We asked our beloved patient Emma about her experience with breast cancer. This is what she shared...
When did you first discover you might have breast cancer?
I discovered a lump completely by accident, while getting dressed for a friend’s wedding. It felt like a frozen pea. When my GP actually said the words “it’s cancer” a couple of weeks later let’s just say I was thankful I’d recently restocked the home bar. Everyone deals with their diagnosis differently but it’s a surreal day no matter who you are.
How did you feel?
I’d have to describe it as a cold jolt of fear wrapped in confusion wrapped in a riddle. It took about a day to get used to the idea the lump was even there and a couple more for me to make the initial appointment to see my GP. By the time I got my official diagnosis I’d steeled myself for it best I could. From that moment on I was all about being the best survivor I could be. In fact, it didn’t really occur to me I would be anything else. I also remember thinking, “I can’t believe just last week I was complaining about not having enough shoes!” Instant perspective is probably cancer’s greatest gift.
What happened next?
I was in Sanjay’s office discussing surgical options within a week. Two weeks later I underwent a mastectomy. Because surgery is the first step for most breast cancer patients it means your surgeon bears the brunt by way of explanation and I am so grateful for Sanjay, my breast nurse Ruth Mirto and Sanjay’s administration staff taking the time to help me wade through the thick soup that is a cancer diagnosis. It’s not just treatment; it’s also preparation, billing, even wardrobe! I walked away from my first appointment with the knowledge they were all there to help make it bearable.
What was your experience with Sanjay and his team?
While on one hand I obviously wish I’d never met them (at least in a professional sense!), on the other I can’t imagine having done it without them. They are a team in the best sense of the word and each one takes time out to make every patient feel memorable and at ease, even though breast cancer is obviously an everyday occurrence for them. They would all go above and beyond for a patient who needed it and you truly can’t ask for more than that in a surgical team.
What have been your biggest challenges through dealing with cancer?
There are a lot of challenges – physical, mental, financial; the list goes on. But for a lot of people dealing with other people’s reactions is one of the hardest things. I was 34, single and had to explain to everyone I knew, including all my employers, that I had cancer. Swimming through all of that as an adjudicator is overwhelming. And there is a lot of hand-holding involved, which can be pretty tough when you’re the one with the mutant cells. Having your body change on you without your consent is also pretty breathtaking – scars, hair loss… they’re superficial of course but that doesn’t make it any less grievous when it’s your body doing the crumbling. No matter how temporary most of it is. And it is, remember that.
What keeps you going?
The absolute heinousness of breast cancer aside, the one thing it’s taught me is how unimportant the minutia of life really is. You don’t see a lot of breast cancer survivors asking – “does this mastectomy make my butt look big?” – because that sort of frippery just tends to melt away with a little objectivity. In an odd way I’m thankful for the struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength. In my opinion there’s no bravery, no journey, no magical beans – there’s just zeal. Doing your best to get through it isn’t really an option, it’s a necessity!
What advice would you share with anyone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
I would suggest using the resources available to you. And when I say resources, I mean people. It’s easy to get strength confused with independence. But – and this is important - being strong doesn’t mean doing it by yourself; it means doing it with positivity and optimism. The hospital staff, the support groups, your friends, your family and all those who have gone through it before you; they all have something to offer so don’t be afraid to ask for or take help. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart and human and more likely to get through to the other side.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Your medical team will tell you this as well but don’t Google things! What I found useful was designating a Google Friend. I’d get her to research things for me and then just get back to me with the information she thought would be useful in my decision-making process. If you do it yourself you’ll only get lost in a vortex of blogs and ghastly images and conspiracy theories. It just ends up being a digital tumour that feeds on itself and you’ve already got one tumour to deal with. That, and have a Boobvoyage – it’s like a going away party for your boobs. I did and it really helped prepare me emotionally for surgery. Plus I got to eat a lot of breast-shaped cupcakes, so win-win.
Our new Patient Profile section is designed to give patients and their families some hope and inspiration through shared experiences, and to remind our patients that they are not alone.
Do you want to share your experience or know someone who does? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org