Breast Cancer – My Story
The past year has taught me a lot and I’m so lucky that I live to tell my story
One morning in June 2020 whilst I was in the shower, I felt a lump on my left breast. I
got out of the shower, lay on the bed and tried to feel it again but I couldn’t. The next day I checked again in the shower. The lump was there.
I called the doctor straight away, however because of Covid-19 I couldn’t see her in person, but she made a referral to the breast clinic and told me the waiting time is normally two weeks but due to the pandemic, but it could be longer.
I waited a few weeks and heard nothing so I called the surgery and they chased up my
appointment for me. However, whilst waiting for my appointment to come through I was uncertain as to whether I should cancel it, thinking to myself that I was wasting their time. I’d convinced myself that it was nothing.
I’ve had lumps before in my breast and been to the breast clinic and it had always come back clear.
I decided to ask my daughter Daisy to feel for the lump. Her response to me was: “No
mum you need to go, this doesn’t feel right.”
My appointment came through for Solihull Hospital, as at the time my local hospital Good Hope wasn’t running their breast clinic due to Covid-19. This was the reason for the delay in being seen.
My appointment came and Daisy came with me but due to all the restrictions, she couldn’t come into the clinic. I went in quite anxious and scared. A nurse examined my left breast, she felt the lump when I was sitting up but couldn’t feel it when I was lying down, so she said to me she thought it was nothing sinister. I was hopeful.
I then went to have a mammogram. I’ve had these before and they’re quite painful but they do the job. The nurses told me I would be having an ultrasound scan but when I entered the room the doctor was looking at my mammogram and comparing it to the mammogram I had had two years previous with a lump on the same breast. She said to me it all looks good and that she didn’t think I needed to do an ultrasound because the mammograms look similar to last time. This was instant relief at that moment but then the nurse said to the doctor: ”Maybe while she’s here, we should just do an ultrasound
anyway?” The doctor agreed.
I lay on the bed and told her where the lump was because she couldn’t feel it and straight away, I heard her say that she could definitely feel a lump.
My heart sank a little, but she told me they would do a biopsy there and then which I’ve had before and knew what to expect. They numb the area with a local anaesthetic and then make a small incision into the breast and take a small sample of the tissue. They told me it would take a couple of weeks for the results and if I had a letter in the post saying they needed to see me it would mean further investigations were needed. If I had a letter saying I had a phone consultation it would probably mean the lump would be benign and everything was okay.
I had the letter come through a week later saying I had a phone consultation, I was quite relieved because it meant it was nothing serious. I waited for the phone consultation but nobody phoned then an hour later a nurse from Solihull Hospital called me.
“Mrs Byrne”, she said. “Yes,” I responded.
“You were due in clinic today!”
“No,” I said, “Mine was a phone consultation…”
“Oh no, sorry. We need to see you,” she replied.
My heart sank. I knew this meant the news wasn’t good. I sat on my stairs and cried.
She made me an urgent appointment for the next day, 27th August. She also told me to bring someone with me, which only confirmed my thoughts.
My husband tried to reassure me and said to wait and see what they said, but I just
24 hours later, I was sitting in Solihull Hospital watching other ladies go in for their appointments. Some came out crying, going into another room with a nurse and being handed lots of booklets filled with information on breast cancer.
Waiting to be seen felt like a lifetime, then a lady called my name. I was almost sick with fear of what I was about to be told. We went into the room and sat down. My consultant held my hand and told me I had Grade 2 ducal oestrogen positive breast cancer.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. The nurse said:
“Do you understand what that means?”
“Well yes, kind of. I have CANCER!”
My husband was upset and asked questions, while my consultant held his hand and reassured him, telling him he wouldn’t lose me.
We came out of the room and like the women I watched whilst waiting, we were taken into the side room and walked out with lots of information.
September 23rd would be the date I would have surgery to remove the lump and hopefully not my breast.
Now to go and tell my 12-year-old son and my 21-year-old daughter. But first my Mum and Dad (the worse news for them having already lost one daughter to cancer). But I had this: I was a strong, fit and healthy woman and most of all POSITIVE.
The weeks passed and the day of the surgery came. My husband dropped me at the door of the hospital (Covid-19 meant I had to do it alone). I had an overnight stay in hospital with the tumour removed. It was sent off for tests to make sure they had taken enough breast tissue away and also lymph nodes to see if it had spread.
Two weeks later I was back at the breast clinic.
The cancer had now changed from Grade 2 to Grade 3 which meant it was now aggressive, but thankfully it hadn’t spread. This would mean my treatment would now be Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy, not just Radiotherapy as they first suggested.
Before Chemotherapy started, I met a nurse and discussed the different options I had regarding hair loss etc. They told me I could wear something called a cold cap. This was a hat that was strapped to your head before, during and after your chemotherapy session. It freezes the hair follicles and reduces hair loss but sometimes it doesn’t work. I thought I would give it a go anyway, there was no harm in trying!
December 2nd – Round 1 of Chemotherapy (Epirubicin) or the Red Devil as the nurse called it.
I tried the cap for the first session but not long after my hair started falling out.
On December 27th my husband shaved off my long, thick, dark hair. It was strange but I wasn’t upset with having no hair; the most upsetting part was watching my hair fall out and picking it up from all around the house, waking up to hair on my pillow and pulling clumps out in the shower, that was the worst.
So now I was bald. But luckily it was winter and I had lots of hats.
I had a wig made but never wore it as it was so uncomfortable. I just did the no hair thing and embraced it.
Chemotherapy was every third week. It kills all your cells and reproduces new ones; I had 4 rounds of this. I also had a new Chemo drug called Taxol (no nickname for this as it wasn’t as evil as the red stuff).
Both knocked me off my feet but I stayed positive and had the rare day in bed.
Chemo was another job I had to do alone due to Covid but I always had my precious family and friends by my side, WhatsApping me funny videos and messages. Even though there was no one to physically hold my hand, they were there in the palm of my hand.
April 16th came, which was the day I was to have my last round. It felt like it had been a lifetime of treatment. The days were very long when you couldn’t sleep and couldn’t go out!
I had four weeks of rest before my Radiotherapy started. Every day from Monday to Friday I had Radiotherapy and this lasted for four weeks. Luckily for me, the Radiotherapy wasn’t too bad. The painful part was going to Birmingham every day!
But I had amazing family and friends who would kindly take me to get blasted, and to be honest, that car journey did help to take my mind off things, plus I got to spend time with the ones I love most.
By June 18th I was done! I had finished all my treatment.
I hadn’t realised the actual impact it had on me until I started feeling like myself again some four weeks later. But it wasn’t just me that the cancer had impacted, it had had a domino effect on everyone in my life. Sometimes it’s harder to watch someone you love go through this than it is to go through it yourself.
The past year has taught me a lot and I’m so lucky that I live to tell my story.
I’ve been open throughout my journey, talking to people about it and warning them that IF IT DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT THEN IT PROBABLY ISN’T.
And don’t forget, breast cancer affects men too.
So ladies and gents, get into the habit of checking your body. Breast cancer is very common and VERY treatable, however, it can change quickly too, so don’t delay if you feel something or have a rash or discharge from your breast, get to the doctors.
By Samantha Byrne