In 2013, the day before my daughters 10th birthday I left our holiday in Cambridge to drive back to London for the results of my breast biopsy. It was confirmed. I had breast cancer.
For many of you who have been in this situation, I can’t imagine what you were thinking when you were told.
We are all different.
My two main thoughts were about family and money ie if I died would my family be OK without me emotionally and financially. But then my thoughts turned to ….
I was full of questions that the breast surgeon didn’t want to answer. What now? what if it is not just in my breast, will you cut my breasts off? If I have chemo how long will it last? Will I have radiotherapy? My breast surgeon would not give me any answers. “Cut them off!” I said. “It’s too early at the moment for me to answer any of your questions,” he said. But I wanted answers. But if this… what will happen? but what about that…? I think he started hating me at this point. He was a calm man and I know other people who have been to him say he’s lovely. But he tells you what you want to hear. His message was that …it was too early to say anything definite but he will look after me and not to worry.
This is me on holiday the day after my cancer diagnosis. I wanted lots of pictures of me for my family in case I was going to die (I didn’t tell them that, it was simply a case of …” take a picture of me”).
He told me that he cant answer any of my questions and that I now needed to see the nurse who will take care of me.
OK, I thought, perhaps she can give me timelines and answers? But no, she was ONLY there for comfort. I truly didn’t want comfort. I wanted answers. If it’s in my lymph nodes what happens? If you find it in my bones what treatment do I get?
She just wanted me to cry, I wanted to know all the different scenarios that were out there for me. I didn’t like her and she didn’t like me.
In fairness, the breast surgeon could not have told me any more than he did and could not have been nicer. 5 years down the line I have calmed down alot and have a great relationship with him. He cut out my cancer and I had hardly any bad side effects from the surgery. He says this was because he was especially careful with the surgery because he was scared of me (it won’t be the first time I have been called “that scary woman!”) but I know that he treats all his patients with the same skill and kindness.
So, after leaving the breast surgeon on my day of diagnosis, without the answers that I wanted, just lots of questions and lots more tests booked, with surgery looming, I went back to the holiday to face all the questions from my family that I couldn’t get answers to.
I looked up everything that I could about my cancer, survival rates, treatments, scenarios. I went on forums. I read the papers (I am an immunologist with a PhD, so access was easy). But without the further tests, I didn’t know where I stood. We still didn’t know what type of cancer it was or if it had spread, so I was at a loss of what to do, what to read that related to me and whether I should be worried or not. Basically, my breast surgeon was right. It was too early for scenarios.
I told all my friends and family about my diagnosis. I didn’t need them yet but I might so I thought I should tell them now. And what if the diagnosis was bad? my family needed to know now so they could deal with it. EVERYONE gave me a totally different response.
A large proportion of people told me to get a second opinion. I had moaned about my breast surgeon who had told me the diagnosis, maybe he was wrong? At this point, I had to take a step back in my head. The moans about my breast surgeon and his nurse were simply personality clashes and in fact, in retrospect, it was ALL my fault. I deal with bad news by looking at worst case scenarios. They wouldn’t give me the worst case scenario (for obvious reasons) and it irritated me. But I know that the nurse and the breast surgeon had my best interest at heart. I might not have liked them but I trusted them to the point that I did not believe that they would say I had breast cancer if they were not sure I did. No, I would not get a second opinion.
Then there were the friends who advised that I went to their faith healer and be cured or become vegan. I should definitely give up sugar and chocolate! WHAT! give up chocolate?!
So I went back to the books and the science and the forums. Sugar DOES feed cancer because sugar feeds ALL cells in the body. This is actually school level biology. Cutting out sugar doesn’t kill cancer, unfortunately, it can make you more healthy though, which you need when going through the harsh treatments that a cancer diagnosis can bring.
So I didn’t go to a faith healer or give up chocolate and in fact (me being me) every time now that I go to the hospital to see my oncologist or breast surgeon) I will always have a hot chocolate, whether I really want it or not, as a little act of defiance. Yes, I have cancer AND chocolate – Living dangerously!
But I won’t disparage alternative treatment and I do respect peoples choices for their own treatments. I know that acupuncture is good for the hot sweats you can get on anti-hormone treatments used for some cancers and there are certain herbal remedies that can ease the symptoms of nausea that you get with chemotherapy. However, I also understand they can be bad. St Johns wort (which I used to use) is VERY bad, for example, if you are taking tamoxifen for breast cancer and there are NO herbal remedies that will replace traditional treatments for cancer.
After my breast surgery, I saw an oncologist. He had a different approach and was very happy to discuss with me the scenarios. At this point however we had more answers, we knew what type of cancer I had, we knew it (probably) hadn’t spread, we knew what treatments I should be on. So I had radiotherapy and took the pills he suggested, I also had a hysterectomy and my ovaries removed which my oncologist didn’t recommend. My gynaecologist suggested the additional surgery (which my oncologist wasn’t keen on) because I had suspected ovarian cancer also so I had to make that decision. I also changed the pills when he told me to and monitored the side effects. Next May I come off the pills. I want to stay on them but he says to see how I feel. I am tired and have put on weight. If when I come off I have more energy and it’s easier to lose the weight then I will stay off as he says they aren’t necessary anymore. If I feel the same (he says give it three months) I will argue with him to stay on – just in case, to be safe. But in his mind, in May, as long as my mammogram says so, I WILL BE CURED!
I trusted the medical profession. Yes, I asked questions, looked up what they told me, sometimes asked advice from other professionals and argued with my specialist ALOT. Maybe I didn’t trust them all on a personal level, some irritated me and some couldn’t answer my questions. But I trusted them enough to put my life in their hands. Not everyone will be as lucky as I was. My cancer was caught early, it had not spread and all my treatments have worked (so far). And I won’t say it was easy, my life, figure and energy levels have all changed. I am a different person now. But if it comes back I would do the same thing. I would go to the experts to use their years of training to help me, with the confidence that they have my best interests at the forefront of their mind.
If you have cured yourself (or delayed symptoms progressing) of cancer by using the medical profession please let us know.
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