When Victoria Yates was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36, she found the fear isolation and sense of guilt overwhelming. She now helps younger women with breast cancer come together to support each other.
Photo © Sara Epstein photography
I went to bed early one Saturday night – my husband was watching Match of the Day which bores me to tears – and examined my breasts. I was shocked to find a lump. Within a short time I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Suddenly I was thrust into the breast cancer world and living on a whole different track to all my peers. I went from being a strong independent invincible young mum to becoming a cancer patient. I felt out of place in the school playground as the mum with cancer and I felt out of place in the breast cancer unit as I was a few decades younger than everybody else there. I was utterly terrified and felt all alone, despite being surrounded by people who loved me.
Overcome by emotion
I found chemotherapy extremely tough. The nausea and overwhelming tiredness were bad enough but the onslaught of menopausal symptoms knocked me sideways. Nobody had really warned me about that. I felt like I was losing my mind as I suffered huge hormonal mood swings and felt overcome by emotion.
I started a thread on the Breast Cancer Care Forum to see if chemo affected any other younger women that way. I sobbed with relief when it was flooded with replies that this was entirely normal and that I wasn’t failing to cope.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that breast cancer has affected every sphere of my life. The hardest battle for me has been psychological. I struggled so much after treatment. I started having panic attacks and felt like a failure.
My breast care nurse arranged some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and that quite simply turned the whole thing around for me. I had a huge amount of guilt that I’d brought this to my two boys, who were two and four years old at the time. I felt like a failure. I’d always done my very best to protect my children and suddenly I was the bomb that had gone off in their midst. That was extremely hard to deal with.
I started to post a lot on the Forum. I needed someone to talk to about everything but I was really searching for someone to reassure me that everything was going to be OK. The Forum really helped. I became really close to another woman and we’re still best friends.
I also went to a Younger Women Together event in Manchester, where I met several women who lived in the same area as me and who’d been through treatment at the same time. It was brilliant to meet them but I thought it was a real shame we hadn’t met each other before.
In October 2012 I started a Facebook group – called the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK). Initially it was set up to connect younger women with breast cancer living in Manchester, but the group was soon opened up to women all over the country. It’s there to help people find a friend who’s going through the same thing. People chat to each other day and night and there are different groups depending on people’s circumstances. We have local and national meet-ups and many deep friendships are formed.
Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together two-day events give support and information to women aged up to 45 diagnosed with primary breast cancer in the last three years. Find out more about Younger Women Together or call 0345 077 1893.