There is Nothing Pink and Pretty with Breast Cancer

by Jacqueline CashmanOctober 24, 2019View more posts from Jacqueline Cashman

There is nothing pink and pretty about breast cancer….

Way back in 2003 I lost my mum to breast cancer, they say they “lost their battle” like they didn’t fight quite hard enough, I disagree, it’s purely luck, you either survive or you don’t. I feel it is quite a harsh term, nobody wants to just throw in the towel.

My mum certainly didn’t, she took every treatment going, but simply ran out of options. That’s another funny one, “treatment” – to me it sounds like a spa day with a lovely list of treatments, I always find that term doesn’t quite fit the reality.

Following her death, I had 14 years of pure paranoia, I was always fearful cancer would come for me next… boy was I right!

Actually my paranoia was my hero, something I now constantly preach to other women, I am yet to get my message across successfully, but I will keep trying, most feel “it will never happen to me”. Wrong! I didn’t have that confidence, which has so far saved me, but it worries me that most feel this way.

Back to my story…so my paranoia prompted me in my early 40’s to start paying privately for a mammogram as I was a way off qualifying for one on the NHS (National Health Service). On my second annual mammogram, where I assumed all was OK as I felt fine and had no lumps, bumps or anything, I get the dreaded phone call from the doctor, saying they have seem something suspicious on the results, but they are sure it is fine, sure it is nothing…. If only!

Following a Frankenstein style “prone biopsy” – trust me it was grim, nothing pink and fluffy about that experience, I get the call to go into the hospital to see a consultant.

I think by then, my paranoia was at full throttle and I got this feeling that the results wouldn’t be good – remember I still had no obvious symptoms, no lump, no visible indications.

When the consultant leaned in to tell me that she was so sorry, I did have breast cancer, but they really couldn’t say how bad it was, which type (out of quite a lot of types) the world literally stopped. I can only describe it as a horrible, floating above myself feeling with the chant in my head of “oh my God I’m going to die like mum” going round and round.

It was the worst moment of my life – and I have had an eventful life!

The NHS machine jumped into action – they made me feel safe and utterly cared for during the surgery, chemo ”therapy” (that word again!), radiation therapy, herceptin injections, further surgery and check-ups.

It was pure hell; my hair fell out, I lost sight of who I was, I was constantly frightened, quite often I couldn’t make it into the shower, I was scared to look at myself in the mirror, it was as if I was behind this pane of glass, watching the world carry on while I was suddenly a full time patient. When you have the flu for two weeks and feel utterly awful, it feels like you have been poorly forever and cannot remember how it felt to feel well. Turn that into a year and you’ve got half an idea.

The “treatment” was a big enough shock, but the biggest was how utterly hopeless and depressed I felt after all of my procedures had ended , I was away from the safety net of the NHS. This is the thing that isn’t talked about enough…

I felt utterly battered and bruised and was desperate to go back to the old me. That was probably my first mistake, you have to work out that you never will, physically or mentally. That ship has sailed, you have physical effects from all of the treatments, I felt very depressed and had regular panic attacks.

I felt so hopeless and I often contemplated would it be better if I wasn’t here? A bizarre (but apparently very common) thought when you have fought so hard through all of the stuff to keep you here!

The struggle now is that everyone sees me looking so well – and I am sure they want the old me to come back and for it all to be over with – which for them, it is.

The truth is, anxiety is now my constant companion, the daily fear of it returning (my mum died, so why should I survive?) is a battle every minute of the day, the aches in my bones, lack of sleep due to enforced menopause. The effect on my nearest and dearest, whom I know live with this fear too.

What it has taught me is to try to live in the moment. Try not to look back or forward, it really isn’t helpful in this position. I am grateful for every day I am still here, it’s the only way.

My other savior – exercise. My body can still run, which is a miracle considering what it has been through, and it is great to chase those demons away.

I would absolutely advise everyone in this position to get therapy. It helped me so much, without it I don’t know where I would be. My last piece of advice, time. It takes time, an old but good piece of advice.

Cancer survival is a life sentence, but I will carry on fighting the good fight and spreading the word about checking!

:-)