Breast Cancer: My Experience, My Thoughts & How I Dealt With It

Linda wearing Breast Cancer Cure T-shirtRacing through September and into the month of October is a bitter-sweet time of year for me.

Not only is October the primary month for “Pink” fundraising but in 2012 I was calmly unconcerned about a lump I had found in my left breast. How quickly my life changed when in early November the lump was confirmed to be invasive.

Having been through many needle and core biopsies of various lumps in my other breast I wasn’t worried about this new lump I’d spotted a few months ago. I was busy working on the Capture team and getting on with craft projects. I didn’t rush to the doctor, so when I saw the specialist and got my very own cancer diagnosis I was stunned. There was no history of cancer in my family, but, like so much about breast cancer, while I felt quite “aware” there was so much more to it than I ever imagined.

While having a family history of breast cancer means you are more likely to develop it yourself, only 5-10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will have a family history.

Having lumpy breasts that are dense doesn’t mean all lumps will be OK. Every lump is a new lump, with a new chance of cancerous changes.

I was excited to discover that at 43 I was “young” however this has its own long term survival issues – we have a long time to live with the side effects of treatment including all the health impacts of early menopause, and our cancers are usually aggressive.

While initial treatment might leave us clear of cancer, there is always the underlying risk that cells could be hiding somewhere in your body to come back later in life, usually in the liver or lungs. This is breast cancer, but metastasized to a different location. I have learnt to better balance this life I’m leading now. More time for holidays, family and craft, less time at work.

Linda wearing Breast Cancer Cure T-shirt
Linda’s outgoing, bubbly nature has made her a pleasure to work with at EziBuy: Wearing BCC T-Shirt.

I advised my boss I would be off for five weeks to recover from a mastectomy and there was a possibility I might need a few days off after that for chemo. I quickly revised that estimate and eventually was off work for a whole year. After chemo came reconstructive surgery and radiation, then a well deserved holiday.

Everybody’s experience is different and the cheerful blogs from people who ran marathons during treatment left me totally unprepared for the impact chemo was to have on my body. While I had been fit and healthy before treatment it was a year before I could even think about yoga and running.

There were many ways in which I was incredibly fortunate. First of all, to be in New Zealand. While I had medical insurance ensuring I got the “hotel suite” hospital treatment and the “koru lounge” of chemo, the treatment experienced by friends who had public treatment was of the same high standard. In other countries breast cancer can mean crippling medical expenses.

Even in NZ, now is a much better time to undertake treatment than a few years ago. With Herceptin readily available, when only five years ago it would have cost over $100,000 of my own money should I have needed that.

Advances in genetics mean women of today can understand their risk profile and take preventative action – as highlighted by Angelina Jolie’s experience – her very high risk profile has clearly defined preventative measures now available

Working for EziBuy I was fortunate that my job was effectively put on hold. When I came back I wasn’t in the exact same job position but I was still in the same role on the same base salary. I couldn’t have asked for more – many people find themselves at the end of treatment without a job because unlike maternity leave, there are no legal obligations to hold jobs for people with long term illness. For this reason many women may struggle financially during treatment and find the time after treatment incredibly difficult. Life doesn’t immediately return to the old “normal’ but is a process of finding a new normal.

My friend Bernadine said to me during treatment “Linda, with so many women getting breast cancer you won’t be the only one of us to get it, but you are the first and you will be able to help”. I have found this statement to be so true. Since my diagnosis and treatment I have tried to be as open as possible about my experience, I have offered my support to others who have been diagnosed (including Bernadine, only two years later) and I have continued to support the breast cancer cause in ways which make sense to me.

EziBuy’s support of Breast Cancer Cure is a way that makes a lot of sense to me. It is specific, measurable, support for research.

I live in hope of my cancer never returning, but I also know that should it return the odds of survival are the highest they’ve ever been due to tireless ongoing research supported by organizations like EziBuy and Breast Cancer Cure.

Ways you can support your friend with Breast Cancer:
– Baking: people with children appreciate meals but I had no children and lots of well-wishers, all of whom needed coffee & biscuits.
– Coffee: real coffee is really appreciated in hospital – so many people visited me in hospital carrying their own barista-made coffee while I was suffering the hospital percolated!
– Vases: receiving flowers is lovely, until you run out of suitable vases. Add a vase!
– Cleaning: I would have loved a cleaner, just saying.
– Continue catch ups after the initial diagnosis – treatment continues for a lifetime and the return to ‘normal’ is particularly challenging.

Have you been affected by breast cancer or do you have any questions about my experience? Let me know in the comments – I’d be more than happy to help.

Linda

Bernadine and Linda - Friends and Breast Cancer Cure Supporters
Linda and Bernadine wearing BCC t-shirt. You can read about Bernadine’s breast cancer experience in the next couple of days on the blog.