My cancer journey - update!
World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4 February, with the aim to raise awareness of cancer and to advocate the importance of screening, prevention and treatment.
In 2022, Karen, a Senior Business Analyst at the NHS Business Services Authority, shared her personal cancer story as part of World Cancer Day. Today, Karen takes to the blog again to share a positive update on her cancer journey and why you shouldn’t ignore your screening letter.
Back in 2012, my Integrated Care Board (then known as a Clinical Commissioning Group) was involved in a trial where they were inviting people for their breast screening appointments who were younger than the normal invite age (from 47 instead of 51).
As part of this trial, I attended my first breast screening appointment without giving it much thought. I had always known screening was important in the early prevention of cancer but in my case, I was experiencing no symptoms and wasn’t expecting much to come from it, rather than the safety to get checked ‘just in case’.
If you’d taken a read of my previous blog, you’d know that the results that came back were not what I was expecting from what I considered a ‘routine appointment’. After further biopsies were taken, I was told the difficult news that cancer had been found in my right breast. Suddenly my whole life changed in instant.
Treatment included a lumpectomy and lymph node removal, followed by a course of radiotherapy and hormone suppressants. Fortunately, by the time the cancer had been detected it was determined as ‘Stage 2A’, which meant it had been detected early and at that point, it had not spread to my lymph nodes. It had responded well to treatment and luckily I had been given the all-clear.
An update to my story is that now, nearly 12 years on, all screening is still showing ‘no evidence of disease’ which essentially means that I am cancer-free.
Don’t get me wrong the anxiety is still there and I still have a wobble when I experience symptoms that could indicate a reoccurrence, but I always get things checked out quickly to put my mind at ease, which I think is best. Catching things quickly, if there is anything to catch, always works towards a better outcome.
It was suggested to me that finding my cancer at screening prevented it going unnoticed and it could have spread, maybe until it was too late for treatment. Attending that screening appointment was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Family and friends were of course a massive support while I was going through my treatment, checking in and there if I needed them. As soon as I left the hospital appointment where it was confirmed that I had Breast Cancer. I wanted to let my family know what was happening (I wouldn’t have been able to keep it to myself) and it would also allow me to ask for help or support if I needed it. Telling my daughter was one of the worst things I had to do, she was 24 at the time but I can still picture her face now.
Throughout my time going through treatment and early recovery I joined a Breast Cancer Now website where they had groups set up for people going through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I joined a group where we had all been diagnosed at the same time but were diagnosed with disease at different stages. Every day we would log on and post about what we were all feeling that day and support each other, sharing what was helping/working for us about a particular topic etc. That sharing of experience was helpful, and I felt I could share things with those people, who I had never met, sometimes better than I could share with my nearest and dearest. The website also has a helpline where you can ring up and ask specialists for advice, which I did on a couple of occasions.
Later on in my recovery, I attended a session with Look Good Feel Better who are a national Cancer charity that run free workshops at Cancer care centres and hospitals (as well as virtual workshops now) across the UK. The workshops are led by trained volunteers in the beauty industry and provide practical advice about changes to skin, eyebrows, eyelashes, hair, nails, and body confidence. It’s a challenging time managing the physical effects of Cancer, but the workshops offer an invaluable opportunity to meet others going through a similar situation.
I think my most important message is that if you are invited to screening (for any type of Cancer), please take the opportunity to go along and take part, even when you are experiencing no symptoms which was the case for me, you never know it could save your life too.