On 7th May 1999 I received devastating news – I had breast cancer. But that wasn’t the worst part! In November 1998 I lost my aunt to breast cancer.
I had moved to the US with my now ex-husband in 1998. My family were all back in England.
I made my husband promise to not say a word to anyone back home. I just couldn’t tell my family – not so soon after losing my aunt. I can only imagine what it would have done to my nan – she had just buried her eldest daughter!
Learning about different types of cancer
Back in 1999 I really didn’t know anything about cancer, except it kills people and there appeared to be no cure.
I learned so much in such a short space of time – one thing you will come to know about me – I am like a sponge – I am always wanting to better understand things in life. To be able to form an unbiased opinion, one needs to understand the subject.
So I immersed myself in learning – you have to remember, the internet wasn’t quite the same as it is today, 20 years on. I spent hours in the local Barnes and Noble, reading articles, and trying to just come to grips with this “thing”.
There wasn’t that much to be honest, and so I put myself into the hands of my doctor at Riddle Memorial Hospital in Media, Pennsylvania.
They first took a biopsy, and it was confirmed that I had Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I will be totally honest – I kind of zoned out, and didn’t take anything in.
The doctor put his arm around me – he could tell I was not listening, and he said “In laymen’s terms, we have caught it very early, and it hasn’t spread – you are going to be fine”. He was so calming, I took a deep breath. And then he went on to talk about my options.
My biggest fear (as silly as it sounds) was the fear of losing a breast – not being a whole woman anymore. I was just 33 years old. My fears would be allayed.
Today there is so much information, I found this article very informative about the different types of cancer.
Surgery and Post surgery
I am no medical expert – I put my hands in the care of those that are. I fully trusted my doctor. He recommended a lumpectomy, and then they would be able to do a full analysis to make sure there was no “invasive” cancer.
I went in on a Thursday morning, and was home by “tea-time”.
It was a 3 inch long thin incision, I sat for hours on my own, worried about the outcome of the analysis.
My ex flew to England to attend a friends daughters wedding the day after my surgery – I spent the weekend alone.
Thankfully the wait for the analysis wasn’t too long – I can’t remember exactly how long it was, maybe 10 days. I had kept myself busy at work on a major project – I had the most amazing team around me!
I don’t remember much about this time frame to be honest, but I do remember sitting in the waiting room with a few older women waiting to see the doctor. They were all surprised how young I was and that I had breast cancer.
I don’t recall everything the doctor told me (something about ER-Positive), but he said in order to be sure I had no recurrence, he recommended I take medication for a few years…YEARS! That medication is called Tamoxifen. It is also interesting to note, 1999 was the first year Tamoxifen began to be used routinely for DCIS, and my doctor felt I would benefit, and have a higher rate of no recurrence.
Post treatment years
Taking Tamoxifen is not to be taken lightly – the side-effects are horrible – menopausal symptoms, fatigue, depression, I even lost most of my eye-lashes! But the one thing (which is also something that happens in menopause) was the loss of my libido. This continued for a few years, and it did put a strain on my relationship. My now ex-husband was not fully supportive, and really just didn’t understand. I think this led to other marital problems down the road (but that is a whole other story).
On 11th June 2000, my oncologist said that I had no signs of cancer, however he recommended that I continue with the Tamoxifen. It would be many years before I would actually celebrate this date!
After 5 years (and twice yearly checkups), I remember sitting in my gynecologists office, and after my exam, he asked me some rather poignant questions about my relationship with my husband – I totally denied anything was wrong. I look back now, and realize that he did see the signs.
He conferred with the oncologist and they advised that I should continue the medication for another 1-2 years, as there was history of breast cancer in the family (on both sides as it turns out).
By the time I had completed the medication, I was not in the best of places mentally, but I put on a brave face and kept it all in.
I was not allowed to talk about it in my ex-husbands presence, I don’t even remember why. But it just wasn’t something that we talked about.
I did finally tell my family. I actually didn’t tell my nan though until 2017.
I moved to Brooklyn, NY in 2010 – 2 days after moving in, there was a Breast Cancer Benefit at the local pub – The Beanpost Pub. I met some of the most amazing cancer survivor warriors – my sisters! It was this group of women that made me realize I had nothing to be ashamed of, so today I wear my scar with pride and as a reminder that I am a cancer survivor.
I may not have gone through what so many women go through, and for that I am forever thankful. I hope that one day we will be able to cure all kinds of cancer, but until then, please, please don’t miss your check ups, and as horrid as they are, don’t miss your mammogram.
On 11th June 2020, I celebrated 20 years cancer free – and the excerpt at the top of this blog (plus a link to the article), gives me hope that it will never come back. The article is very positive about the curability of breast cancer.
I dedicate this blog to my aunt Rosalind – I was lucky, sadly she lost her fight with breast cancer 6 months before I was diagnosed.