Life of a Mum

Breast Cancer Awareness- My Story

I feel I was always quite aware of Breast Cancer growing up; it had good campaigns and the pink month was becoming a thing. this became even more true when my Aunt was diagnosed and subsequently died when I was a teenager. I was aware of mammograms, but definitely thought it was a thing that concerned ‘older’ ladies.

Some facts/data

I started Uni in September 2000, at around the same time my mum was called for her first mammogram. Weeks later I’ll never forget that phone call, mum telling me she’d just been given the news that she had breast cancer, my initial reaction was that of a typical fresher, and I downed a couple of shots (between lectures) to numb the emotion.

The first few months at Uni, studying nursing felt very odd- as I was often torn with where I should be doing my ‘nursing’. Returning home to see mum following her lumpectomy surgery, and following on from that accompanying her for nearly all of her radiotherapy treatments. As a nursing student, the radiotherapy sessions were incredibly interesting and the team allowed me to observe at each session- although it was heart wrenching to see mum go through such an ordeal. The radiotherapy ’tattoos’ were her first- but I’m proud to say I’ve encouraged her to get more (breast cancer related too)

The blurriest of pics- but this was us celebrating my mums ‘10 year all clear’

Mum, I guess was ‘lucky’- her cancer hadn’t spread, and following her radiotherapy course her only other treatment was oral medications, and the lasting effects were some lymphoedema (where fluid builds up in her arm due to lymph node removal) and mildly wonky boobs due to the lumpectomy.

As my Aunt was on my paternal side- no family or hereditary links were even thought of. That was until in the subsequent years two maternal cousins, one paternal cousin and my Nan were also diagnosed with breast cancer. A maternal aunt also was diagnosed and died from Ovarian cancer.

My Nan and Mum

It was worrying for all the ladies in my family; as well as supporting our family members through diagnosis, and in two cases unfortunately death due to cancer; we had to acknowledge the risks to each of us.

During my twenties I had two breast lumps which required investigation. I guess, although these lumps or thickenings were 100% present, much of my concern was due to paranoia. I correctly and worriedly had the required tests, and was given the news that they were likely hormonal cysts.

Following the second ‘scare’ one of the breast care nurses picked up on the increasing family history, and kindly referred me for genetic screening and counselling at Oxford. This involved a very thorough history and examination of myself, and also thorough histories of both my mum and Nan and blood tests too. The specialist from Oxford was amazing, arranging for me to have baseline MRI scans of my breast, and brought me back to clinic to offer the results and her opinion.

Mum and My daughter Dorothea

I was told that although the results showed that we did not have a well known gene link, such a BRCA for example, she believed that there would not be such a strong breast and ovarian cancer trend in our family without it being genetically linked. She summarised that she felt I had a 85% chance of having breast cancer at 50+; and suggested, that although not an immediate concern I should consider future preventative surgeries. she advised me to have good breast knowledge and to ensure I started having mammograms at 40.

Ten or so years later, and on Christmas Eve 2020 (yes THAT year) I found a lump in my boob. I’m pretty good at checking in the shower, so it definitely concerned me enough to want to have it checked. With it being Christmas and covid times, it wasn’t the easiest to get seen by the GP- but amazingly I did manage to get referred in quickly, as was seen at the breast care centre in mid January.

Mum, me and my sister

Due to my age, 39 at that point, and my family history, the team decided to use both mammogram and ultrasound to ensure the best images possible. Two hours later, I was given the good news that my lump was a benign cyst, and was likely small enough to disappear on its own. I was given the advice that if it increased in size or became painful it may require drainage. They also said my scans would count as the start of my ‘at risk’ screening, and that I’d have yearly mammograms from then on. Luckily the cyst kindly did one, and I’ve had no concerns since.

Writing this blog has reminded me that I’m due that follow up mammogram! And I’m hoping reading this blog have reminded you of the importance of checking your boobs, and seeking help if you find any changes.

Guest Blogs, Life of a Mum

Breast Cancer Awareness- Guest Blog

Jen Parker has been in the publishing industry for over a decade and founded her own publishing brand Fuzzy Flamingo in 2017. She now specialises in helping authors to self-publish and has had the privilege of working on dozens of Amazon best sellers.

She loves to discuss publishing and regularly talks about the importance of telling your story, and followed her own advice by publishing her own book in May this year called “Unflip: changing your life after a life-changing diagnosis”. You can find out more about her book (use the discount FUZZY3 to get £3 off the paperback RRP) and her publishing services on her website or find her on Facebook and Instagram by searching for @FuzzyFlamingoDesign

I was in my final year of university when my mum got diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2008. She had been due to have her mammogram later in the year but was called in early because of the timings with the mobile scanning unit. It was good timing. The scan revealed the cancer that even the consultant couldn’t feel after they knew it was there. It is incredibly important to check yourself for lumps, but mammograms are there for when that may not be enough.

Mum and Lily

She had surgery to remove the lump, but it had gone deeper than they had originally thought, and it had spread to her lymph nodes under that arm. What followed was a single mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The treatment was deemed a success, she was on medication for five years and then was signed off as being completely in remission. She was told that if she got cancer again it would be a new type, as they’d got it all. We were all over the moon. My mum, the tough scouser, had fought off cancer and won.

2018: Me, my mum and Lily with Amber in my growing belly in November 2018.

Seven years after her first diagnosis, just months before my wedding in 2015, she started being sick and couldn’t stop. It didn’t seem like an infection. It felt different. After being discharged from the hospital once with antibiotics, she ended up back with her GP who wouldn’t take no for an answer from the hospital, who readmitted her and scanned her abdomen. A blockage was found in her bowel, which they removed. On testing the removed cells, they found they were breast cancer cells. It was back.

The shock was unreal. How could this happen? The policies have since been changed, and if she were to have the same treatment now, she would be on the ongoing treatment for ten years rather than five. She was at least grateful that she may have helped to help others in a similar situation who followed to have a different outcome.

The cancer had spread through her abdomen, surrounding some of her organs, which meant removal wasn’t possible. She was on treatment to shrink the cancer and to keep it from spreading, which meant she was under palliative care. That phrase ‘palliative care’ frightened me. I worried that it meant she was dying, but she reassured me that it was all under control. And she did really well, other than the complications she had from her bowel surgery, which caused uncomfortable fluid retention. But for several years she was fit and active, and most people would have no idea she was a cancer patient.

But those worries were still there for me. She was stoic and would try and protect my brother and I as much as possible, which meant she didn’t always tell us the full story. We began to share information between us to ensure we had as full a picture as possible! I’d asked my mum if they were going to regularly scan her abdomen to ensure the treatment was working. She’d asked the consultant the same question and was told they wouldn’t. She asked how they’d know the treatment was working and was told, “If you start being sick again, you need to seek medical attention.” That didn’t sit well with me.

In early 2018, ten years after her initial diagnosis, she was diagnosed with further cancer in her abdomen. A third diagnosis in a decade. Shortly after, I told my mum I was expecting my second child. “That gives me a reason to get through till Christmas,” she said. But whenever I queried her diagnosis, she would always reply, “I’ve fought it before, I’ll fight it again.” And she did. Despite her abdomen frequently needing the fluid draining and her often quipping, “I look more pregnant than you!” (which did make us chuckle when we compared bellies), she was strong, active, fun-loving and there for me throughout my pregnancy.

At home: In between her two-week stay in hospital and transferring to LOROS, we had a couple of days of my mum being at home. She loved visits from the girls, Lily (2) and Amber (3 months).

My husband worked away a lot at the time, and with me having arthritis and needing c-sections in order to give birth, I felt like I couldn’t have done it the first time without my mum. The thought of potentially doing it a second time without her terrified me. I’d find myself standing in the shower crying if I thought about it. How would I cope? Was I being selfish thinking about me when I should be thinking about her? I was so angry and frustrated. If they’d just scanned her regularly, would they have been able to do something? If they’d listened to her earlier, would it have made a difference?

My mum was there to meet my second daughter the week before Christmas in 2018. We celebrated Christmas all together as a family. I looked at her on that day as she held my baby and wondered if it would be the last Christmas we’d have with her.

Christmas Day 2018: My mum holding Amber exactly a week after she was born (my brother’s in the background, as we were celebrating at his house).

In February 2019, I got the call I’d been dreading. My mum was in hospital as she’d been vomiting, and they weren’t able to stop it. After a week, the consultant called and asked me to go in and speak to him in person. I knew what was coming, but it was still a massive shock. There was nothing more they could do. She’d only be with us for a matter of weeks.

After two weeks in the hospital, after a short-lived trip home, my mum moved to LOROS, our amazing local hospice. They cared for her and made her as comfortable as possible in a beautiful setting. I will never forget the kindness and humour of the staff. I was able to be with her and my family when she died, and I will always be grateful for being able to spend that remaining time with her.

Hospice: The last photo I have of my mum with my girls, not long before she died. You can already see the substantial weightloss

Cancer doesn’t just affect the person undergoing treatment, and it is often a very long recovery process. With breast cancer awareness month, the message I’d like to share is this: check yourself, but also get checked. Say yes to the mammograms. Request a second opinion if you feel like something isn’t quite right. Although you’re talking to experts, they’re not infallible, and you know your body. The treatment has improved so much since my mum was diagnosed, and as we learn more, we can help other families to avoid heartache like mine.