Archives for category: Breast Cancer Screening

Angelina Jolie sparked a lot of controversy earlier this month when she revealed her decision to have both her breasts removed following a BRCA+ diagnosis.

“Why did she have to tell the world?” people asked.
“Did she just do it for publicity?”
“Why didn’t she get her ovaries removed as well?”

Unfortunately, many people judged and criticised Jolie without really understanding what her diagnosis meant and what her options were.

The aim of this blog is not to add to the discussion about whether or not she made the right choice (I fully support her decision and also believe she was right to tell the world, before a journalist did). Instead, I want to explain a little about my experience of BRCA genetic testing here in the UK, and what a BRCA+ diagnosis means.

To continue reading this blog in Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita magazine, follow the link below:
http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/angelina-s-genes-what-are-brca1-brca2

So, tomorrow marks exactly one year to the day I found a lump in my left breast: Saturday, 4th February, 2012. For those of you who’ve only recently started reading this blog, I’ll go back to the beginning.

I was living in Buenos Aires this time last year when I went to northeast Brazil on a surfing holiday. It was just after I checked into the beautiful beachside guesthouse that I lay down on the bed and, somehow (I’m still not sure how), I discovered the lump.

Now, I’m aware that for anyone who has never found a lump, it may be difficult to imagine what one looks like, so I thought for the first time I would show you a couple of photos I took just before my surgery last June. (Please excuse the blurry, red face – I had probably been crying as I bid goodbye to my boob in its original state.)

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If you look closely, you should be able to make out the bump in the skin on the right of the photo. It is bruised because I’d had the core biopsy a week or so earlier (where the giant needle is inserted into the tumour to take a sample). But, as you can see, it wasn’t like a massive bump sticking out of the breast, nor was it a different colour from the rest of my body, nor did it have any other outwardly visible characteristics.

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I thought it might be helpful for people to see that my cancer didn’t come with a glaring neon pink sign that said “Hey, here I am – a big fat tumour just waiting to kill you!” No, it was much more subtle. Cancer is sneaky and sly. It often hides itself away while it quietly spreads around your body and waits for you to notice the more glaringly obvious symptoms.

That said, breast cancer comes in many shapes and forms. The symptoms can be anything including a lump, a dry patch, discharge from the breast, discolouration, swelling, or any change in size or shape. And it’s important to feel around the whole area – armpits included – because the cancer might not be in the main protruding part of the boob.

So that’s what happened exactly a year ago tomorrow. I had cancer and I didn’t even know it. I went to the hospital straight away for tests and was told by the Argentine doctors that it was a benign tumour (I.e. not cancerous). After the misdiagnosis, I continued living my life as normal until June 22nd, when I finally got the correct diagnosis in Ireland. I’m forever thankful to my then-boyfriend and my mum, for being the two people who insisted I get a second opinion. Without that, who knows what would have happened?

Fast forward to 2013 and radiotherapy continues to go well: 23 down, 10 to go. I think half the people at work don’t even realise I’m going out for radiotherapy sessions every day, so at least I appear normal.

That said, as you can see below, the hair growth is still painfully slow. (FYI, today’s eyebrows are brought to you with a normal eyeliner pencil, because I came back to Huddersfield for the weekend and forgot my eyebrow make-up. Someone get me a stylist, please!)

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I’m currently trying to pluck up the courage to stop wearing my wig to work. There may be an opportunity to ‘break people in’ at a fancy dress party on Friday. The theme is 90s. I was thinking of copying a fellow breast cancer blogger, Dee, and going as a 90s-look Sinead O’Connor. But I don’t think it really fits in with what the rest of the partygoers are planning to wear. Also, it’s slightly absurd to think of going to a fancy dress party as Sinead O’Connor, just to feel brave enough to show my bald head, when everyone knows I’m bald underneath the wigs anyway! So maybe another week and I’ll do it. Or maybe a bit of alcohol is needed for Dutch courage? Maybe a few shots of tequila before work? (Actually that might not be the worst idea I’ve ever had – the drunkenness might deflect away from the baldness…)

Apart from that, there’s no real radiotherapy news. I am still quite sleepy but otherwise managing to do everything as normal, and getting 9 hours of sleep every night. (Previously unheard of in my life – another silver lining to having cancer.)

Being back at my parents’ house after a month is a bit weird. The drive home from Manchester airport on Friday night was the same drive we did home from the hospital after every chemotherapy session, and going over the Yorkshire moors I felt a slight pang of chemo-familiarity-associated sickness. Then the same again when I put a glass of water on my bedside table and got a flashback of putting a banana next to my bedside table so that I could wake up at 6am and eat it with my chemo steroids. Yuck. It’s only been two months, but these chemo flashbacks are likely to stay with me for a long time. Fortunately, it hasn’t completely coloured my time back at home.

Well, that’s it for today. This time last year I had cancer. Now I don’t. Thank goodness I found that lump.

Happy New Year and good riddance to the last one!

It’s fair to say 2012 was the worst year of my life, even without the cancer. But it had plenty of redeeming factors, for which I couldn’t feel more grateful and lucky. And I am genuinely feeling very excited about my new adventures in 2013, starting today with my return to Dublin.

Over the past few days I’ve been feeling extremely lucky indeed. Why? Because I spent the last week reading Please Don’t Go, the autobiographical account of the Welsh footballer John Hartson‘s horrific experience of testicular cancer. For those who don’t know his story, John ignored a lump in his testicle for years, until his head ached so badly he couldn’t even open his eyes and he began vomiting a murky grey liquid and was rushed to hospital. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which had already spread to his lungs and brain, and his body was riddled with tumours. He came very close to death but came through it all with the support of his family and friends and his own steely determination.

In the past few days, I also found out about friends of friends who have just died of cancer. All of the above are in their 30s, so all these tales really hit home with me. I realise I have spent most of my cancer journey in a bubble of positivity, knowing I will be fine and never once thinking the cancer would kill me. But the simple fact is, cancer does kill, and if I’d ignored the lump, it could have spread and killed me.

I am lucky that my cancer presented itself in the form of a lump, so I would notice it. I am lucky I went back for a second opinion and eventually was diagnosed. I am even more lucky the cancer didn’t spread in the four months between the first and second lot of tests. I am lucky I had private medical care. I am lucky I had my parents to look after me throughout the entire process. I am lucky I didn’t have to have blood transfusions. Although the chemo made me ill, the cancer itself never once made me ill, because it didn’t get the chance. At the time of diagnosis, I felt the best I had felt in a long time. And I could put up with the chemo making me ill, because it’s making me better. I am lucky I’m alive.

Simply put, I am lucky.

John Hartson says the answer to the question “Why me?” might be that he is a famous footballer and therefore is in a perfect position to raise awareness. So perhaps the answer to “Why me?” in my case is that I write, and I can raise awareness through my writing. I also think there are personal reasons for my getting cancer – some I know already, and others I’m yet to discover.

John has done a brilliant job of raising awareness for testicular cancer and this year I will do my best to raise awareness of breast cancer. Aside from the blog, I can’t wait to get back to running, and hopefully at some point I can raise some money for a breast cancer charity. If you have any ideas, let me know.

2012 was simply a horrible year for me, but I’m so excited about 2013. Even though I have two months of radiotherapy still to come, I know I’m on the final strait and in control of what lies ahead. I just want to thank you all for all the wonderful support, whether it be through reading and commenting on my blogs, sending me stuff in the post or being there for me in person at some point during this awful journey.

There’s a link here to a blog I have written for Breast Cancer Care UK with my Five Resolutions for a Cancer-Free New Year: http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/five-resolutions-cancer-free-new-year

All that remains to be said, to steal a quote from a fellow cancer-sufferer: “Cancer is so last year”.

Barely a day goes by without a trip to the hospital. The occasion yesterday was my five-month check up after my surgery.

“Five months?!” I hear you ask. Yes, really, it’s been five months since diagnosis, five months I’ve been sitting on my bum getting fat and being frequently stabbed by needles while the seasons have changed and you’ve gone from wearing your summer frocks to winter woolies (or vice versa, for those in the Southern Hemisphere.)

To offset the unpleasantness of a trip to the Christie Clinic (lovely though it is), we decided to treat ourselves to a three-course lunch at Jamie’s Italian in Manchester, which opened in February. I thought I’d take some of you (namely Fe, Linz and one or two others) up on the suggestion of food-blogging, since writing about my life online has now become second nature and replaced my 20-year habit of writing a private diary, so you can read the first post of my fledgling food blog here.

For those of you who can’t be bothered to click the above link, or simply don’t have enough time in your day, I hope you will instead enjoy these pictures of a burger and – the pièce de résistance – the Thomas Crapper loo.

I digress…

I thought the check-up was just to see if my boob scar was in order, but in fact it was also a breast cancer check – to see if any new lumps had emerged. They haven’t, thank God, but it turns out I have to have these appointments every four months for the first couple of years and then have checks (probably mammograms) at least once a year for the next 17 years until I actually hit the age where they start screening women routinely – 47. (And after that, presumably more of the same…)

This really made it hit home just how much cancer is going to be with me for the rest of my life. Talking to the surgeon and hearing about how important it is to keep checking whether the cancer has come back just reinforced how rare it is to have breast cancer at my age and how it could return at any time. I’ve gone from never going to hospital up to the age of 29, to making it practically a second home. Hey ho…

My gene test result is due any day now and will determine whether or not I have a bilateral mastectomy, so Mum and I saw the consultation as an opportunity to grill the surgeon, who I will most likely choose to perform my operation in the event that I need one.

He explained that muscle would be taken from my back in order to reconstruct my breasts after they are lopped off.

“But do I even have enough muscle in my back for that?” I asked, imagining two great chunks missing from my shoulder area…

“It’s the biggest muscle in your body,” he said. “But we would use implants as well.”

Ahh, I thought, thank God for that! They would also normally take fat from my stomach, he said, but (un?)fortunately, even after putting on 3kg, I’m pretty sure I’m not fat enough to produce a pair of 32Ds from my tummy flab.

“Are you managing to eat ok?” asked the surgeon.

“Oh yes,” I said, “In fact, I’ve put on weight.”

(I didn’t feel the need to tell him I’d just wolfed down an enormous cheese-and-red-meat-based lunch at Jamie’s.)

Meanwhile, I’m fast becoming a local celebrity, with the Huddersfield Examiner contacting me yesterday for an interview. I’m not sure exactly how they found my blog with just one obscure mention of a nightmare taxi ride from Huddersfield to Manchester, but nevertheless I shall endeavour to give them some kind of exclusive. I am as yet undecided as to whether to wear hot pants for the photo shoot, like I did last time I appeared in the Examiner, in 2004 (see link).

Happy weekend!

My blog has a new home on the Huffington Post UK website. You can read it by clicking on this link, or click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/breast-cancer-20s_b_1951530.html

Here’s a preview:

For those of you who didn’t read the WordPress blog from the beginning, the new HuffPost blog is a good place to start as I go right back to the day I was diagnosed.

For those of you who have read the original blog from the start, please don’t dismiss the new one as there’s loads of original material and I’ve told the story differently. It might be a bit samey initially, but once I get up to the present day, both blogs will be aligned.

I need all the support I can get, so please click the button to become a Fan, follow me on Twitter @bigscaryCword and comment as much as you like on any of the posts! The more, the merrier!

Thank you all so much for your continuing love and support,

Laura

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