After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2017, I wanted to know why. Why had this happened to me, especially as I was still young, having only just turned 45.
I had discovered the lump in my breast 12 months prior to being diagnosed, at the time I checked in with my doctor and had an ultrasound but was advised that the lump was simply normal breast tissue. But a year later I noticed that the lump had increased in size, so I went back to my doctor for further investigations and an ultrasound detected a tumour.
I considered myself to be fit and healthy, although my Mum had also experienced a breast cancer diagnosis when she was 70, 9 years before my own diagnosis, so too had my Aunt, her sister, and my cousin who was also diagnosed when she was 50. All of these are from my Mum’s side of her family and so upon my own diagnosis, I put it down to genetics. I am very happy to say that my Mum has fully recovered from her breast cancer.
Yet, despite this family history, my genetic testing, which I underwent on the advice of my Oncologist, showed no genetic mutations or at least none that could be detected at this stage in the science. Naturally, I was relieved, but equally I felt disheartened to not find the answer to my ‘why’.
I was left wondering how I could go about reducing the risk of this happening again, if I couldn’t definitively say what caused it. Equally, how could I protect my young daughter from potentially going through the same experience?
I knew my diagnosis was only the beginning of my journey and to move forward, I would need to consider all of the ways that I can reduce the risk to myself and my family.
My breast cancer diagnosis was Stage I, Grade II oestrogen positive with both ductal and lobular tumours, following a mastectomy, reconstruction and hormone implant treatments, I was advised by my Oncologist to also have my ovaries removed to further reduce my on-going risk. I already had my family with no plans for more children and as I was close in age to a natural menopause, it was not a difficult decision to make.
But while I was happy to be alive and cured, I also felt like my journey to-date had left me feeling like a victim – my sense of control had been completely lost from the moment I’d heard the words “you have cancer”.
I began reading and sourcing as much scientific research as I could, searching for answers. I looked into the various chemicals I had come into contact with every day, through the common household products I was using and I learned that some toxic chemicals, which include endocrine disruptors, can have harmful effects on health and can bio-accumulate in our bodies. Equally I learned what can hurt me as a human, can also contribute to the destruction of our beautiful natural environment which is also a cause close to my heart.
As a result of my research, I decided it was time to reduce the toxins in my daily life. But while living a life with zero toxins is a wonderful aspiration, I learned it’s not easily achievable in the modern world, and could leave me feeling stressed out and panicked, which of course would not be good for my health either!
My post-breast cancer journey has taught me that I can easily lower my exposure to the toxins in my life, by examining the ingredients in many common household items like cosmetics, candles & perfumes, plastics & cleaning products and that I can then swap to using more natural products. I have empowered myself to take control of what I can control, by learning a set of simple actions, and gathering tips and resources, all of which makes me feel safer and that I have done as much as I can to lower my risk of recurrence.
I can honestly say that despite the many ups and downs, I’m glad this happened. It has enabled me to live my life to the fullest and focus on the important people and things in my life. I now enjoy simple pleasures like the smell of flowers in the garden, a beautiful starry night, and the warmth of the sun on my skin.
I hope that a cure is found one day, but also that researchers can educate the community how to prevent breast and other cancers from developing in the first instance. It’s only through prevention that my daughter and many others will be spared the experience of breast cancer.
Feel free to follow Carolyn on Instagram at @for.us.and.earth