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Understanding my breast cancer diagnosis

From Jo Crompton

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer (bi-lateral and multi-focal primary breast cancer, 3 tumours, plus DCIS) in May 2006 at the age of 36. There was no family history, no obvious understanding as to what the causes might be and no warning signs, just a lot of questions and no answers.

Once you are diagnosed, the speed of life suddenly notches up ten-fold and you find yourself having to make life-impacting decisions in a matter of hours/days to ensure you are on the right course of treatment. The one bit of advice I would give to patients is that hospital teams are fantastic but totally focused on the immediate treatment of your cancer through traditional medicine – which they should be. All of this is great and I am not knocking it at all.  We have a fantastic health care service and my treatment and care has been second to none.  You must follow the experts’ advice on the best treatment course for you. However, a cancer diagnosis has so many other peripheral impacts on your life and nobody will pick these up other than you.

So, at a time when you need to concentrate on your treatment course and probably when you are feeling rough and tired, you are also pressured to think about the other aspects of your life. Either that or you don’t bother and then down the line when things settle down, suffer from the consequences of not having tackled these.

For me, diagnosed at 36, married but with no family yet, my number one priority was finding the time to fit in a course of IVF egg harvesting and embryo freezing in between major surgery in June and starting chemo in August! The upside has been that 4 years on my fertility seems to have not been compromised. I will be 42 when my treatment finishes and the security net of my embryos sitting there waiting patiently from when I was 36 is a great thing to know.

Although I was 'lucky' that breast cancer is one of the better documented and understood cancers, I still found the wealth of information daunting early on and my problem is that I need to know everything! I’m an information person. As long as I know and understand, I can cope with anything. My advice to anyone with a cancer diagnosis would be to understand about your cancer and put it into perspective. Understanding gives you back a sense of ‘control’ and allows you to make informed choices that will work for you. You can view your cancer for what it is; a bit of cell disruption that has got too far out of control for your body to deal with on its own. For me, understanding the mechanics of ‘cancer’ and cell biology has defined an absolute link between the efficient functioning of our cells and the fuel we feed our bodies to ensure they are working to the best of their ability. Food and diet may not be the singular cause, but it is a major part of how well your body will cope when things go wrong. You wouldn’t feed petrol into your diesel car, would you?

Reading a relevant book can help give you the confidence to deal with things and take control of where you are going. I made some major decisions during an incredible stressful time and I have stuck to those resolutions to this date. It’s my way of believing that I am giving myself every opportunity to continue to fight and survive my diagnosis.

I'm now a happy, fit and well, breast cancer patient!


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Updated: 9 June 2010