Ellen, diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 38, shares her experiences of her diagnosis and treatment on her beautiful Instagram page @cancerfighter_22. She has shared her experiences through chemotherapy and radiotherapy and shows how she manages side effects such as hair loss and hot flushes.
I was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 38 and throughout this process there are things that I have learnt about, not only myself, but dealing with a cancer diagnosis and life thereafter.
At the time I was diagnosed I never had considered or believed that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. I was still in my thirties, I was working full time as a police firearms officer, I climbed Mount Snowdon a few weeks before I visited the doctors, I had an active life, didn't smoke and was physically very fit.
I noticed that I had two lumps on my right breast that were really sore. Everyone said to me “it's not cancer, because cancer doesn't hurt. It will just be cysts”. So, I thought it was great and left them.
A few weeks later the so called ‘cysts’ were more sensitive and hurt to touch. I noticed they would get bigger and smaller depending on where I was in my menstrual cycle. Again, I was told “they will just be cysts because they are so big and because they move around. A cancer lump wouldn’t have as much movement!” (I could now see the lumps protruding my breast when I lay down). It was only when the lumps started to interfere with my training and it would hurt when I put my uniform on at work, that I decided to visit the doctor (fully expecting them to be cysts and having them drained, or whatever they do to make cysts smaller).
The doctor gave me a physical examination and within a few minutes told me “they don't feel sinister at all and they are moving around so I'm sure it isn't cancer”. However, she referred me to the breast clinic just for my own piece of mind; that decision may have just saved my life.
A piece of advice,
SOME CANCER LUMPS DO HURT!
Cancer is still a developing illness and there is no guarantee of knowing if the lump you have is cancerous. It’s simple. If you feel uneasy or unhappy with a lump you have, don't second guess what it is. Get it examined properly as soon as you can.
Early detection literally saves lives.
A few weeks later I went to the breast clinic and before any other tests were done I had another physical examination and within seconds the doctor said “yep, they are nothing to worry about but as you are here, you may as well complete the other tests”
I had a mammogram (three lumps were detected), ultrasound, core biopsy on all three lumps and a needle biopsy in my armpit.
I hadn't anticipated what was going to happen. I guess I was a bit naive going into the clinic. When the tests were over I returned to the doctor’s office but this time there was a cancer nurse in there called “Belle” who he introduced me to (first red flag) he then said:
“I’m surprised, when I first examined you I thought they were cysts”.
(second red flag)
He said the doctor who examined me saw something she wasn't happy with but wanted to wait for the biopsy results. I asked him how likely it is that it's cancer and was told it had been marked as highly likely. That was the moment I knew I had cancer.
I left the hospital feeling shell shocked!
This brought me to the worst ten days of my life, waiting for the confirmation of my diagnosis. Although I was certain I had it, I didn't know what stage I was at, the type of cancer, or if it was treatable. The not knowing and waiting is one of the worst things to deal with.
This brings me to my next bit of advice.
DO NOT GOOGLE ANYTHING!
I don't think any good has ever come from googling signs and symptoms, yet we all still do it!
Firstly, for some reason when you Google “what is wrong with me” Google's search results always come back with the worst-case scenario. In truth, you’ll never get the answer you are looking for. The thing with cancer is there are a hundred different types of cancer, with a hundred different treatments and even if you have the same cancer as someone else, the variations in treatments are so vast. The doctors are there to provide you with answers. Alternatively, reaching out to other women who are able to share their experiences, can bring comfort and answers too.
My last piece of advice.
TAKE EACH DAY AS IT COMES
Cancer in itself is just too big to comprehend and deal with as a whole, it's too scary and too overwhelming so just tackle it one day at a time. Breaking it down to daily chunks will make it seem just a bit more possible to beat.