Not Another Bunch Of Flowers talks to one of our customers about her recent experience, from discovery to diagnosis and the emotional rollercoaster that is breast cancer.
This is Anna’s story.
“A couple of weeks ago I took a bath. Nothing unusual about that except I noticed my nipple didn’t look ‘normal’. I thought that maybe it had caught on my bra, so when it appeared to go back to ‘normal’ I was relived but thought it might be a good idea to check my breasts anyway. We have had breast cancer in my family, my Aunt a few years back had been diagnosed with it, so I am all too aware how important it is to check your breasts. Whilst lying on my side (not shown in breast examination leaflets) I found a lump. Not large but a lump, the size of a large pea. However I could not feel it when lying on my back or leaning forward or with a raised arm. Was this OK then? That I could only feel it when on my side, how significant was that? I think from that moment I went into a state of shock, a feeling that has now been part of my life from then onwards.
“I was going out that night for a friend’s birthday and decided whilst I can do very little about ‘it’ I might as well go.
“I mentioned the fact I had found a lump to a couple of close friends at the party and I was taken aback by their responses. Most looked at me in horror, some swore, some did both. I was surprised that no-one said “oh I am sure it will be nothing, try not to worry”. There were no well-meaning words of positivity, just an instant reaction that this can mean only one thing and it is bad, really bad. Why is it people (mainly woman from my experience) have that reaction? Is it because I mentioned the word breast? If I had said I had found a lump on my hand would the reaction have been the same? I think not.
“I decided not to tell anyone else until I knew what I was dealing with. I saw no point in telling people something that could be nothing, equally that nothing could turn into something and then you have to deal with the consequences of telling people. It is a fine line.
“I managed to get a doctor’s appointment a couple of days later. The doctor was sympathetic, told me not to worry but referred me. I came away with a leaflet in one hand and more than a handful of questions in the other. I think this is the point where things get really tough. Back home you now join a waiting game. A game of waiting, sleepless nights, crying and helplessness.
“It is all too easy to start to look up information on the web. This is a slippery slope I fell into almost instantly. Type “a lump in my breast” into Google and you are bombarded with different information - all scary, all with very little reference to survival rates. I would advise others not to do it. A lot of information is out of date, sometimes contradictory. At this stage nobody knows what they are dealing with so you are at best reading lots of scary facts and figures that might not even apply to you. The best resources by far are Breast Cancer Care or Macmillan. Their information is well laid out and is more geared to providing support rather than scary statistics. I also found a lot of comfort and support in a number of online forums. After all I was experiencing emotions I had never had to deal with before. Other people in the same waiting game as me understood, they just got it.
“I can’t imagine how people go to work and actually function. I am lucky I am self-employed so could suspend my work (along with everything else) whilst I sat this out. I read so many comments about people returning to work out of necessity but who were literally going through the motions, almost in a zombie-like state whilst waiting for results, appointments or treatment to start. My husband was also in the fortunate position that he was allowed some time off.
“My appointment came through and on February 14th 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whilst I should have been having a romantic meal with my husband for Valentine’s Day I was sat crying, asking why me?
“Flowers of course were sent by work colleagues and by my small group of close friends I told. And whilst these were lovely, they were a very visible gift. My children, whom I decided not to tell in detail what was going on as they are still young, asked me why I was getting so many flowers. It wasn’t my birthday after all. I said I was going to have an operation and luckily they are too young to question this. My house quickly started to resemble a florist.
“I have had lots of offers of help to get to and from appointments, these have been really helpful. I have also had lots of text messages and it has been lovely to know friends and family care and are thinking of me. However, what I don’t want to hear is “be positive” something I might have said myself in the past. This isn’t a mind over matter situation. I was also surprised by the amount of horror stories people like to share once you have told them you have breast cancer. It starts off “ahh my Auntie had breast cancer”, I reply “oh really, and how is she?” Now at this point surely the point of the story is “great she is sunning herself on a beach in Barbados drinking rum cocktails”. But no, the amount of people who want to tell me their relative died is unbelievable - scary and not particularly helpful.
“So this is how my life has changed. I now assess things as a life before cancer and one after. Maybe I am over-analysing this but this cancer thing is all consuming. I have lost weight through stress. I have had sleepless nights, mouth ulcers, and a sore throat. I think it is going to take a while to be firing on all cylinders again. I am constantly re-evaluating my life. I don’t want to read an email from a parent at the school asking if anyone has seen Josh’s trainers, I simple don’t care anymore. I just want to carelessly walk the kids to school like I did before. On a more positive front I am putting the small things into perspective. We have a holiday booked, maybe we will get to go, maybe we won’t. It simply doesn’t matter anymore.
“I now know I have one cancerous lump (removed), dodgy lymph nodes (removed), a course of radiotherapy to start and tamoxifen for an undisclosed amount of time to deal with. So this isn’t an instant death sentence. It isn’t quite the same picture painted on the Internet that I read about. And whilst the World Wide Web should not be flippant about cancer, I would say take care when you are first diagnosed. Emotions are running at an all-time high.
“For me the hardest part has been the waiting game. Being in limbo, not knowing what I or my family was going to have to deal with. I don’t think I have ever before physically shook with fear or grief, nor been so overwhelmed with emotions. So if this is my cancer story then it has been hard, worrying, and stressful but I think I will get through it. But I will always ask myself Why me?”
Anna was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in February 2017. She is currently undergoing treatment. Not Another Bunch Of Flowers are very grateful for her writing down her story for us and hope that it is encouraging for anyone finding themselves in a similar situation. We wish Anna lots of love and support for the future.