Emily's Breast Cancer Story

On the 10th of February 2016 and at the age of just 25... life, as I knew it, was put on pause as I sat opposite a general surgeon with my parents behind me, earning a membership to the club no-one wants to be a part of; but as we all know, the story begins before the diagnosis. If you’re interested in mine then pour yourself a cuppa, sit down and bear with me.. this may take a while. 

Early on in the previous December I had taken myself off to the GP after a month of relentless, unexplained nausea and sickness, lethargy, a complete lack of appetite and a period that lasted almost the entire month; I work in a particularly stressful occupataion and I had, for sometime, been working twelve and a half hour days, five days a week, and to top it off (seems so trivial now!) had not long been dumped; so I originally put these symptoms down to perhaps just being a bit over-tired and didn’t want to waste a GP’s time to be told to just take it easy for a bit! When I eventually went to the GP they came to conclusion that it was most likely to be that I was aneamic and that some bloods would confirm this. I never actually got these blood results, but after deciding to relax a bit and take my day-to-day life a bit easier the symptoms started to disappear. 

Fast-forward to a few weeks later, on a particularly cold Sunday evening at home I placed my hands inside my jumper and buried my fingers in my armpits for some warmth, almost immediately I felt a hard lump in my left breast against the flat palm of my hand. Concerned, I went to my mum and asked her to check if it felt like a lump, and her face said it all, we decided we’d get an emergency appointment at the GP the next day. I woke up the next morning hoping very much so that when I checked again it would have disappeared, it hadn’t, so off we went to see the doctor. It’s a regular occurance at my GP that I don’t often see the same doctor twice, and this was day was no different. A young GP assessed my breast and her exact words are forever tattoed in my memory, “Ahh this feels like a fibroadenoma to me, these things have a certain feel to them and it definitely feels like one of those. It’s mostly likely just a hormonal change, come back in two weeks and we will confirm this.” So very positively I waltzed out of the GP. However, the following day when I was doing another check over this new lump I discovered a second, bigger lump in my left armpit; I rechecked to make sure it wasn’t just the same lump that had just moved position, it wasn’t. Worried, I rang up my doctors to ask if I could be seen again and I was given an appointment for the following morning. I spent the evening getting quite angry as to how this second lump had gone unnoticed the day before when she had given me a full check of both breasts and armpits. My next appointment was with, yet again, a new face I hadn’t seen before; she performed her own examination and came to the same conclusion and that the new lump was just a cyst, however because there were now two lumps there was no point waiting the two weeks to check if it was hormonal and to just refer me straight away to the breast clinic to get it checked out, and I left with the knowledge that it would be a two week wait. Again, I left feeling positive as I had been told by her too not to worry. 

The two weeks flew by, I was filled with optimism from all the “oh I’m sure you’ll be fine”’s by the few people who knew of the situation. I went to my ultrasound appointment at Frimley Park Hospital where I had been prewarned not to worry and that they’d have to biopsy any lump they may come across. So I ended up having a core biopsy done to the lump in my breast and a needle aspiration biopsy of the lump in my armpit, and was sent on my way with the knowledge that the results would come back in another two weeks. I spent the next two weeks still as equally optimistic, going to work, finally watching my little brother play his debut for our rugby club’s first team (a monumentous time for our family), and remaining blissfully unaware about what was to come. 

I received my letter with an appointment at Frimley to recieve my results, and went into panic because it was midday on a Wednesday. I’m a care supporter for a wonderful and beautiful little girl who is profoundly disabled; our family’s are very close friends, in fact I’m sure we all consider each other as family. At the time I was the only member of day-staff, and Wednesday’s and Thursday’s were my most important days at work because these were the days that her mum, herself, would go to work. So we arranged for my sister Alys, and my older brother, James to go and cover me at work incase of an emergency (not an irregular occurance) so her dad would have an extra pair (or two!) of hands while I was gone. James had insisted that both mum and dad came with me to my appointment, he was obviously very worried and decided they both needed to be there. I was still fairly certain I’d be told there was nothing wrong! Anyways, off we went to hospital to begin our wait in the waiting room. I was given a pink breast form to fill out about, still ignorant as to why would I be filling something like that out. Our wait went on for quite a while, and I was constantly sending messages back to work apologising profusely and promising I’d be back as soon as I could. Eventually I was called in, and all three of us entered the room, followed by three nurses, mum and I still remaining very ignorantly unaware to the amount of people in the room when we were going to be told I was absolutely fine. My dad on the other hand is much more observant and tells me now that he knew what was coming the moment he counted how many people were entering the room and that they insisted on getting him a chair, he kept this to himself at the time, but sat directly behind me, with his hand placed firmly on my shoulder. 

We sat for a while going through all my symptoms and why I had been concerned; the surgeon who my appointment was with, then went through all my answers on my pink breast form; she went into detail about the types of biopsies they did and then came out with “and so we have the results back and I’m afraid to say that both showed as cancerous cells”; my dads hand gripped my shoulder much tighter than it had been, and my mum (who was sat opposite me) took a huge gasp of air and burst into tears. I just felt numb, but from experience with hospitals at work, I knew this wasn’t the time for tears and that it was definitely the time to listen and take in all the information I was being given. I was diagnosed with grade 3 Hormone Receptor positive, Her2 positive, Invasive ductal Breast Cancer which had also spread to the lymph nodes, staging would be clarified later on after more tests had been done. She told me that after this appointment I’d be going for a mammogram and how I’d need to be back here the next day for numerous scans and that she was signing me off of work for the foreseeable future, I informed her this wasn’t possible because I absolutely had to work on Thursday, to which she told me quite frankly that it wasn’t an option. We were then escorted to a private room to be given more information from one of the ladies who was to become one of my breast cancer nurses. She gave us some time together alone first and we all just balled our eyes out and apologised to each other. Off we went to radiology for my mammogram, and while mum and I waited, dad made the dreaded phone call to my brother, sister and work that it was infact cancer and we’d still be a little while before we were back. 

After my mammograms, feeling physically and emotionally like I’d been hit by a bus, we headed back to work, in a very quiet car. I was greeted at the door by my brother and sister both with tears in their eyes while we all hugged it out, next on my list was to see both my bosses (and dear friends). I couldn’t believe she had made it back from work by the time I got back, we too all had a very big cry together, I handed them my ‘sick note’ and kissed the little girl I look after on the cheek and made her promise me, categorically, that she would behave for her parents and not have any emergencies of her own while I wasn’t here; I told her it was my turn now. 

Finally my family and I all left work feeling very deflated, having to work out how we were going to tell the one person we were dreading telling most, my younger brother Jordan. When we got home, Alys and I went in to see him by ourselves; I sat down next to him, looked at him and just shook my head with tears in my eyes, he knew instantly what was wrong and was the most upset I have ever seen anyone be before. We all hugged it out, we reassured each other that I, and we, would all be fine; and that we’d together make this cancer my bitch. 

At the time, when I would replay those weeks over and over in my mind, I would get so cross; so cross that I was told by GP’s that it wasn’t cancer, so cross that the first GP had missed the second lump, and even more cross that I hadn’t taken my symptoms in the December a little bit more seriously. It transpires that actually the second lump wasn’t there on the initial examination and the fact that it was there the next day just showed how fast it was growing; and the symptoms in the December were most likely my body trying to tell me something was wrong... “but everyone is an expert with the virtue of hindsight”. 

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