Coming To Terms With Breast Cancer

A guest post written by Dee McCarney, breast cancer survivor and contributor to our community.

“Here we go again!” Four little tablets laid out on the table ready to be taken with my breakfast in the morning – steroids signalling the beginning of Cycle Five of six chemotherapy cycles.

I’ve been on this chemotherapy roundabout since the beginning of September, but as I sit here feeling almost my normal self again it’s hard to comprehend – and very hard to accept that yet again I have to put myself through another round of steroids, anti-sickness medication, chemotherapy drugs (Docetaxel and Carboplatin in my case) and a Herceptin injection.

Fortunately, over the three weeks since the last cycle, the memory of my body’s immediate reaction has faded. Part of me still wants to rebel and refuse to submit myself to another round, but the logical part of my brain points out that after this there will only be one more! OK, yes, it happens to be only a few days before Christmas so I’m likely to sleep through the entire festivities, but that means greeting the New Year knowing that chemo is behind me. That part of the journey will be over with only radiotherapy to go!

But it’s a journey that has been very hard to come to terms with, if indeed I really have.

I used to feel almost smug about breast cancer. It was not something I would ever have to deal with: there was no history in the family; I have never smoked; I didn’t drink much alcohol; I ate healthy food; and I exercised and kept myself fairly fit and slim. In my mind I was “safe” from breast cancer. I went along for my routine mammogram seeing it as just a formality, a test to confirm that yes, all was fine and I could come back again in three years.

When I opened the letter and read that there was something that needed further checking I kept looking at the name at the top to see if it was a mistake. It couldn’t really be for me! Still, it did say that four out of five cases are found to be fine, so I would be one of those four – surely I would.

“This is your previous mammogram .... and this is your most recent one. This is the area of concern.” As I stared at the mammograms I knew I was in trouble. I have no medical background but you would have had to be blind not to see a big difference, and the serious tone in the surgeon’s voice left me in no doubt. But a little voice kept saying, “It must be a mistake. These must be someone else’s mammograms. They can’t be yours!”

Before I left the room an ultrasound had detected an issue with a lymph node as well, so a biopsy was taken of that. Then more biopsies of breast tissue to check the findings beyond any doubt. I returned home in a daze. This couldn’t be happening to me!

Two weeks of trying to tell myself it would all be fine, then I headed back to the breast clinic for the diagnosis – not what I wanted to hear: breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. I sat there, tears rolling down my cheeks, listening to the surgeon telling me I needed a mastectomy and lymph node clearance, followed by chemotherapy, but it was so hard to take in. There was only one question in my head, but no one could tell me the answer – why?

When I told my friends it was as if I was talking about someone else. I had the mastectomy – and developed a haematoma so ended up back in surgery and spending a week in hospital – then had various scans, which luckily showed that the cancer hadn’t spread any further, but all the time I felt I was a fake. I felt like I was pretending, that I didn’t really have cancer but I was just going along with it because I was told that’s what I had to do.

Even now it’s hard to believe. I had no outward signs of breast cancer before it was detected and I didn’t feel ill. I am extremely grateful for the routine mammogram checks or I would still be totally oblivious to what could be considered a time bomb that was growing inside me. It was detected and defused before irreversible damage could be done, but will I ever fully accept that I was a cancer patient?

Only time will tell.

Comments

  1. Tracy on

    Hello Dee.
    I can totally relate to your article .
    I'm half way through my Chemo and still feel a fake. Physically going through the process, mentally thinking it's happening to someone else!
    I am very fit and well so my breast cancer diagnosis was a bolt from the blue.
    I'd had a clear mammogram previous year, so didn't give it a thought, until I found a lump.
    Then all of a sudden you are on this journey !
    However I'm grateful I found early enough to warrant treatment plan & relatively minor surgery.
    Good luck I'm right behind you.
    Tracy

  2. Lindi Urubusi on

    Thank you for sharing. I could relate to this on many levels

  3. Pat Williams on

    Much like you , I could not believe it was my name on all the test results . I was sure they had made a mistake but they had not , breast cancer . How was I to comprehend this & make all the decisions I was being told would need to be made . I had done all the right things , got my mammograms religiously & saw my dr every year . Although I had a spot that was diagnosed as a breast fibrosis , it had been stable without any changes for 2-3 years until April of this year when the mammmograms detected the changes . Just like you I was rushed into the ultrasound dept then to the needle biopsy . The dr called 2 days later with the results . Not what I wanted to hear but the path to recovery was already being handled by many caring & knowledgable professionals . First it was a lumpectomy & that was not enough so I chose to have a mastectomy . I am just not a person who could play around with this , just do it & get over it ! All of this was followed with 6 rounds of chemo . I finished November 1 2016 . The chemo was my enemy & my friend . Although I hated how it made me feel I knew it was given to me to make me better . My lymph nodes were not involved & I thank GOD because so many others have more involved issues .Everyone is different & treatment is not the same for all . I am now starting radiation for 6 weeks but if I made it through chemo I hope I can do this . Because my tumor was hormonal I will have to take herceptin until July next year then followed by pills for 5 years . A whole year from diagnosis to completion of treatment is a long time but necessary to be well . My doctors & nurses have made this journey bearable. They have been my rock & know just what to do to make me as comfortable as possible.

  4. Sandra Graham on

    Hi Dee. You sound as if you were shell shocked at the diagnosis - it's unbelievable at the time, as like you I felt fit and healthy when I was diagnosed, October 2012. I had mastectomy and lymph node removal on 5th November! 6 lots of chemo and herceptin. I was back playing bowls on New Year's Day 2013!! Touch wood still going strong - I looked at it as a bl..dy nuisance as it was my right side and I'm right handed. Not saying it's all plain sailing, and I do have an odd off day and feel sorry for myself, but luckily these are few and far between. The best way to get through it is to keep busy and active. Good luck to you, you can beat this xxx

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