My daily journal of living with breast cancer

bright sideNick-with-hair-starting-to-grow-back
My daily journal describes the first three months of coping with breast cancer on a day by day basis. The journal includes living through diagnosis and treatment leading to hope in remission.

This record of my feelings during these dark days helped me cope with the shock of diagnosis. The journal starts on the day of my diagnosis and records the most difficult period of my illness.

During this period I go through surgery, suffer a serious post-op infection and undergo intravenous chemotherapy. I stopped writing my journal after 95 days when normality returned to my life. By this point, I became nothing more than a mundane record of my daily activities such as the school run and shopping. The final section Life after breast cancer brings my story up to date through my years in remission.

Two years elapsed after I first reported a lump in my breast to my GP before the official diagnosis of my cancer. I include the reasons for this delay in my daily journal entries. As the mother of two young children, BC turned my life upside down.

I soon underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumour and afterwards suffered from a severe post-operative infection. Given my age, I accepted every possible therapy to increase my chances of long-term survival. I endured chemotherapy, the removal of more tissue from my breast and several sessions of radiotherapy.

After these treatments I began a ten-year course of the drugs Tamoxifen and Letrozole to keep me cancer-free. I opted for cosmetic surgery to match up my boobs. Throughout this difficult period, I received fantastic support from my family and friends. The entries I made in my journal of the first three months are set out in the following posts. Each of these cover one week of daily entries.

Week 2 – B’day

Day 5 – Monday, 25 June 2007   The boys are on exeat today so we planned to do the cinema after Ella’s birthday party. John went to work at some ungodly hour keen to catch up on work. Carol … Continue reading →

Week 3 – Surgery

Day 12 – Monday, 02 July 2007   Last day before surgery. I don’t know whether to feel scared about it being my last day being healthy or pleased it’s all going to be sorted out – probably a bit … Continue reading →

Week 4 – Christening

Day 19 – Monday, 09 July   I had a really bad morning and major row with Lucy – I had to spend all morning re-ordering the Tesco Internet order as all she’d done was input a few things from … Continue reading →

Week 5 – Infected

Day 26 – Monday, 16 July 2007   It’s great to have a quiet morning just pottering about. The kids really do amuse themselves when the play with their cousins. Piet and John dismantled the marquis and Sue and I … Continue reading →

Week 6 – Oncologist

Day 33 – Monday, 23 July 2007   Slept a bit better but lay awake for a couple of hours after Joshie had been in for a five minute cuddle. John tossed and turned too. However he got up for … Continue reading →

Week 7 – Total relief

Day 40 – Monday, 30 July 2007   Kath left me a message whilst I was at Adventurelands to say my bone scan was clear! Total relief is only how I can describe how I feel. I rapidly texted everyone … Continue reading →

Week 8 – Chemo, Keano

Day 47 – Monday, 06 August 2007   Our first and only full day on the beach and we don’t wake till 10am – my fault really, John did try to wake me.  But then he wanted to go down … Continue reading →

Week 9 – Take your PIC

Day 54 – Monday, 13 August 2007   John very stroppy at breakfast and pre-occupied with getting to work. I drop the boys off and call at Adventurelands with Holly’s reference. John decides he will talk to me after all … Continue reading →

Week 10 – Losing my hair

Day 61 – Monday, 20 August 2007   Have a good four mile walk with Cath even bursting into a jog here and there.  The boys were happily enjoying football week ten till three and didn’t have any plans so … Continue reading →

Week 11 – The big party

Day 68 – Monday, 27 August 2007   Slept well despite the sore tummy.  Awoke with some residual backache but felt like a cloud had lifted as I didn’t feel that overpowering tiredness – Carol was cleaning away and John … Continue reading →

Week 12 – Race for life

Day 75 – Monday, 03 September 2007   Up early as the kids were desperate to open all their dozens and dozens of presents.  They had a great time – everyone had been so generous and the kids thought it … Continue reading →

Week 13 – Routineness

Day 82 – Monday, 10 September 2007   Up for school drop off sporting my medal of achievement which Josh made me wear!  Everyone was so impressed and I actually felt OK.  This soon deteriorated with the elation of my … Continue reading →

Week 14 – Journal’s end

Day 89 – Monday, 17 September 2007   Found the energy to go for a run with John which was great.  Still only four miles with some walking but we didn’t stretch ourselves at all. Even though I was a … Continue reading →

Life after breast cancer

This section brings my story up to date after the end of my daily journal on 23rd September 2007 through five years of remission in words and pictures.

For a few weeks I continued with the chemo, which was changed to an oral form, so that my hair started to return as stubble. The side effect of the oral chemo was that my hands and feet swelled up became red and sore – so much so it was difficult to walk or fasten buttons and zips.  We went to Centre Parcs in Cumbria just before Christmas and I can remember finding it a real struggle – I could only wear my Ugg boots and had to get John to fasten my jeans!  I couldn’t even go in the pool areas so found it hard to relax, but the boys had a great time.

My last chemo was on Christmas Eve and I had my next breast surgery to look forward to in the New Year. This further operation removed more tissue from around the site of my tumour, as analysis showed that my surgeon had not removed a sufficient margin of healthy tissue with the tumour in the lumpectomy. My first five weeks of radiotherapy had to be delayed till after the second operation as tissue would not heal properly once the radiotherapy had damaged the skin.

All of my treatments as outlined above in were completed within a year of diagnosis.  Throughout this period I was ever present on the touchline at my son's rugby and football matches. The person employed as John’s PA and subsequently manager of Adventurelands, a second Angela, excelled in the role taking much of the pressure off me so that I was allowed to recover from this year of treatments.  Thereafter I was advised to take the drug Tamoxifen for a few years and lose weight to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring.

Just over a year on from my diagnosis, John and I got to see Leonard Cohen at the O2 Arena in London. It was a magical evening – we were sat only a few yards away from centre stage – it's hard to believe it was possible to have such an intimate experience amongst over 20,000 people. We sat directly between two very famous movie people, but they weren't celebrities there – just another couple of fans. This completed a musical month as two weeks earlier John had taken me to see his guitar teacher, Stefan Grossman, play in a Pateley Bridge church for a local festival. The scale of these two concerts couldn't have been more different, but they were both very special occasions.

During chemotherapy I had had all my hair shaved off on my wedding anniversary, so one year later John and I decided to do something really special. On our tenth wedding anniversary, we had a vow renewal and basically got married again. It was lovely because the boys could be there as well as Lucy this time, so they could experience it too.

In the autumn our business, Adventurelands, had the unique distinction of becoming the only double Aspire gold award winner.  It won the categories for best food and beverage and best brand at a UK play centre.  A fantastic endorsement of the business that we had set up from scratch and opened a little over a year before I was diagnosed.

Later that year we went to India to visit friends in Pune and stayed for a short while in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.  It is truly appalling that so many of the lovely people who worked and lived there were senselessly slaughtered by terrorists three weeks after our visit.  Sadly, a year later, Pune was the subject of a less news-worthy attack on a restaurant popular with tourists that killed 17 people and injured many more.

Nearly two years after my diagnosis I had a cosmetic reduction of the healthy breast to match its size to the cancer affected breast.  John had tried to talk me out of this third round of surgery, but it really bothered me that I didn’t feel balanced – sort of one up one down.  Two rounds of cancer surgery had raised one breast, so I had a reduction on the larger lower hanging healthy breast that lifted it up to the same level.  As I'd also lost weight, I found I was able to wear clothes a lot better and started to feel so much more confident about myself.  Even John had to admit that I’d been right in requesting cosmetic surgery on a perfectly healthy breast.

As the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis approaches and I complete my 50th year on this earth, I continue to improve my fitness through exercise and fortunately remained in remission.  Furthmore I have seen the boys becoming settled at a school that will take them up to the age of eighteen and Lucy start work after graduating from university.

During these five years of remission I have continued to be a regular visitor to the Stadium of Light and can report that Sunderland AFC has managed to retain it's Premiership status for me throughout.  I'll be back at the stadium on in June 2012 with Bruce Springsteen, some 26 years after I first saw him in Roundhay Park, Leeds.  In fact I'll be seeing Bruce twice that week, as I'm also going to my first rock festival at the Isle of Wight the following day.  This all happens just a few days before my 50th birthday, when I also celebrate surviving till the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis.

The recent losses of my mother in law, John's uncle, the husband of one of our longest serving employees and two neighbours were not only very sad in themselves but also, coming soon after my own mother's stroke, very poignant reminders to me of my mortality.  IMGP3533These unhappy events do seem to come close to each other and unfortunately my medical background has already convinced me that I will die of cancer at some point.  I consider that it’s a question of when it comes back and I am resigned to it being in five, ten or fifteen years. 

John considers that I am overly pessimistic as his search of all relevant information on the internet indicates that with each passing year the likelihood of relapse reduces.  All I ask is that I'm around long enough to see my boys grow up to be self sufficient and happy individuals.  I am not being negative about this; it's just that I see this as the most likely outcome for me given that I had lymph node involvement.  I have taken this as a wakeup call and don't just drift through life now – I actually do enjoy it!