check their breasts
Lastly, I want to say to all the younger ladies reading this: please don’t think like I did. I never checked my breasts and, though it’s uncommon to get breast cancer under 50, it does happen.
Check your breasts regularly and if there are any changes, get them seen to. Nine times out of 10 it’s nothing serious, but it’s always better to get checked. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better.
My driving force now is to stop other ladies going through what I've been through.
Being diagnosed at a younger age can be very isolating, which is why we've got resources specifically for women under 45.