Vicky was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Her mum had recently passed away from kidney cancer and had accessed Penny Brohn UK, so when Vicky herself was diagnosed, she knew she needed the charity’s support.
Life before my diagnosis
I’m married and have two children who were six and eight when I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. I was working part time in an HR role and had the usual busy life juggling work and being a mum. I was fit, healthy and active, enjoying spinning, swimming, catching up with friends and generally spending time with my family.
My diagnosis and treatment
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2019, at the age of 42. I didn’t feel a lump or anything in my breast, yet it just felt ‘different’. I’d say it felt slightly denser and there was just something in me, intuition maybe, that made me go and get it checked out.
I saw my doctor, who also couldn’t feel anything, and was advised to take some ibuprofen and see if it settled or if I was worried, I could be referred to the Breast Care Centre. I asked to be referred.
During the mammogram and ultrasound at the Centre, two small tumors in my left breast were found. They were stage one, grade three and hormone positive. I was lucky that I had found them when I did as I was told that it may have taken another 6 months before I would have actually felt them by touch, by which point the tumors would have likely fused and created something far nastier. I was incredibly pleased that I had acted upon my intuition.
I knew immediately that I wanted a mastectomy, which I was granted. Six lymph nodes were also removed, which thankfully were clear. Following my surgery, I then undertook a course of chemo.
I was absolutely dreading chemo. I had visions of constantly being sick, but in fact, it was the opposite. I managed the chemo ok. Yes, there were side effects, the obvious hair loss, steroid induced insomnia, taste loss, so many tablets to take, but it was manageable, and I was ok. I was able to do the school runs, I went on holiday to North Wales and even climbed Snowden with the children. I find it hard to talk about chemo as I know others don’t have the same experience, but I think it’s also good to hear slightly more positive stories and know that it’s not necessarily an awful ordeal for everyone.
As I went through my chemo, I also had genetic testing done and discovered that I’m BRCA2 positive putting me at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Discovering this was a huge shock and being only 42, I went for elective surgery on my other breast and then later had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.
Telling my family was tough, especially my dad. My mum had died in the December before and I was diagnosed only 3 months later in March. I sat down with my children and explained that mummy had breast cancer. I wanted to make sure I used the word cancer as I knew they would overhear this a lot as I went through my treatment, and I wanted to be as open and honest with them as I could. I explained that I had two ‘baddies’, a term they were used to, called tumors, in my left breast, and I was going to have my breast removed to get rid of them. I explained that chemo was a very strong medicine I was having to take to make sure no more baddies appeared, but it meant I would lose my hair. The children were amazing, they saw my scars after surgery and whilst I wore a wig to start with, they soon wanted to see my bald head and accepted it.
Now, 4 years on, they don’t even bat an eyelid seeing my body without breasts which I’m eternally grateful for. As I am BRCA 2 positive, there is a risk that I may have passed this on to my children, so in time we will have to have conversations together but I’m putting that to one side for the time being.
Contacting Penny Brohn UK
It was whilst I was going through chemo that I decided to contact Penny Brohn UK and I joined the Treatment Support Programme. I went weekly and as part of the programme I learnt about the science behind cancer which really helped me to process everything as it answered some of “why” questions in my head. The programme also provided great wellbeing advice and support to keep well during treatment and included some wonderful relaxation sessions, reflexology, and acupuncture.
There’s such a lovely air at Penny Brohn UK. You walk in and it’s all very calm. It’s a very light and welcoming environment which instantly relaxes you. The staff and everyone who works there are just so caring, and they have all the time in the world for you.
Going to Penny Brohn UK felt like a weekly treat between visiting the hospital for pic line dressings to be changed, check ups with consultants etc. Knowing I had a reflexology session booked in later in the week was just lovely.
I was nervous going to Penny Brohn UK at first because I worried that I would stand out being ‘younger’ and there wouldn’t be anyone to really relate to. However, that wasn’t the case. There were people there of a similar age and it was refreshing to be amongst others, going through the same thing as you as we all ‘got it’ so to speak. I could relax and I found it cathartic talking to others in the same situation as myself.
Above all, by going to Penny Brohn UK I felt I was able to take a small amount of control over my treatment. Going through cancer treatment a plan is generally decided for you and you are told what you need to do, what appointments you need to attend etc., and you go along with it as you know the consultants have your best interests at heart. Going along to Penny Brohn UK was my decision, I was controlling when I went, what I did there, and this helped me feel like I was playing an active role in my treatment too. Penny Brohn UK definitely helped me come to terms and be at peace with my cancer journey.
How it changed my life
Finding out I had breast cancer at a ‘young’ age was naturally heartbreaking. Now 4 ½ years post diagnosis, I’m in a good place and in theory cancer free. I still remember a lot of what was discussed at Penny Brohn UK regarding looking after yourself and not overflowing your own personal bucket and I try to put that into practice as much as I can. I was thrown into early menopause overnight once I finished chemo which has been tough to handle over the last few years. My menopause symptoms haven’t been fun to manage, and only now do I feel my body is slowly getting used to the lack of estrogen. I feel I have changed as a person having gone through this experience and the worry of reoccurrence never goes away but it isn’t something I think about that often.
Hopes for the future
Obviously, my biggest goal is to stay healthy with no recurrence so I can continue to enjoy family life and see my children grow and develop. I feel I’ve got to a place where I want to put myself first a little more and do what I really want to do and have recently started a new job and am loving it and I hope that continues.