My experience with breast cancer started when I was on an overseas trip to Europe for three months. It wasn’t until halfway through that I noticed a lump in my right breast. At the time I didn’t really think much of it, I thought maybe I’d banged my breast against something (we’d just visited Disneyland so I thought maybe I’d done something on the rides in all my excitement!). So I didn’t have it checked out until I returned from my trip.
At first, I was told that it was most likely a cyst. Given my age (27 when I was diagnosed) and no pst history of breast cancer in my family, it would have been unusual the lump actually being a cancer tumour. After an ultrasound, biopsy and mammograms, a month later I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. From the day I was diagnosed (October 26th 2017 - that date will stick with me for a long time) everything felt like a whirlwind and before I knew it I had CT scans, bone scans, appointments with a fertility doctor and an oncology appointment booked in, all in the space of one week.
I was told that I would be having 6 months of chemotherapy and then surgery to remove the remainder of the tumour. The type of surgery hadn’t been determined yet as I also had to undertake genetic testing to see if I carried the cancer gene - BRCA1 and BRCA2. I don’t have children and given I am young, fertility was an issue and could be affected by the chemotherapy. So I undertook fertility injections and had the procedure to have eggs removed. I also had six injections of Zoladex over the course of my treatment to protect my ovaries.
The following day was my first round of chemotherapy. I had 4 rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks to start. This was probably one of the toughest parts. After the second round, my hair started to fall out. This was a pretty emotional time but to anyone going through it, the one thing I’d recommend is to take control of it as much as you can. Shave it off. As soon as it starts falling out, grab a friend (my sister in my case) go to the hairdressers or do it at home and get rid of it. It was hard but it was probably the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. There’s not much you can control during your journey but this is something that you can take hold of and I learnt that in a hard but amazing way.
I’d found out during my treatment that I tested negative for the BRCA gene and once I’d finished my six months of chemotherapy, had a right mastectomy, direct to the implant. I found this was a pretty hard decision to make, whether to have a lumpectomy and just remove the tumour or to remove all the tissue and replace it with an implant. This is a personal decision and I found the implant was the best choice for me.
Unfortunately, when I was having my last few treatments of chemo I had found the lump in my breast had grown. One thing I would really recommend is to keep an eye on the tumour even when you’re having chemo just in case any changes occur. As a result, my surgery was brought forward and once I had recovered from surgery I was put on oral chemotherapy tablets Zoloda for another 6 months.
My hair started to grow back so I no longer had to wear wigs (even though I did like rocking some new styles and being a brunette) but it was nice to have my hair back. I also didn’t need to draw on my eyebrows anymore which I found quite hard and some days ended up looking like agro from Sesame Street, now I look back and wish I had Jo in my life to show me how to draw on eyebrows. Slowly I started to feel a little bit more like myself. Nine months later after my last treatment my hairs down to my shoulders, I have a new job, I’m fitter than ever because exercise has helped me become stronger both emotionally and physically and I’m feeling more like the old me, just a lot stronger, wiser and resilient!
I can’t thank my family and friends enough for their amazing support during all of this and I’m so proud to be a part of a program that will help support, guide and give confidence to women who will experience the same journey.
Stay strong because you’re amazing xx
By Sarah Watkins