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Patient story | Our joint cancer diagnosis



Our thanks go to Sharon Mason-Witton who tells us how both she and her husband dealt with being diagnosed with cancer in the same month. Sharon tells us how they dealt with their joint diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment at the same time.

 

proud parents either side of their son at his graduation
We enjoyed the happy days wherever possible - our son's graduation in 2019

Our cancer diagnosis

So, 2019 was to be my year, I had so many things planned for my 50th birthday in August; gigs, trips abroad, West End theatre and basically having a complete ball. We also had our son's graduation from university. Some things I managed to do but most were cancelled. Why……. well, my husband and I were both diagnosed with cancer.

I had breast cancer and hubby had throat cancer. We were a bit in shock and looking back I think we just got onto autopilot and treated the whole thing as a project that we had to finish. After all, our lives depended on it!




How I found out I had

lobular breast cancer

We were on one of our planned jaunts to London for a festival when I notice my left boob looked a bit weird. I didn’t do anything about it initially, but over the next few weeks a few more unusual symptoms occurred. My breast felt hot to the touch and hot on the inside and a small part of my areola had inverted. I knew that an inverted nipple was something to look out for, but not an inverted areola. Off I went to the GP who referred me to the breast clinic, I was very blasé about the whole thing. I went on my own feeling quite confident it would turn out to be nothing and didn’t even register the fact that all of a sudden, I was being prodded and poked, having biopsies and scans and it was turning a bit serious. Anyway, the subsequent diagnosis was lobular breast cancer, which meant I needed an MRI scan. Boy, was that my biggest fear! I was absolutely terrified.



Beginning my cancer treatment

We managed to get to London for my actual 50th birthday and we spent it watching my favourite two singers perform the lead roles in Les Miserables, the Staged Concert.

We went to London for my 50th birthday treat

We’d splashed out (well I had!) on front row seats and it was a fantastic experience. However, looking back, I don’t remember much of it as I was thinking about my cancer and the upcoming MRI scan. We left London at 8am the following day and whilst on the train home I started the gradual process of drugging myself with the diazepam I had been prescribed to help me cope with the MRI.



Lumpectomy or Mastectomy?

Of course, I managed the MRI scan, and then shortly after we went to Corfu which was where we were when I got the results. Lying on a sun-bed I heard that my cancer was in 3 places but at least only in the one boob. A mastectomy was now my only option, and surprisingly I was glad about this as it meant there was no decision for me to make re lumpectomy versus mastectomy.



The lump on my husband's neck

Meanwhile my husband had started asking me and the boys if the lump on the side of his neck had always been there. I was so wrapped up in my own stuff that I didn’t really pay attention to him. We had family over for a BBQ and I overheard him asking them about his lump. Their response was, 'stop trying to compete with Sharon, she’s the one with cancer, yours will be nothing'. How bad I now feel about that! Turned out he had cancer in his left tonsil. Who even knew that was a thing? It did however take a good while to get to this diagnosis as initially it was 'cancer with an unknown primary' (CUP). Who even knew that was a thing too?! We were both certainly on a steep learning curve.



My mastectomy

I had my first mastectomy in early October 2019. I asked for a double mastectomy, but they wouldn’t do the operation at that stage (I ended up having my second mastectomy in May 2021). When we went for the results, again we were a bit blasé, and did not see the next shock coming. The margins weren’t clear and I needed further surgery. Off I went back to theatre on the same day that hubby was having all his molars and premolars extracted, a necessary evil before he began radiotherapy. So, both in theatre in different hospitals which was a logistical nightmare for visitors but I tried to be a grown-up and pulled my big girl pants up!

Sharon just after her operation

However, I soon crumbled when I woke up in recovery and the surgeon informed me the operation was unsuccessful. I got back to the ward and wondered if I had dreamt about the visit from the surgeon. After all, I was high on Tramadol, so it was possible, although as it happens, it turned out to be true. I cried and cried and cried. I just couldn’t stop. It had all now become too much, and I needed my husband, but he was too busy getting his teeth removed 20 miles away. What an awful day that was! Not to worry, first on the scene with hugs and kind words, my line manager. Remember how I was high on Tramadol? Well, she walked through the door and I got my boobs out! I have no words…. although I guess neither did she!




My husband's feeding tube and mask

Radiotherapy mask
Ken's radiotherapy mask made his treatment as accurate as possible

Next surgery was the insertion of hubby’s PEG feeding tube. He didn’t like this at all, but it was essential to allow him to maintain calorific intake throughout and after treatment.

Shortly after, he had his mask fitting. This was the 1st time he had a major wobble. The process had to be abandoned and we went back a few days later. Radiotherapy masks or moulds are made before you start treatment. They keep the treatment area of your body still each time you have your radiotherapy so that treatment is as accurate as possible. We called upon the friends we had made on the MacMillan Community Forum and they were wonderful as always. They suggested requesting eye holes and that made a huge difference. This pic is the real thing, the actual mask.




Our Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy treatment

Our joint radiotherapy chart

We then embarked on our radiotherapy treatment. Hubby required thirty sessions of radiotherapy and six chemotherapy sessions whilst I needed fifteen radiotherapy sessions. We kept a chart, made for us by a work colleague, and took delight in ticking each day off. It was very gruelling and included weekends, but we got our heads down and kept the finish line in sight. We had our treatment in the same unit and the chemo day unit was such a lovely, friendly place. It was like a social occasion but without the wine. We didn’t ring the bell when we finished treatment (within a day of each other) as things just got a bit much and we needed to rest and regroup.



Putting cancer behind us and looking forward to the future

My husband had his feeding tube removed and can now eat many things, but not meat or bread. We enjoy life and even went back to Corfu in September 2020 to meet the couple we met when we were there in 2019. It was quite emotional. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we are positively getting on with life, well as much as we can in these Covid times.

We can put our cancer behind us and look forward to the future

We made good friends on the MacMillan Forum and continue to speak to them most days. When I joined that forum with the boring username, Drivermason (my husband was a driver with surname Mason), it had been my intention to set up 2 accounts with me in the breast group and hubby in the Head and Neck (H&N) group. That didn’t really happen and bit by bit I decamped fully to the H&N group where I found RadioactiveRaz and Beesuit aka Hazel and Dani. If anyone would like to know more about H&N cancer these two great people have written blogs which they continue to update.

www.todaymycoffeetasteslikechristmasincostarica.com

www.radioactiveraz.wordpress.com



My advice to everyone is, if something doesn’t feel or look right, please get it checked out!



 

If yourself or a loved one are going through a similar experience to Sharon or Ken, we have a range of products to help manage the side effects of cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the CancerPal Marketplace. We also have support pages for hair loss, stress & anxiety and nausea containing information to help manage some of the side effects of cancer treatment.


 

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