Breast Cancer at 29 – REALLY?! Chapter 1

World Cancer Day – Setting the Scene

I feel compelled today, since it’s been on my mind recently, to actually start to put into words the story of what happened to me a few years back. My own words, not words smartly arranged into how I wish the experience had been – pretty lies told by skilled journalists. It started when I saw people posting the thing on Facebook for World Cancer Day and I got so annoyed I started to write a Facebook post about it. Then thought actually, no, it’s time to actually use more than just a few characters and start writing something personal that makes sense to me. I don’t even care if none of my friends read it; I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing this for me and any other person who’s had to endure this nonsense at a young age and found the internet mostly full of death stories. When I found out I had cancer, I wanted to see something positive; that people CAN survive, that it doesn’t always spread. The internet is full of blogs and stories about people whose cancer has spread. Mine started to but we headed it off; that’s the story I wanted to read. But I also went fishing for details, the stuff they don’t tell you about survival, and that’s where I also found a lot of stuff missing.

To do this properly, I’ll have to arrange it into sections to ensure I do justice to each part. It’ll take some time, probably a few blog posts, and it’s not a real time thing, writing alongside the treatment and the visits. I’m not like that poor girl they made a TV movie about, who blogged daily about her experiences as she went through the “journey”. It wasn’t that easy for me; having cancer is a deeply personal thing, as is your reaction to it. While you’re living through it, going through the motions and sorting it out, the bit they don’t tell you is that after it’s gone, it can take quite a while to come to terms with what happened. To realise that actually just happened to me! The difficulty has also been for me to try to get the experience across to newer people in my life, people who weren’t there, like my beloved Chris, who didn’t see it happen, but want to know more than anyone what it was like.

There is another reason I want to do this. These last few weeks have been overwhelmingly difficult for my family, for reasons that must stay private. But while this difficulty has all been going on, in the midst of it all, my 76-year-old grandfather has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and now finds his options more limited due to his age, and whatever he decides to do, there’s no escaping the fact his quality of life will be affected should he make the choice to stay and live. When faced with your own mortality, there’s thinking to be done and decisions to be made. Today I called him, told him I understood and respected that if he chooses to go ahead and have treatment, his quality of life will be affected, but that I didn’t want him to make any decisions based on logistics. That between myself and my dad, we could help him. We’d drop everything to help him. We will have to see what he chooses to do.

The cast and crew

There are several facts to put into place before I embark on this writing challenge. There’s a cast of many. Many gifted, special, caring people who think they’re just doing their jobs. Maybe they know they make a difference; that’s why they chose to do their jobs; they just want to help others. But they don’t know how collectively, through each doing their own little job, they made things that little bit easier. It’s not just the medical staff. It’s not just my family and friends. It’s the nursery nurses who took Mollie home after nursery kicked out, it’s the lady in the co-op in Stevenage who chatted to me, encouraged me, shared her experience with me. It’s the nursery managers, radiologists, the lovely HR director who recruited me when I changed jobs, my new boss, the manager of the Nissan dealership in Letchworth, the insightful James P who walked into a room full of friends, 2 days past diagnosis and said “Who’s died?” (and promptly got a steely look from his now wife in response); people who throughout the course of this ridiculousness just made the decision not to join the rest of the world in being a dick. Threw me a bone. Made me cackle. Took turns driving me to Cambridge every day to get zapped. Even joked that if the general anaesthetic didn’t work, he had a spare hammer in the back. These are my cast and crew of people I will never forget.

Key topics for this story:

  • Age: I was 29 when diagnosed
  • Motherhood: I was mother to an 18-month-old daughter, which came with its own challenges.
  • Family history: This was totally out of the blue; no family history of this whatsoever
  • Wedding: I found a lump 6 days before I was due to get married
  • Private healthcare: Sorry NHS folks, I went down the private route for MOST of my treatment
  • (Ex) Husband: Sadly, my husband did not respond well to this; as a result he was not supportive, which ultimately led to the downfall of the marriage. Of course, there are ALWAYS two sides to every story. He had his own, legitimate reasons for not being able to deal with it; he has his own theories as to why our marriage failed, which are nothing to do with cancer. Those remain private but I have to tell the whole story; this includes the impact of his lack of support on the marriage.
  • Parents: Only one thing’s worse than having cancer. That’s your kids having cancer.
  • Treatment: I had the whole lot thrown at me. It worked.
  • Money: I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting Critical Illness cover
  • Work: Believe it or not, working through chemo wasn’t hard at all. Working through radiotherapy however…well.
  • Appearance: The best part of having cancer for someone who’s battled with their weight since age 21 is being skinny. Losing your hair is a different story.
  • Side Effects: The goddamn side effects
  • Oncologists: Amazing creatures. Well, my main one is. Sent from Heaven above (if you believe that)
  • Nurses: Also amazing. Wonderful. Caring and supportive.
  • Being told you’re OK now: So much they don’t tell you about what that’s really like. Where the fuck did everybody go?!
  • Cancer buddies: I owe the pair of balls I eventually grew to change my life to my chemo buddy.
  • Other Survivors: Nothing feels more important and emotional than meeting or talking to someone who’s done it too.

If any more come to me they will have to manifest themselves in future posts that make up this story. Keep reading; the best is yet to come.

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