First some statistics:
How many people develop breast cancer?
- More than 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, including around 4,600 in Scotland.
- Each year, about 5,500 additional women are diagnosed with an earlier (non-invasive) form of breast cancer, called in situ breast carcinoma. These are confined to a specific area of the breast (usually milk ducts) but may later develop the ability to spread.Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the UK.
- One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
- Around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, including around 30 in Scotland.
These numbers are based on 2011 data from cancer research UK
How many people survive breast cancer?
More women than ever are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better screening and better treatments. An estimated five out of six women diagnosed with breast cancer in England and Wales survive for at least five years. However, around 1,000 UK women still die of breast cancer every month, including around 85 women in Scotland.
My Breast Cancer Story
This is a humdinger to write, off piste and outside my comfort zone for sure! But giving it a go and hopefully won’t sound self pitying and depress the hell out of you. Actually, for me breast cancer wasn’t depressing, yes horrible, terrifying and the worst experience of my life, but strangely one of the most positive too, I discovered new things about myself, learnt who and what was important and felt truly loved…. Now ain’t something!
In 2010 life was looking pretty darn exciting, I’d just landed a job on the East Coast of America, we were off to New York for an adventure of a life-time. What transpired that year was new experiences alright, just not the ones anticipated. This story starts in the shower, a quick in and out, I’m late for work type of shower…
Five years on and I can still feel that moment, the temperature of the water, the smell the shampoo and hear my heart beating as my left hand lay frozen in my right armpit. There sat nestled a perfectly round lump, similar in size and shape to a marble, I’m not a worrier and rarely ill but the second my fingers met that lump I knew beyond doubt “I had Breast Cancer” – Jeez, slightly emotional revisiting that memory!
Telling no-one not even Teear, I booked the appointment with the doctor and carried on as normal. It was the doc who found the primary tumour, just above my right nipple about 12mm in diameter with an irregular shape. How I’d missed it was crazy, the cheeky beggar was bold as brass and not at all shy! Being a none worrier I’d NEVER checked myself, big mistake… Please please do it!
Once the doctor confirmed my fears, not verbally of course, that would’ve been unethical without a proper assessment and a biopsy. But the way he looked at me whilst telling me not to worry was confirmation enough… he knew what I knew and now Teear needed to know, we wouldn’t be emigrating to America anytime soon!
The biopsy followed and indeed I was officially informed “you have beast cancer”and just for good measure it’d metastasized (spread) to the lymph nodes (the marble first discovered in the shower), not ideal! The only time I really cried was that day, thank the oncologist, went home, closed the door then gave it all I had… Composed myself and got on with it.
On August the 9th the tumour along with the lymph nodes were removed, which reminds me of funny story… My biggest fear about the surgery was lymphedema, a condition that can occur when the lymph nodes are removed. Basically the arm swells up like a sausage and from what I’d read (or rather googled) stayed like it – Jeez, if things weren’t bad enough without that! Through the fog of anaesthetic I groped my arm, phew, it felt Ok. Arriving home and having struggled into brand new owl patterned PJs, I looked in the mirror with absolute horror, the arm was snug fitting on right and baggy on the left, OMG I had it, I had lymphedema!!… Wailing “I’ve got it” Teear inspected the situ and deduced the PJs were faulty, two different sized armholes, bloody cheap Primark tat!!
Waiting 10 days to find out the severity was incredibly difficult, you find yourself googling stuff, types and survival rates, things best left un-googled! You convince yourself your breathing’s a little laboured so must be in the lungs too, all those crazy mind fuck things… Now, nothing’s half measures with me, if I’m getting something I’ll be getting it good and proper, breast cancer was going to be no different – I had the Grade 3 Triple Negative, aggressive and more difficult to tackle. It doesn’t respond to common treatments, it’s also more likely to spread and recur… I was given a 50/50% survival rate, smashing! Buckle up Teear we’re in for a bumpy ride, BRING IT ON… As sure as I was about having breast cancer, I was bloody sure it wouldn’t be killing me, I had grandkids to meet!
I could go on about the distress of having a PICC line put in (made me feel incredibly claustrophobic, just wanted it out), the chemo, the sickness, an infection in my jaw so bad it kept me in hospital all over Christmas. By far the worst was the guilt of watching my family worry, but I’ll just have to write the book as this blog ain’t long enough! – Note I’ve left out losing my hair, that wasn’t a problem for me, quiet liked not having any, weird hey! But looked Ok and didn’t half save some fussing in the mornings!
The reason for telling my story and appreciate it’s taken some rattling on to get to the point, was what really mattered and made the difference was support, from friends (who were bloody amazing at keeping me laughing, lots) McCue who I worked for were incredible and family of course, but also a fabulous charity called “Breast Cancer Care”, without whom it would’ve been a far greater battle!
So who is the amazing Charity…
Breast Cancer Care:
Breast Cancer Care is a UK wide charity, providing care, information and support to people affected by breast cancer. Established by Betty Westgate on Christmas Eve, 1973, five years after her own diagnosis of breast cancer in 1968, quite apt as we’re approaching it’s 42nd Birthday!
Their promotion video beautifully sums up what they do for women (men too) like me:
The charities mission is to:
- provide information and offer emotional and practical support
- bring people affected by breast cancer together
- campaign for improvement in standards of support and care
- promote the importance of early detection.
For me, they’ve certainly fulfilled 1 & 2 beautifully…
I was first introduced to Breast Cancer care by my BC nurse, in the form of a leaflet, after a bit of head in the sand action I decided to check them out, and mighty pleased I am too…
First really useful and as it turned out, hilarious workshop attended: Managing a bald head! Myself and best friend Lisa arrived to be greeted by two wonderful older ladies, who proceeded to dress me up (still with hair at this point) in beautiful floral headscarves, then attach an array of brooches (I looked like a flaming Christmas tree – we had such a laugh!). I arrived absolutely dreading the thought of not having hair and left with a collection of scarfs which I was genuinely looking forward to wearing!… Thank you ladies, you made a daunting task so much more bearable and fun!
And, for me the piece de resistance was the FORUM, a welcoming community of understanding people who offered the best practical and emotional support, day or night. Although I was lucky enough to have fabulous friends and family around me it was wonderful to be able to communicate with others going through similar challenges. Whatever the problem, concern or just to blow off a bit about the situ, there was always someone logged on who understood. Posing many a question in the beginning and progressing to helping others through my own experiences…. Brilliant, I loved that forum – It’s the inspiration for ours (just need to get people using it now!)
The amazing charity doesn’t stop supporting either, five years on I still benefit from the work they do, recently attending a seminar on how to manage the symptoms of the menopause bought on by chemotherapy for breast cancer, it was free and immensely useful.
Feeling inspired? There’s loads of ways you can get involved with the work they do. Whatever you do, you’ll be helping people facing breast cancer and make sure that they have somewhere to turn for information and support from day one – checkout how: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/get-involved – In 2011 with a splattering or hair myself and Lisa did the Pink Ribbon Walk. Walking 21miles through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with hundreds of others to raise money, I highly recommend it.
That’s all folks!! Ooh… Other than to say if you’re effected by or been effected by breast cancer and want to talk, I’m here.