Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Today I am sharing a very touching story in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please take a few minutes to read Kelly's story. Leave her some words of encouragement and support, especially if you have been through something similar.
I was diagnosed with stage 1 grade 3 breast ductal carcinoma 13 November 2012. I discovered the lump shaped like a squashed walnut 2 weeks before the diagnosis. I am adopted and having traced my birth mother’s records it turned out that she had sadly died from breast cancer at the age of 44, she had had it for 8 years and after bilateral mastectomies her fight ended. I was 36 when I was diagnosed, exactly the same age she was and I was actively looking for lumps.
Before a diagnosis is made there are a multitude of hospital visits to make, appointments to attend and test to be performed. I had a syringe test, the result came back as 95% fatty, I thought although this sounded positive it was an odd percent to give to someone usually you would say 99% so an alarm bell went up. I am a wife to Tim and a mum to boys aged 22,17 and 8. Tim and I decided not to speak to the children about the initial stage until we knew something a little more concrete.
Four days later I was asked to go in and have a mammogram and although it was uncomfortable it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I asked to see the result, which is not usual, and I could quite clearly see my grey lump with grey threads moving away from it. On the same day I went and had an ultrasound and core biopsy. My husband had taken time out of work so after the mammogram I sent him back. During the ultra sound I asked if the lump was actually a fatty lump and it was then they said ‘no, I think it is a pea size cancer!’ my world stopped. I laughed in a kind of disbelieving way, got dressed and walked out. I tried to walk but my legs felt like they were filled with lead, my heart felt like it had stopped. I rang my husband who came and met me, I asked him to park the car and then told him what had happened.
We then waited 10 very very long days, I say ‘we’ because Tim was with me 100% the whole way and is my rock. We cried with disbelief, I started trying to be practical in a morbid kind of way, choosing funeral hymns, writing letters to the kids, looking at our insurances, I spoke to work and started writing a diary so that ‘just in case’ I died everything was in place…When the 10 days were up the surgeon at the Churchill, Oxford called me with the result (I had requested this before the follow up appointment the next week) she told me I had an aggressive cancer and I needed it out ASAP. I went and bought a wig!!
On 8 Dec I had my first operation, a lumpectomy, 2 lymph nodes were removed and I was told there and then that they had got all my cancer. I was left with one 2 inch scar. I had a genes test (blood test) and then in January 2013 I began chemotherapy. I tried the cold cap (feels like an upturned ice-cream on your head and is very, very cold) but sadly it didn’t help retain my hair and 3 weeks later all my hair on EVERY part of my body had disappeared. It was traumatic waking up every morning to a nest of hair in the bed (I had cut my hair to shoulder length). It was initially quite shocking for the kids, we had talked to them all about what was going to happen but remained positive and upbeat. My mum virtually moved in so she could help out and our local church helped with the provision of some meals to make it easier on us all.
I went to hospital to have a Picc line put in, a painless but slightly uncomfortable line that they will feed drugs into, it stays in your arm for the duration of chemotherapy. The actual chemotherapy took a very long time whilst I was wearing the cold cap but when I stopped wearing it, it didn’t take as long. After each chemo I was given a phenomenal amount of anti-sickness drugs to take plus injections to keep my white blood cells working. I was told that I was going to get sicker before I got better and I was ready for this. At one point when my FEC D chemo changed and I was given a higher dose I was told I would feel like I had been in a car crash!
Tim became a master chef; he worked his way through Jamie’s 15 minute meals, cooking super healthy meals and keeping my calories up. Believe me, anyone going through chemo will need every last calorie. As a result I was never hospitalised. I had been told to monitor my temperature and if it went to 38 degree C I had to go straight to hospital which was quite a scary thought. I made it through 6 sessions every 3 weeks and finished my last one on 1 May 2013. I joked with friends that I would be dancing round the chemo ward rather than the traditional Maypole!
During this time my gene testing had come back, (it took 3 months), and it said that I had a BRCA 2 variant. I made the decision that I didn’t want my life to be spent worrying and checking for lumps and opted to have a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy and reconstruction.
I went to the hospital run reconstruction event to see what types of surgery I could opt for and scared myself silly. I googled reconstructions but it was only when another lady offered to show me her skin sparing mastectomy that I then felt ready to make the leap. I realised I would lose my nipples and most of all I would lose all the sensation in my breast. I deeply mourned the loss of this sensation, I had breast fed all of my children and realised I would never be able to feed a baby again.
On 8 July 2013 I had my surgery, I showered in the red stuff they give you to prevent infections and then headed to hospital for my 7:30 am appointment. I was drawn on by the surgeon and then I was walked down to surgery. I waved goodbye to Tim and knew that this was going to be a very long day for him. The surgery went well and I was soon back on the recovery ward. I had 4 drains in and was hooked up to pain killers. Initially it felt like a small child was sat on my chest and I honestly thought I would never be able to move again. It is quite restrictive, but the hospital got me up and moving about quickly. I was in a ward with other women but they all had different illnesses and I felt quite isolated and embarrassed because they had all seen me without my hair. I quickly got over this but it wasn’t something I had prepared myself for. After 3 days I was allowed to go home. I still had 2 drains in and a district nurse came round to my house to see me and change my dressings daily.
My scars were keloid and I had some necrotic tissue. I had lots of different bandages some with honey and some with silver to try to heal me quicker but this is not a fast process and I had to learn to be patient.
I went back to work in my pre-school on 4 September 2013. In hindsight it was way too soon but I was getting worried about money and felt it was the best course of action. I also took on an extra day to try and cover the financial deficit. I was tired, so tired. I had been given Tamoxifen to take for 10 years and when I first started taking it, it put me into a kind of menopause – hot sweats. I googled ways of combating these and found Starflower oil to be the most effective.
I battled on and my hair gradually started to grow back. It came back quite curly and fine but it was so nice not to have a cold head. I stopped wearing the wig as soon as I could as it was starting to make my head itch with the extra heat from my new hair. Everything was starting to heal. It was only after all of the above that the enormity of what I had been through really sank in.
I finally felt like the ‘car crash victim’ that they had described. I was in shock and deeply traumatised by the loss of my femininity. I cried all the time and became a complete wreck. I went to see the Dr and Oncologist Psychologist as I felt really depressed. I was referred to a well-being group run by Breast Cancer Care. I met others just like me and we to this day remain in touch.
Cancer didn't leave me on the surgery table, it is part of the ‘new normal’ me. I have changed and I have had to accept this and most definitely move on. If I can help anyone along their cancer journey I am happy to help. I have shown my reconstructions to several ladies contemplating this surgery and I hope it has helped them make a decision.
Every day I thank God I am alive and that I am still the wife to Tim and the mother to my gorgeous boys.
Thank you very much Kelly, for sharing your incredible journey with us!
If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation to Kelly and would like to hear more of her story, please message me on my Facebook page and I will get you in touch. If you know someone who would like to share their cancer story, please direct them to my Facebook page or have them email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.