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Coming to the end of chemotherapy for breast cancer

From Carol Adams

Oops – my initial reaction when I found the small lump in my right breast sometime in April 2006. Can't be anything serious – only had the results of my routine (aged 50) mammogram six months ago. It feels just the same as the small cyst I had 10 years ago & that just disappeared. So I decided to 'wait & see' – I didn't ignore it, just continued to monitor it – more fool me. Didn't tell a soul.

A busy summer planning my daughter's Caribbean wedding in July. Lump still there but exactly the same. Must do something about it. Fabulous wedding & holiday, arriving home early August. Breast started to feel a bit strange – sort of achy painy. Rang the GP but surgery usually fully booked so waited a bit longer. Finally told the receptionist what the problem was – in the very next day. Friday, 11 August. To be quite honest really surprised that the GP could even find the lump. Tuesday 22nd August – off to the Breast Institute.

The staff were wonderful – I was told I would undergo manual examination, followed by a mammogram, then possibly a scan, a needle aspiration if it was thought to be a cyst or a core biopsy.

Somewhere along the way I realised the needle aspiration had been bypassed. The ultrasound was underway and I'd had a biopsy of the breast lump when the radiographer said "I'll just take a sample of the lump on your lymph gland". And that was when it hit me.

I'm not daft – believe it or not I'd been secretary of the local Cancer Research Campaign for around 10 years in my younger days so my knowledge of cancer was quite substantial. I made some comment about the situation suddenly seeming a bit more serious and the radiographer used the words "not benign". And that was when I knew for sure.

Thursday 24th August. Still no-one knows. My daughter's wedding reception is on Saturday – how can I tell anyone? My husband would never hold it together so I just carry on – easier than you think, especially when you know the hardest bit is going to be hurting those closest to you. So, while they don't know they don't hurt. The consultant is really good, the breast nurse exceptional. Yes, its cancer. Small but spread to the lymph gland. Choices time. Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Date of surgery? (yes, I have a choice!!). No doubts – mastectomy based on the fact it had already spread & I just wanted rid. I would need chemo and a lumpectomy would mean radiotherapy as well. Also, if they found cells beyond the lump I would have to go back in for the full op anyway – a 20% chance apparently.

Drove home in a bit of a daze, practicing how & when I would tell husband, son, daughter, siblings and close friends. At least I could practice and get things right – I would leave it until Sunday.

Sunday 27th – bad news day. I will never, ever forget the exact words I used to tell each of them in turn. Thinking about those words still brings tears to my eyes. I made a decision to tell them all individually and face to face – I'm as fit as a flea so it gave them some reassurance. The only good thing is that I've got private health care so I saw the consultant on the Weds evening. Again I was given a choice of surgery and opted for the big op. All the lymph glands would be removed at the same time

Had the op on Friday 1st Sept. Bit of a doddle really but I'd always thought it would be the easy bit. How right I was!

Am now coming to the end of my chemo. The regimen is for 4 courses of FEC followed by 4 courses of Taxotere. My hair started to come out just 2 weeks after my first course – so I went to see my best friend hairdresser and he shaved the rest off. The wig is fine and looks really natural. But the eyelashes are a different matter – I'd always had really good ones and they're all but gone. I hate looking in the mirror and seeing what I look like. Having always been slim and attractive I now look like a bloated pig – the taxotere doesn't agree with me and the steriods mean a weight gain of nearly 2 stone. People just don't understand how important my appearance is to me – they keep saying my health is all that matters but to me my looks at least made me feel better. Never mind. One more course and I'm done.

Unfortunately I will have to have radiotherapy anyway. The cancer was a grade 3 which had also spread to the surrounding breast tissue (which meant at least I made the right decision to have the mastectomy). I go this week to be tattooed up – do you think they might do me a butterfly on the bum at the same time? At the moment they could fit an eagle on it!!

So, by mid April my initial treatment will be done and I can start living again. I will hopefully be able to breathe normally again; I'll have eyelashes again; I shall sleep again; taste again; dash around again and, most importantly, look after everyone else again. Fingers crossed I might even have a life again.

I will keep you posted.

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Updated: 28 September 2009