5 Women Share Their Experiences With Breast Cancer
5 Women Share Their Experiences With Breast Cancer

5 Women Share Their Experiences With Breast Cancer

Three million people in the UK are living with cancer, with 1,000 more diagnosed every day – and the breast cancer stats are some of the highest. To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we asked five women to share their stories.
By Tor West

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Timna Rose

Founder & Creative Director of Studio Atara

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. One morning when putting on my bra, I felt a small, pea-sized lump at the top of my right breast. I went to my GP the following day. A biopsy revealed it was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), and a further MRI showed I had multi-focal IDC – lots of smaller lumps that a mammogram didn’t pick up. It was grade 3, but it had been caught early. I ended up changing hospitals for a second opinion as the first doctor I saw wasn’t telling me exactly what my diagnosis was. ‘It’s a little bit nasty, I’m afraid,’ are the words he used. The doctor I ended up receiving treatment with was more upfront and straightforward to deal with.

It was a relief the cancer was caught early. I had three lymph nodes removed and a single mastectomy with a temporary implant to hold the pocket under my chest wall muscle, which stayed in for a year until I had a permanent implant. I had a pancake implant on the other side for symmetry. Following surgery, I was told I had clear margins, and the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, which was a huge relief. I had five months of chemotherapy and was on Tamoxifen for nearly seven years. 

A support network is everything. With three young children, I needed all the help I could get. If you’re living with cancer, take all the help being offered, and don’t cut people off for their sake or for your own vanity. Face cancer head on and say what you need. Don’t give time to negative people or take on anyone else’s horror or fear at what you are going through. I went to an amazing support group called The Haven in Fulham, which is sadly no longer running, but it was a wonderful place where I learnt about mindful meditation, talking therapy and alternative treatment like reflexology. 

Educating yourself is important. Once you’ve got through the shock of cancer, face it head on and get on with the journey. Denial won’t help, and it pays to keep a positive mindset. How To Starve Cancer by Jane McLelland is a radical but fascinating book that I highly recommend. It focuses on the use of off-label drugs to eradicate cancer. It’s incredibly well researched, and if I were diagnosed again, it’s the first resource I’d turn to for suggested protocols. I also took up yoga and meditation and took care with cosmetic products and environmental pollutants. 

Life is for living. Cancer made me realise I’m stronger than I thought, and that health is everything. Doing what makes you happy is key. 

Visit StudioAtara.co.uk

Lucy Vaughan

Mother of two

I found out I had breast cancer when pregnant with my second child. I was 39. Three years later, the cancer spread to my liver and bones, and I’m now living with stage four cancer. It all started when I discovered a small lump in my left breast – I was in my second trimester, and as the lump was barely palpable and with no family history of breast cancer, I didn’t initially worry. I mentioned it to midwives and others, who assured me that breast changes were normal during pregnancy. However, as the lump persisted into my third trimester, I decided to consult my GP.

I was devastated when I received my diagnosis. The breast surgeon tried to provide some reassurance – my tumour was small (1.5cm), the most common type of breast cancer, and hadn't spread to my lymph nodes. The proposed treatment plan involved removing the lump, continuing with the pregnancy, then undergoing radiotherapy and Tamoxifen post-delivery. However, after the lump removal surgery, they discovered that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, upgrading my diagnosis to stage 3.

A difficult decision lay ahead. Whether to start chemotherapy immediately and have the baby at full term or deliver the baby early, risking special care, and commence chemotherapy after. I opted for the latter, delivering the baby at 36 weeks. It was an emotional and challenging time, and doubts about my decision lingered. Chemotherapy began just two weeks after my C-section, coinciding with New Year's Eve and shortly after my 40th birthday. The treatment plan involved accelerated chemo every two weeks for eight cycles, instead of the usual six. Managing treatment with a toddler and a new-born at home was extraordinarily tough, compounded by the restrictions and isolation brought about by Covid.

After chemo, I underwent three weeks of radiotherapy and started a decade-long hormone therapy with the hope of full remission. I aimed to reclaim my life, battling the fear of recurrence, appreciating the mundane, and finding happiness in normality. Two years after completing chemotherapy, a routine blood test revealed elevated cancer markers, leading to scans and the grim news – my cancer had spread to my liver and bones, and it was treatable but no longer curable.

I am trying to adapt to my new normal. Treatment for secondary breast cancer initially isn’t as harsh as primary breast cancer, as the aim is for it to be manageable so you can live as best a life as possible for as long as possible. With treatment, there is no end, and friends and family find this difficult. During intensive chemo, they know you’ll be poorly for periods of time and are more proactive with help, but when you’re living with cancer 24/7, people aren’t sure how to help you. I just tell them I want to live life as normally as possible. 

It's secondary breast cancer that claims lives. So often, we hear stories of people beating breast cancer, but we aren’t educated about secondary breast cancer and how it’s treated. People don’t die of primary breast cancer – it’s secondary breast cancer that claims lives. Around 30% of those treated for primary breast cancer have a recurrence. 

Worrying doesn’t achieve anything. The medical world loves to categorise cancer into high or low risk, but in reality we all respond differently to treatment. You could be on the positive side of the stats, or the negative. Although I have days when I feel morbid and worry about leaving my children, I also realise treatments are continually moving on, and there is hope. Many women with breast cancer, even at an advanced stage, can now live for several years thanks to new treatments. Instead of worrying, go and live. Don’t focus on the unfairness of it all – you need to count the blessings in your life and make the moments count. 

Claire Warner

Founder & CEO of Lift

I was 41 when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I found my cancer in June 2016 thanks to a Facebook post from someone I’d never met. A friend of a friend had shared a picture of a small dimple that had appeared in her breast. Fast forward a few months, and I spotted a similar dimple of my own. I went to see my GP, then my local breast cancer centre, where I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. Two weeks later, I was in hospital having the lump removed, which was followed by chemo and radiotherapy. However, once removed, the tumour was larger than they’d realised, so my treatment plan was changed to chemo and a full mastectomy. 

My treatment took just short of a year. Chemo was tough. On three occasions, the chemo had worked so well that my levels hadn’t recovered enough to take on the next round, so each time, the treatment was pushed back. Plus, while I was having treatment, two friends died from cancer, which was emotionally very difficult. Overall, I found the mental and emotional side of cancer far harder to cope with than the physical. The guilt around having survived when my friends hadn’t was challenging. While the treatment was ultimately successful, I was left with a permanent side effect – a heart condition called SVT.

The NHS is incredible. We need to protect it and those who devote their working lives to it. I felt supported from every angle. I even saw an oncology psychologist to help me cope with the fear I felt about the cancer returning. Avoid using Google – instead, ask your consultant or GP for trusted websites and sources of information – and prepare to be overwhelmed at the support that comes your way when you have cancer. There is a fantastic community around breast cancer – so many people came forward to share their experience with me and talked me through treatment. All but one of these people were people I didn’t know before my diagnosis. 

Friends and family were invaluable. My daughters were two and nine when I was diagnosed, and loved ones offered incredible support – whether it was cooking, cleaning, putting the girls to bed or just being with me. Take the help you’re being offered. 

Cancer has changed my perspective on everything. I no longer complain about getting older – every birthday is a gift not guaranteed to all. I now spend more time doing the things I love with the people I want to be with and spend less hours working or doing things I don’t want to do. Life is too short. 

Visit WeAreLift.co.uk

Jacqueline Carson

Clinical Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist

My breast cancer journey started when I was 48. I found a lump in my left breast and, coincidentally, I received a mammogram invitation around the same time, which led to further examinations, including a painful biopsy, which revealed a cancerous tumour. Breast cancer runs in my family – especially on my mother’s side, with several aunts and cousins having battled breast cancer – although I was still shocked to receive a diagnosis.  

Treatment was complicated and confusing. I was told to choose between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy, ultimately opting for a lumpectomy, unable to get my head around having a breast removed. I remember saying to the consultant, ‘I don’t have time for cancer.’ I wanted the least invasive but also the least life-upsetting option possible. However, concerns about calcifications of the tumour and the potential need for a mastectomy later on lingered in the back of my mind. 

I was then told cancerous cells may have been missed during the surgery. An oncology consultant explained that a random cancerous cell could still be present and mutate somewhere else in my body. I was very frightened at this point, questioning the surgery I’d just had, and my confidence in the medical team was low. It was agreed that no further surgery was needed, although I’d need a course of radiotherapy. This treatment, however, was gruelling. It left me exhausted and with lingering effects, which resonated for years. Following radiotherapy, I was recommended to take Tamoxifen for five years to reduce oestrogen levels and lower the risk of cancer recurrence. The side effects were overwhelming, affecting me physically and mentally. I stopped taking it after two years. 

The challenges during my cancer journey were multifaceted. Being a single mother and the sole financial provider to two teenage children added significant pressure, and I had to work through treatment, with only a brief respite post-surgery. The emotional challenge was equally daunting, with a sense of isolation exacerbated by a lack of understanding from friends and family. I also faced a disconnect with the NHS, which left me feeling like a mere number rather than an individual with valid opinions and feelings. 

Cancer taught me so much about how the mind and body are connected. This shift in perspective led me to take responsibility for my health. I quit smoking and drinking using hypnosis, transitioned to a wholefood, plant-based diet and minimised exposure to chemicals. I also retrained as a clinical hypnotherapist having experienced its benefits during my treatment. I was blown away by the power of hypnotherapy and how it helped me process my emotions, and how it helped me to make sense of the range of emotions I was feeling, including resentment, fear and anger. If you are living with cancer, make sure you are looking after your mental health.

If I was diagnosed today, I’d handle the situation differently. I wish I’d known more about cancer and how the mind and body are connected. The way we think really can affect healing. Cancer is hugely personal, but don’t feel pressured into making decisions. Do your own research before consenting to treatment and look at all your options – it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Ask lots of questions and make sure you get the answers. 

Visit Hypnotherapy-Darlington.co.uk

Alex Darby

Founder of Body Belief

Breast cancer runs in my family. My mum died from breast cancer when she was 49 – I was 15. Because of her age when she died, I was able to be part of a family history clinic, which meant I had yearly mammograms from the age of 32. It also meant I didn’t need to be referred to a specialist by a GP if I found any lumps. When I was 42, I was recalled from a routine mammogram as there appeared to be a possible shadow, although I got the all-clear. Only three months later, I found a lump in my right breast, which turned out to be cancer. 

After surgery, I was guided through treatment by my oncologist. I declined chemotherapy due to a triple-negative tumour and embarked on radiotherapy. Mid-treatment, a lump in the other breast turned out to be a separate cancerous growth, and unfortunately this needed a more aggressive approach. In this case, it was chemo. Within a week, I had cut my hair short, signed off from work indefinitely and organised someone to be with me on my chemo days. I settled in for the long haul of treatment, every three weeks for six cycles. I’d then have a double mastectomy and reconstruction after the chemo. 

Facing my emotions head on was tough. I’d spent a lifetime running away from them, ever since my mum had died, and here I was facing the same thing she had. I didn’t want history to repeat itself, and I had every intention of being around for my daughter, so I had to do things differently. I started writing a blog, which was my lifeline, committing to writing it daily, regardless of how dark it was. This helped enormously. The medical support network is great, but it focuses on getting the cancer out of your body, not your head. It took me months – perhaps even years – to feel like myself again. 

Chemo can push you into menopause. I didn’t realise that I’d instantly be in a chemical menopause when starting chemo, along with a whirlwind of symptoms. I also wish I’d known more about the small things: I tried the cold cap, for example, but it was torture; how to eat better through chemo; how runny my nose would be without any nose hair; and that I’d wake up in the fourth week and all my body hair had gone. It’s also worth noting that many cancer specialists don’t have the best bedside manner. They’re clever, and will save your life, but they’re not good with emotions. 

It’s important to trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to challenge anyone if something doesn’t feel right. Be relentless in seeking information and be gentle with yourself. Don’t make any quick decisions and ask all the questions. It’s a time to be selfish about your health. There are many decisions to be made when it comes to cancer, and if you’re not careful, they’ll be made for you. Gather all the information you can about your diagnosis – remember we are all different, so don’t compare yourself to others.

In the aftermath, I have transformed my life. My perspective on health, relationships and life itself underwent a significant shift. Gratitude for the small things, purposeful living and valuing authenticity became central. I learned to love myself and my reconstructed body. To those beginning their cancer journey, I emphasise the importance of taking one step at a time, gathering knowledge, and building a robust support network. Embrace the journey as an opportunity for personal growth and find strength in every day, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Visit BodyBelief.co.uk

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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