The 21st of January 2019. That was the day I had the confirmation. Deep down I knew it was coming, I found the lump myself at home on a routine check. It was a dense little lump I couldn’t mistake for a cyst, there was no feeling to it – it didn’t hurt, it just felt hard under my fingertips. I’d had cyst before, and this definitely was not that.
I had slightly put off going to the doctor for a week or two to get it checked because the thought of facing that I actually had the big C was incomprehensible. This all happened to coincide around the festive season during which it was extremely difficult to get any tests – everything was booked. So for about a month, through my 27th birthday, Christmas and New Years I silently prayed I was wrong.
I’ll never forget the process because once it began, it felt so long. First, an ultrasound in which several cysts were pointed out and then the lump in question. I remember asking the lady “Is that one a cyst?” She proceeded to tell me it definitely wasn’t and she needed to ask the doctor whether I needed to get a mammogram. She brought me into the mammogram room and the woman who took the images was friendly, but I felt the concern hanging over me.
I was supposed to pay for the ultrasound and mammogram, but I guess I drew the pity card and the lady told me it was ok and not to worry about it. I cried as I walked home that afternoon.
I knew the waiting wasn’t over – we knew it was a tumour, but we needed to find out if it was benign or malignant. Next came the biopsy and more waiting. The anxiety that comes with heavy news like this is hard to explain. You know deep inside that no one else can carry this burden for you, you just have to face it.
So came the day I stepped into the doctors room. She couldn’t even say it herself.
All this waiting, all this anxiety and here I am on the verge of tears waiting for it… “the results are not good” she said. “It’s cancer”.
I started crying straight away. My partner sat in the corner of the room and I looked at him. He winked at me. He was telling me with that wink that he knows I am strong, he knows I’m going to beat this, he knows I’m going to come out the other side even stronger. That it is all going to be ok. He made me feel I wasn’t alone in that moment, though the weight of those words will live with me forever.
Now that we knew it was cancer, I was already booked into a breast surgeon the next day. I even went to see my boss that afternoon telling her I would be at work the day after. I look back on that now and see how heavy the shock was. We are never truly prepared for something like this.
My mother had breast cancer 4 years ago and her treatment was a Lumpectomy followed by Radiation and Tamoxifen (a pill to suppress hormones and prevent recurrence). I was convinced it would be as ‘easy’ as removing the lump, getting me on some pills and doing some radiation and I would be sweet. I was so against chemotherapy. All the propaganda I had heard about it made me believe it would kill me if it ever touched my body, that I wouldn’t bounce back, that it would make my cancer spread. I was so afraid.
In the short week after diagnosis, more tests confirmed I had found it early – it was stage one, but we wouldn’t know for certain until after surgery. I was told I had a type of cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) which generally affects 15-20% of breast cancer patients. I was told that this kind of cancer doesn’t respond to hormone blockers or just radiation, that this kind of cancer was aggressive and responded well to chemotherapy. I was told that I would have 6 months of this dreaded ‘poison’ in my body and for the highest chances of preventing recurrence, I would have to have a double mastectomy.
What? Chemotherapy and lose my breasts? I am 27 years old, I haven’t had any children yet. Will I lose my hair? Will I be able to have children? Will the cancer come back? What if I don’t? What is the long-term damage of all of this? I just found out I have epilepsy; will chemo give me more seizures? Will I be ok?!
All of these questions circled my mind and I asked them all. At the time I wondered how the doctors could be so empty about something so massive – but I understand they see this every day and if they cried for everyone they treated, they wouldn’t be able to do their job properly.
I’ve always been on the side of holistic healing, natural remedies and such. It’s hard to go against everything you thought you believed about your life and your healing when there is so much against it, but with the assurance of my naturopath, I decided to do chemotherapy with a plan to support my body through it rather than be the victim to all the side effects. I decided I wasn’t going to let this horrible experience ruin my whole life, I just needed to go through a little hardship right now.
TNBC is common among young women and more often than not accompanies a BRCA mutation in their genes.
If it wasn’t for me getting breast cancer, we wouldn’t have found out that my mother carries this BRCA mutation and passed it onto me, but fortunately not my sisters.
I have the BRCA1 mutation which means I am more susceptible to getting breast cancer (up to 70% in my lifetime) and ovarian cancer (up to 40%). This means my chemo drugs are focused upon killing all cancer cells in my breasts and potentially ovaries and means, although they have given me a special drug called Zoladex to ‘protect’ my ovaries, I may not be able to have babies one day – something I have had to learn to accept because it gives me life.
I’ll never forget the feeling of entering my local cancer centre for the first time and sitting with butterflies in my stomach, no idea what the hell I was doing, the youngest person in the room. When I still had my hair, a volunteer approached me and asked if I wanted information about the carer’s retreat and I told her I was a patient. So began my dance with the sense of pity people tend to have when they don’t really know what to do or say and I forgive them for that, because cancer affects everyone differently.
It has been 6 months since my diagnosis and I have been through a rollercoaster of emotions, realizations, break downs. I’ve been scanned, prodded and poked. I’ve lost my hair, my brows, my lashes. I’ve puked and slept and sometimes not been able to get out of bed. I’ve had seizures, spent nights in the hospital, had the worst constipation of my life and anal fissures to go with it. I’ve had aching bones and throbbing migraines. I’ve cried for my breasts and the pain of losing them, never being able to breastfeed, the pain I’ll have to go through by saying goodbye to them. I’ve yelled and screamed and gotten angry at the world, which we are all totally justified in doing and it’s not even over yet!
However, all the pain I’ve endured was to shrink that tumour to nothing. Through this experience I’ve met so many beautiful people who are going through exactly what I am. I’ve met beautiful nurses who support me and make me laugh each week through my treatments, I’ve had support from people in my life that I never expected to have. I’ve stopped and really looked at my life – what really brought me to this place in time, and what I could really change going forward. I’ve learned to slow down. That its ok to rest. That its ok to put myself first sometimes. I have learned true appreciation and gratitude for just BEING and to truly become present in every experience I have. I have learned that healing is not just a physical thing – its mental, emotional and spiritual too.
I no longer suppress my emotions, I feel them. I no longer simmer on thoughts and let them consume me, I speak my mind. I no longer allow energy in my space that I know is harming me, I cleanse and fill the space with love!
This experience has turned me into a new person. Before I was afraid, uncertain and lost. Today I know through this experience I have found my way. I am certain.
Today I say F*CK FEAR and move forward because when we face the thing that scares us the most, there is nothing left to be afraid of.
Who knows where this will take me?
I can’t focus on what might happen, I go forward focusing on what I WANT to happen.
Even though sometimes it can be the hardest thing to do, I choose life!
My surgery is coming up at the end of August, another scary hurdle to leap over because I’ll get my final diagnosis – yet I feel supported by my other sisters who have braved it before me, I know I can do it because they’re silently sending me their strength with their beautiful smiles, full of LIFE.
If you are going through this too, know that I’m here for you, you are not alone, and I love you with all of my being.