Friday, 9 October 2015

The Big C & Me


October is  in the UK, so in acknowledgement of this extremely important event, I thought I'd interview somebody about their experience of having and surviving breast cancer. Step forward then, one survivor ...... Me.

So Carol, how was your cancer discovered?

I learned that I had early stage breast cancer from a routine NHS breast screen three years ago when I was 63 -  you know the sort: you go to a big white van in a carpark and it's always cold. I had noticed no lumps, bumps or changes so it was a shock to be recalled to the Luton & Dunstable Breast Cancer Clinic a week later.

What sort of cancer did they find?

I had DCIS ( Ductile Cancer In Situ). It's a kind of pre-breast cancer. It was in several tubes in my left breast and was ''high grade'' which meant it was getting ready to progress to the next stage.

So what happened when you received the diagnosis?

I was stunned - after all, I hadn't had any visible symptoms. I had been on low dose HRT for a long time - I reacted very well to it, but I came off it immediately, even though there was no proof that it contributed to the cancer. And I thought naively that I was too old to get the illness.

How did your family react?

My husband was shocked also, but supported me brilliantly at every stage of my journey. I kind of played it down with my daughter, who was in the last few months of pregnancy. I'm not a big over-sharer anyway, and I didn't want to upset her.

What was next?

A very unpleasant needle biopsy, which led to an appointment being made for an operation to remove the cancerous ducts. It all happened so quickly and efficiently I barely had time to take it in. I went in as a day patient, had radioactive dye injected into the area (sadly, I didn't glow in the dark afterwards) and then had the operation. The surgeon cut into the breast underneath, leaving a long but not overtly visible scar.

Did you have to go for follow up treatment?

Ah. Now here it gets a bit controversial. The surgeon recommended radiotherapy, but after researching it, and talking to others on social media, I chose not to have any follow up treatment. I wasn't happy with the side effects, nor with the fact that it wouldn't stop further cancers developing. My surgeon was convinced he'd removed all the cancerous cells and I trusted his judgement.

And then?

I got on with my life and put it in a box labelled 'OK, that happened'. I had my first annual mammogram check up last November, and it came back clear. My second one will be in two weeks' time. It takes 5 years before they are prepared to say you are totally free of cancer.

What was the worst part of all of it?

You may think this is frivolous ... unless you are a survivor also, but I had to take all the wires out of my lovely underwear, because it hurt too much to wear. And I wasn't sure for some time whether I'd look ''normal'' and be able to wear lovely stuff again. Luckily I can ... and you would hardly be able to tell I am a tad lopsided!

Finally, do you have any advice to offer?

I think the MOST important thing is to TURN UP for your FREE NHS routine screening. I was horrified when the nurses told me how many women fail to attend. Yes, it's uncomfortable and not very pleasant having your boobs squeezed between two X ray plates, but cancer doesn't always present as an obvious lump or change in the breast - mine didn't.
So ladies, don't think you can skip an appointment because you've checked your boobs and you didn't feel any lumps. Go - I urge you. Had I not gone, I might not be writing this blog today.




18 comments:

  1. ...thanks for sharing, m’Lady., Carol .. my youngest sister is a dual survivor... having had two bouts with lung cancer... currently in remission, thankfully...mwaaah :)

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  2. Gulp. So so glad you are clear. I'm one of those who misses screenings. Must go....thank you, Carol. Hug!!

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  3. I know breast cancer is the big one - but can I give a shout out for skin cancer, too. Don't ignore anything that doesn't look 'quite right'. It might be nothing. It might be something slow-growing and easily removed (like mine were - I've had two) or it might be one of the big b*ggers, and you need to do something about those as soon as you can.

    And the bowel cancer tests are also a must. My brother survived bowel cancer (over 10 years now) only because he went to the doctor as soon as his innards were out of kilter. He'd have died if he's left it longer.

    I suppose it's about knowing our own bodies, checking fairly regularly (whether we do that ourselves or do the tests), and then get on with having a great life.

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    1. thanks Jo. Men are so hard to persuade to go for any tests!

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    2. Thank you Carol. I too am a survivor (6 years and counting) with a story much like your own (except mine wasn't "in situ", it had spread but not into the lymph glands). I had radiotherapy. Anyway - I'm happy you're in "my club" - yay for survivors!!!

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  4. glad it all went OK, Carol... fingers crossed for the future!
    Made me wonder if I should...

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  5. Thank you for sharing so openly. A brave post.... I'm glad you're here to tell the tale. x

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  6. Such an important post, Carol. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. welcome... if it stirs somebody into getting screened, then it has achieved its purpose

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  7. Congratulations carol on having it, dealing with it, and talking about it. I'm almost at the 5-year survival target after lung cancer (surgery & chemo in 2011 & chemo again in 2014 after a recurrence. Not curable but treatable & manageable). I understand that 70+ is a dangerous age for BC - & they don't screen much after 70.

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    1. I have found somebody who had BC over 70, and as you say, they don't screen...and also the older you are, the longer/harder it is to bounce back!

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  8. Thank you for sharing your experience. I religiously go every year for a mammogram/echogram - and have done for 15 years (I'm 58), since my mother, an aunt and a cousin all had breast cancer. For the few weeks before the appointment I am climbing the walls since I am s*** scared that they will find something. But my brain tells me it's better to find it early than skip the appointments and find it when it's too late. As other commentators have said, it's also important to watch for other cancers, e.g. colon cancer, which can be treated effectively if it's found early. This disease is the scourge of the 21st century: let's encourage everyone to do what they can to beat it.

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  9. Thanks for your very good advice and telling us this.

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  10. Hello Carol, I too had DCIS exactly the same as yours in 2015. Like you, I was recommend ended to have an operation to remove the DCIS followed by radiotherapy. Like you, I didn't want radiotherapy. As I have quite small boobs, effect of operation would not have looked good, either. Eventually got surgeon to agree to a bigger op - sub-cutaneous mastectomy which leaves breast skin behind, with an on-the-spot reconstruction with a small implant. Cosmetic result is OK, have two passable boobs but one is now a bit smaller. Radiotherapy is standard offer for all women with DCIS - like yours, mine was high grade, but in many cases it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this. I agree...it took a lot of 'it's my informed choice' stuff to make them back off. I have pretty well decided that, should it return in any major way, unless I get a 'promise' of a far longer life, I will not submit my body to the ravages of chemo and the side effects of lifelong drugs. Palliative care...and out...

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    2. I agree - for now, but I bet if I was faced with a real life threatener I'd end up taking the drugs and the rays - I love life too much to give it up just yet!

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