“I had noticed a sharp, hot pain, like a hot knitting needle poking into one spot of my left breast around 24 weeks into my pregnancy. I spoke to my obstetrician about it and he suggested I speak with my GP. My doctor examined the area and when no lump could be found she advised me to return in a month if my symptoms worsened.
I didn’t enquire again until my 37-week appointment and received a referral for an ultrasound. My pain had gotten stronger and I had noticed it keeping me awake at night. When I went for the ultrasound I already knew something was wrong, despite the sonographer’s best attempts to chat to me normally. He took so many more images of my left side compared with my right. When the radiologist came in, he was very frank and told me ‘it looked suspicious’ and he went ahead with a fine needle biopsy.
I don’t think I cried, I just remember leaving the imaging centre and getting things done that I had to do before Ben, my husband, got home from work. I was keeping myself busy to take my mind off things. I cried when I told him what the radiologist had said although we still didn’t have a diagnosis.
The next day, my husband rang to say the obstetrician had contacted him and wanted to see us together that afternoon. Obviously I knew that meant the worst and when we arrived, we were told of my diagnosis.
The obstetrician had already made me an appointment to see a breast surgeon. He offered to induce my labour that weekend but we weren’t quite ready. He also told us that it was likely I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed and this news probably upset me more than anything else.
That weekend we had to just get it to together and make sure we had everything perfectly ready for the baby’s arrival. I was induced early and Autumn was born on 19 August, 2015.
Two days after giving birth I underwent a CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis, a bone scan and a mammogram. They explained the contrast used in the bone scan would make me radioactive for a day and whilst I could be in the same room as Autumn, it was best not to cuddle her too close. This wasn’t good enough for me so I told Ben to sit with her in the nursery, while I sat in the room alone waiting for the radiation to disappear. That was quite a sad day for me.
The surgeon identified three sites of cancer in the left breast. I was told that the treatment plan included six months of chemo followed by surgery and a full mastectomy. There were many tears as I had thought I wasn’t going to need chemotherapy. That was also the day I found out I would definitely lose my hair from treatment which was quite a shock as getting my hair styled and coloured was always my little treat to myself.
My life has definitely changed since diagnosis. I need to take things a bit more slowly now and I have to accept help when it’s offered to me. I am still going through all the things a new mother goes through and having breast cancer doesn’t change that. It’s still such a special and exciting time, despite the sleep deprivation and steep learning curve.
I look for silver linings all the time now, such as Ben being able to bond with her as he can feed her as well! Now that I have lost my hair (Ben shaved off the rest with an electric clipper) my wig looks really good and it’s very easy to look well-groomed as it is already styled.
When I was diagnosed and given the BCNA pack I had already started looking online for any support networks as I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Look Good Feel Better sounded like a great way to meet other people going through cancer while learning how to look my best, and care for my skin, during a time when my body was struggling with the medication that was doing the exact opposite to me!
I learnt how to apply make-up and where to start and finish my eyebrows if I need to draw them on- they’re clinging on at present! I didn’t wear a lot of make-up prior to my diagnosis but now, if I do go out to socialise with friends I tend to put more on and it really does give me the confidence to see other people.
I learnt how to best take care of my skin and now I routinely cleanse and moisturise my face and scalp twice a day – as well as using body lotion to keep my skin looking it’s best and preventing it from getting too dry. I didn’t know at the time that I should continue to lightly shampoo and condition the scalp as it stimulates and encourages blood flow.
Although I was one of the younger women who attended the workshop I think, once you get a diagnosis like cancer, you bond with those going through what you’re going through. We all did have a good chat and it was really great to see their faces light up when they had applied their make-up and also tried on a wig or headscarf. The transformation was really beautiful to watch as I suspected some of the ladies didn’t wear much make-up before. Looking back, that was the best thing about the workshop for me; seeing a group of women, all going through a similar experience and all looking their best after applying some make-up and trying on a wig.
We also got an enormous amount of free products that I am still using! These are donated by the cosmetic companies and I was really impressed with the brands we were given- another silver lining!
I would definitely recommend this workshop to others going through treatment for cancer- and the sooner the better to go. You’ll learn new things while meeting people that make you realise you’re not alone. It also stops you from getting too ‘down in the dumps’ about it as you realise there are so many people going through this, have gone through it, and come out the other side.”