The first of what I hope will be a regular feature, this guest post is from Veronica.
I just wanted to say how very much I am enjoying your blog.
I was diagnosed with grade 3 invasive ductal cancer in my left breast on 13 October so your story and experience are similar to mine - although I have just completed four cycles of pre-surgery chemotherapy which has been every bit as vile and debilitating as I feared. I am typing this from bed fully eight days after the last treatment and very annoyed not to be able to muster the energy for a gig tonight for which we bought tickets ages ago.
You don’t notice a lump growing in a big breast, do you, until it’s a real problem? I had the sentinel lymph node biopsy op on 4 November though and fortunately that was clear so I feel I have dodged a very big bullet.
It’s nice to see a viewpoint from a middle aged mother. I plucked up the courage to watch the 'C word' TV play recently, in which Sheridan Smith played the tragic beautiful young breast cancer victim who died of secondary cancer, and felt really alienated by its tone. It was really good, well written and beautifully acted and made, but it just didn’t speak to me.
Perhaps related to the big issues I have with breast cancer campaigns that take an approach that seems to me juvenile and coy using language like 'boobie date' and 'coppafeel' (I can hardly even bear to type that) because they seem to inappropriately scream “oooh! saucy tits!” like something out of a Carry On film. Maybe it’s just different for those of us who have undergone pregnancies, childbirth, breast feeding, every kind of contraception, gynae problems, smear tests, painful smear tests, dodgy bladders, mammograms where the radiographer heaves pounds of your flesh onto a plate with her forearm etc, and thus view our bodies in a more functional and less objectified, sexualised way. I totally get that however distasteful I find it, it must all be based on some research and if it helps one young woman get treatment earlier then it’s all justified. I just hate the general pinkification of breast cancer. What’s the colour of prostate cancer?
As I am sure you will also have discovered, it is quite hard work dealing with the range of odd reactions you get from other people, all kindly designed to lift my spirits but which I sometimes find really annoying. There’s loads of other people I haven’t even told as I haven’t got the energy to deal with their reactions.
I am due to have a wide local excision on 1 March. Turns out being cursed with massive 36J knockers (what the surgeon has described as “good breast volume” and “an ample bosom”) now saves me from a mastectomy which would be awkward given the size of the remaining good one, or a reconstruction, which sounds like a load more trouble I could do without. I gather it’s a therapeutic mammoplasty, ie. exactly the same as a breast reduction but also removing the cancerous 4mm tumour. She said my new improved breast would be smaller and perter and more like it was when I was younger (I’m 58), with the nipple sticking out the front instead of lost to view underneath - how exciting!
When I was diagnosed, one of the surgeons said she would be able to offer me surgery later to reduce the other breast to match the one reduced by having the cancer removed. I was up for that, what with having breasts that were too big to start with. But between then and now, ie. before my surgery, the Clinical Commissioning Group has withdrawn funding for such frivolity. This led to a bizarre conversation with the surgeon saying she could reduce the cancerous breast a bit less than she was going to so as not to leave me “asymmetrical” ie. with one and a half tits. I said she should go ahead and do what she originally wanted to and I would borrow the money to pay for the cosmetic - ie. not therapeutic - breast reduction privately. She said she could still try and make a case for funding, on the grounds that the radiotherapy I will have to have later has a better outcome on a smaller breast. Less swelling and disruption to the healing wounds I think.
Anyway I have had four full months of being a tragic cancer victim now, plenty of time to reflect on breast cancer and would be very interested in sharing some of my thoughts and unexpected emotions (like how come the very milk duct that once nourished my sons is now trying to kill me).
I got a new job at the same time I got my diagnosis. They are being very understanding and supportive and postponed my start, but I did cringe when I had to tell them recently that now the oncologist wants me to have more chemotherapy post-surgery I won’t be fit to start until bloody SEPTEMBER. I could have been driven mad by then, by the multi-phased treatment programme. I know this sounds odd, as if I resent the hospital trying to save my life with their unpleasant interventions, but I expect you will understand that it’s a dauntingly long haul.
Keep up the good work. I am very much appreciating it.
If you have a story to tell or want to sound off, please email me.