Saturday, 1 November 2014

Younger women with breast cancer - Sarah M's story

The last featured story on my blog as part of this year's Breast Cancer Awareness month is from Sarah M, aged 38:

'On 20th May, aged 38 I found a lump in my left breast , felt by my inner arm, through a padded bra as I was getting into the car.  I straight away touched it with my hand and knew this was something serious that required immediate attention. I panicked realising that since the beginning of 2014, possibly longer I had unintentionally ignored all the signs that this could indeed be breast cancer.

The first sign I had was tenderness in the breast. I had been cupping my breast as I ran up and down the stairs because the movement was making it hurt ( they are only small too, a humble 34B at a push ). I was also aware that for a long time I was repeatedly saying "mind my boobs " to my little boy as we cuddled up. With him on my left side, when he leant into it there was more tenderness than usual. I subconsciously put this down to hormonal changes in my menstrual cycle. I suffered intense itching  around my nipple on and off for ages , possibly as early as mid 2013. Having suffered with itchy skin all over my body since I was a teenager I thought no more of it other than itchy skin.

I had a dull ache for a few months in my left armpit. I put this down to the physical side of my job moving and positioning vulnerable (some very heavy) adults and assumed it was muscle strain.

In Nov. 2013 I completed a course with South Central Ambulance, part of which was using heart monitors. We measured our own heart rates and mine was particularly high. The paramedic training me advised I get this checked which I did. I was tested for diabetes , thyroid problems , blood pressure and a couple of other illnesses that I fail to remember. All tests came back clear, although I just felt something wasn't right with my body . I ached more than usual and tired a lot more easily than I ever had.

Mentally I found I was becoming increasingly short tempered, emotional and anxious ( this could explain the rapid heart rate). I felt something wasn't right, that a change was needed and the fact that my periods were becoming irregular I began to think, and even said to my husband Paul, that I was having an early menopause .

Then a couple of months before finding the lump , Paul came home and gave me a copy of The Sun Newspapers Check 'Em Tuesday guide. He asked me if I checked my boobs to which I flippantly replied " No, I am too scared too in case I find a lump", what a ridiculous comment to have made.  It did however prompt me to check and when I checked properly I did feel the lump there. Yet again I ignored it , comparing to my other breast I just put it down to hormones, how stupid am I.

The final sign, I will always believe was a sign from a higher state of consciousness telling me to sort myself out.  In the space of ten seconds I had three short sharp stabbing pains which I can only describe as somebody ramming a knitting needle down into my breast , behind the nipple and pointing straight to where the lump was.  ( Ladies reading, this is a sign of some types of breast cancer but not the cancer I had or so I am told ). It only happened in those 10 seconds, on that day and never happened again neither had it happened before. Two days later I found the lump.

I didn't phone the doctor straight away as I knew I would be seen the next day and I had an event at the children's school to attend. I wanted to be there for them both and certainly didn't want to have to explain my absence to them or anyone else for that matter.

Two days later I was seen by a female GP who confirmed there was a definite lump , that had been there sometime, which she thought was a cyst. She said she had known of hard cysts before and if it was cancer I would of been seriously ill by now. Rubbish!!!!   I don't know who she was trying to convince, me or herself but I knew this was not presenting as a cyst.  I was referred there and then to Wycombe Breast Clinic.

I went home and Googled every single benign breast condition and their symptoms, resulting in yet more self diagnosis that what I had was serious. I just knew it was cancer.

Two weeks later ( the governments policy for being seen after visiting the GP ) myself and Paul attended the clinic where I was given an ultra sound scan to both breasts , followed immediately by a core needle biopsy, (possibly the second worst experience of my life, chemotherapy coming first by miles!!). I was then seen by one of the doctors in the consultants team. She confirmed that the lump was indeed suspicious and regardless of the outcome from the biopsy I would require an operation to have it removed.

One week later, Thursday 12th June ,another trip to the clinic for the results. After a two and a half hour wait ( these places are pushed to the limit ) a breast care nurse  called us through to see the main man, the consultant heading the clinic, Mr Cunnick. I knew straight away that the top breast surgeon in South Bucks NHS trust ( yep I Googled him too ) was not about to tell me I had a cyst  or anything else benign.  I wasn't even sat down as I was more concerned for Paul, when Mr Cunnick bluntly informed me what I already knew. I had Breast Cancer, no sorry or unfortunately, just, it's cancer,  invasive ductal carcinoma, 8/8 oestrogen positive and receptive to Herceptin. He briefly examined me then explained he would be carrying out my operation. I asked  him to remove both breasts, in fact what I said was " just take the whole boob off and whilst you are at it take the other one as well" but he said it was totally unnecessary and that a lumpectomy would be ample and he would hopefully save my nipple as well. He told me it was not genetic although this is a test I will be fighting for as it must start somewhere.  I then had a mammogram to both breasts and underarm and Mr Cunnick gave the results straight away.  The right breast was clear and as far as he could see there was no lymph node involvement. He explained this was the best type of breast cancer I could have if there ever was a best type and that it was all fully treatable. He told me I would more than likely have chemotherapy, radiotherapy , Herceptin and ten years of Tamoxifen pills . Despite his bluntness and the fact he was telling me I had cancer I really liked him, I trusted him and loved how he knew his job so well.

Five weeks later I had my lumpectomy and a sentinel lymph node biopsy where radioactive dye is injected into the breast and travels to the lymph nodes showing any cancer cells present.  Unfortunately there was metastatic cancer cells in the first  lymph node which was removed along with the second.

After a further two week wait it was back to the clinic for my results. This time the wait was four hours. So at 7:30pm we were informed  all the tumour had been removed with clear margins and the next step would be to see an oncologist who would explain the further treatment required. I thought he could have saved a lot of time by telephoning me with the results.
I am now two weeks past my second lot of  FEC chemotherapy. I have a further four to endure. I will then have a month off and start radiotherapy every weekday for 4four and a half weeks at a hospital a fifty mile round trek from where I live. I will have Herceptin by infusion every three weeks at the chemo unit and Tamoxifen pills for 10 years.  It is the worst time of my life right now, but I have to stay positive and strong for my husband, children, family and friends, I am very aware that it is not just me this has affected . I feel lucky a lot of the time that it is not a whole lot worse. I feel sad that so many women a lot younger than me are suffering this .

My tumour had been there for six months.

Had I not ignored all the early signs or been more informed as to what they indicated maybe life would be different now and I would not be dealing with chemotherapy. Consequently had the lump not physically presented itself or indeed grown inward ..................well, I dread to think. That is why it is so important to check yourself regularly and act quickly if you notice any changes. Remember that no one is too young to get breast cancer.'

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, and I'm so sorry for all that you've been through. Yes, the stereotactic core biopsy is one of my all-time medical nightmare experiences. I have had breast cancer, and the whole medical process is hell. Wishing you much health.