We are super grateful to the amazing Lucy for taking time out of her busy schedule to write this Patient Story for us. Lucy gives us the low down on chemotherapy treatment and shares some top tips to help others through their chemo treatment.
“Life will never be the same again.” That’s what ran through my head when the sonographer said that what she was looking at was very likely to be breast cancer. It was odd, because I’d always thought my first thought would be “I don’t want to die”. The tears that followed were for this innate feeling that I was saying goodbye to my ‘carefree’ (she says with three young children!) life as I knew it.
There was also shock, of course. A niggling feeling had urged me to go and get the small, almost indistinguishable, lump checked out. Both my GP and the practitioner they referred me to at the Breast Care Clinic thought it was an innocent bump and nothing to worry about. The biopsies happened the same day and by this point I’d reassured myself it was all okay, but it was the sonographer who, without mincing her words, told me it wasn’t.
I’m 43 years old, with three children under seven, and the hardest part was trying to pretend everything was ok. In reality, I made a pretty shoddy attempt at that, spending the first 48 hours in bed with full on waterworks. We were a few weeks into the first lockdown so the children were being homeschooled whilst I was trying to hold down my marketing job from the spare room. Luckily my husband was at hand to distract the little ones and help look after me.
My results came back positive (no surprise there), but I was told the full extent of the cancer wouldn’t be known until I had a mastectomy. On the 1st May, pumped with radioactive, lymph node enhancing dye, I was ready for my operation. Again, I surprised myself. Pre-diagnosis I’d thought I’d mourn the loss of a boob, but I just wanted it removed and the cancer out, out, OUT. (Admittedly, there was also a teeny tiny part of me that was looking forward to some time away from the children and some serious Netflix watching. Lockdown, remember!). The operation went well and I found recovery relatively pain-free (except the achy armpit from lymph node removal).
But I always knew that was the easy part. It was the prospect of chemotherapy that I was dreading. When the full histology report came back the following week, confirming triple negative cancer (an aggressive type of breast cancer), I was told I definitely needed to go ahead with the treatment, six cycles of EC every three weeks (EC is a combination of two chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer). Just the thought of it made me feel sick.
Chemotherapy started in July 2020. I’d had a PICC line inserted into my arm (bit of an icky procedure), but it makes the process of chemo much easier and more pain free in the long term. I also opted for the cold cap, fearing the loss of my hair ridiculously more than my breast. If I’m brutally honest, chemo was in many ways as awful as I feared. The sickness on the first day after most cycles was horrendous and the fatigue was out of this world (and this is from a lady who had twins!), but the bad days were LIMITED. Usually by the sixth day I would emerge from my cave and start to feel more like my old self.
Tips to get through?
- Take all the support on offer (my beautiful sister moved in with us for four months to help out so a BIG shout out to her!).
- Allow yourself to wallow on the bad days and let others take over.
- Wash your hair, get the housework done etc. the day before chemo because you definitely won’t have the energy to do those things straight after.
- Have a Netflix series ready at hand for when you start to feel a little better.
- When you’ve got the energy, get outside to blow the old cobwebs away. It really does help. My amazing family bought me a swanky reclining garden chair, which was just perfect – I’d sit in my throne with a crossword or book and think, “Actually, this isn’t too bad!”
I want to mention some fantastic Facebook groups out there - Triple Negative Breast Cancer UK and Ireland and Younger Breast Cancer Network Group. They were both an incredible source of information and support from women having gone through, or going through, exactly the same as you. A lot of the time you just need people who can understand first-hand what you’re feeling and are happy to hear you RANT! I would also recommend a few great books for you and your family, such as F**k You Cancer by Deborah James, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Chemo by Ileana Von Hirsch, and Anti Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber.
I’m through treatment now. I kept most of my hair and my brows and lashes (I used Talika serum) which was a miracle. It’s hard to believe that it’s coming up for a year since the diagnosis and I’m due my annual mammogram soon. I had another op in December to even out the breasts, but I’ve healed well, working hard, home schooling (again) and I’m positive about the future. In fact, my husband and I are in the midst of a move to Suffolk (from our current home in Hertfordshire). As if a new home, county and school aren’t enough, we’re setting up a glamp site, as you do!
It sounds trite, but cancer has changed me. I’ve learnt how short and precious life can be. How quickly things can change. And how you should grasp every opportunity and live life like it’s an adventure. I honestly don’t think we’d be making this huge move to Suffolk if I hadn’t gone through this past year (or perhaps I’ve just gone mad!). I’ve always loved my family and close friends, but now I know more than ever how lucky I am to have them in my life - and how well and truly loved I am (and that’s an incredible feeling!). My initial gut fear of life changing irrevocably became true, but in many ways, for the better.
If you or a loved one are going through a similar experience to Lucy, we have a range of products to help ease the awful side effects of chemotherapy treatment in the CancerPal MarketPlace as well as a range of Chemotherapy Care Boxes, full of products to help manage the side effects of chemotherapy.