Nurse can miss the signs too
My background is in nursing so I am always making sure I look after myself. I always examine myself and question if I am feeling something different. I never thought I would get cancer. I was feeling pain in my back in October 2020, behind my right breast, almost as if someone had winded me. It was so bad that when I called my sister or friends they thought I was breathless from having done exercise. This only lasted for a couple of weeks before I decided to see a doctor.
I know now that I shouldn’t have left it so long. Those two weeks were crucial. When I finally went for my appointment, both the doctor and nurse felt something and so I was referred to the hospital for another appointment. The breast surgeon felt the need to do a mammogram and ultrasound and I would get the results within another two weeks.
I got a few calls from the breast nurse but I was so busy with work I wasn’t thinking to answer it. You look back and think you’re so invincible, I should have answered the call straight away. When I finally went for the results I wasn’t thinking about cancer. Call me crazy but it didn’t even enter my head! My loved ones offered to come with me but I kept insisting I was fine. Even the nurse at the hospital queried why I was by myself and decided to come in with me to hear the results. That still didn’t trigger to me that it could be bad news.
My mammogram in 2019 was clear, I had no family history of breast cancer and the pain I had wasn’t one of the symptoms so commonly talked about. I had no reason for breast cancer to even cross my mind.
In the appointment the consultant just blurted out, ‘You’ve got cancer’. He asked if I had any questions and I said ‘No’. I couldn’t take it all in, it was like listening to some else’s diagnosis. It was most probably the shock of it all. As it turns out, my cancer was extremely aggressive, triple negative.
In the week from my original appointment to my diagnosis, my cancer had grown from 22millimetres to 83millimetres. If I had left it any longer, I just don’t know what would have happened to me.
After being diagnosed I could only think about what I would say to my children. My children aren’t young but I’m still their mother. My youngest daughter was very intuitive. She was right there when I walked in the door. It was so very difficult for them to hear my diagnosis, especially as it was only two days before Christmas.
We tried to put it out of our heads for Christmas but I needed to have an urgent MRI between then and New Year. It was all pretty scary.
Then the ball really started rolling. I had my first oncology appointment discussing what my treatment would be. A lot of people have a mastectomy and then chemo but as my cancer was so fast growing I had chemo first, to shrink it, and then would have a mastectomy further down the line. They wanted to start chemo right away but at the same time the doctors were worried I might have bladder cancer. As that could change my treatment plan we had to wait until that was ruled out, which thankfully it was.
So, on 22nd January, a month after my results, I started chemotherapy. In total I had 44 weeks of chemo, almost the whole of 2021. For me, chemo was incredibly bad. I had such severe side effects including mouth ulcers and sickness, I found it hard to eat and I also had chronic fatigue. It’s not just tiredness, it’s unexplainable. I also had severe neuropathy in my feet. I went for a walk with a friend in the rain and she kept saying her feet were soaking but my feet were bone dry. I got home, took off my shoes and a river of water flowed out. I couldn’t feel a thing! But the worst part was my hair. I’ve always loved my hair, it’s my expression of who I am. Losing that was really difficult.
Marina as a model in our Fashion Show 2022
I underestimated how much of a blow to my confidence and self esteem it would be. I cut my hair short and visited a wig shop in anticipation of what was to come when I started chemo. I met a lovely lady there who had been through chemo and asked her how quickly my hair would start coming out. She said 19 days. I giggled at how specific she was but she was spot on! Day 19 of my chemo my hair start falling out. I would cry in the shower while chunks of my beautiful hair was coming out. Even with short hair it was very distressing. It took a long time to come to terms with it but luckily, I had a lot of encouragement from friends and family.
I was very proactive during this time. It helped me to cope so I joined a lot of groups and forums. I talked to other patients with the same cancer and same treatments but they all had different perspectives. The thing that terrified me the most was having a mastectomy as I didn’t know if I could cope with the pain and I couldn’t make a decision about whether to get reconstruction or delay it for a bit. Having those lines of communication were so important during this time. I was then referred to The Nightingale, though to be honest I can’t fully remember by who or when. I must have had chemo brain!
From the moment I went to The Nightingale I felt at ease. The services I’ve been able to try have all helped me in different ways. Reflexology has been my favourite therapy. It’s helped me to relax and makes me feel so calm. Just like when you go to the hair dresser and tell them about your life and problems, Lisa, the therapist did that for me. People tend to ask, ‘Are you better now?’ Yes but it’s always in the back of your mind. It’s difficult not to think like that and change your thoughts. Counselling and Mindfulness can really help with that. You can’t always stay positive.
Going into The Nightingale I never had to worry about going in with my baldy head, No one is looking at you as if you’re different.
You feel you’re among people that are the same as you. Cancer can be a lonely journey. We all need someone in hard times and The Nightingale is the place to find that. The time you’re feeling really low, you can call and talk to anybody and they’re there to listen. There’s nothing to feel ashamed of, no matter what you want to talk about or need help with.
Through all of this, I feel like I am stronger and now I want others to know not to delay checking their bodies or going to the doctors. If something doesn’t feel right for you, please get yourself checked by a professional. Remember, any symptom that isn’t normal for you is a symptom something isn’t right. You can’t predict cancer, it can affect anyone at anytime. I had worked for 38 years with only 4 sick days.
If you are sadly diagnosed with cancer, you know where to go for support. The Nightingale has been amazing and now I tell everyone about them.
My sister even asked if there was one where she lives in Putney but there’s only one Nightingale!