Deborah Blumfield's breast cancer diary
PUBLISHED: 14:16 13 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:48 28 February 2013
How do you cope when you find out you have breast cancer and how do you get your life back after treatment? Read part 1 of Suffolk mum Deborah Blumfield's inspiring account
Fromtwo boobs to one and back again
It was a Thursday night, and lying in bed reading a magazine held in my left hand, I had my right hand resting on my sternum, just smoothing the silky nightie I had on. Under my middle finger I felt a pea-sized lump just off my sternum, top left of my left breast. It was there, not fixed but not going anywhere either, round and smooth and firm. What was it? Over the previous 5/6 months, every time I cleaned my teeth the same thought would flit into my head what if I got breast cancer? and I would reply to myself No, I dont do that, why should I?
Feb 2, 2006
At work the following morning, sitting next to my friend Becky, I casually said I found a lump up here on my breast last night Get yourself down to the doctor now she hissed at me, correctly and assertively. So I duly phoned and happened to mention to the receptionist something about a lump and there I was, seeingthe doctorthat evening after work. Probably nothing to worry about, well get it checked out anyway standard procedure.My referral appointment came through for St Valentines Day, but I had to move it to a week later as we were off skiing for thefirst time with friends for half term.
Half Term Week Feb 2006
Great skiing, chalet good, the boys loved it as did I. However I kept waking in the night and checking to see if that pea was still there, yes it was.
Feb 21, 2006
Appointment at the breast clinic, saw the lovelyconsultant, also there was a student doctor and the breast care nurse. We went through the family history and my health,and the consultant felt there was a good chanceit was nothing, but sent me for a mammogram and biopsy just to make sure. The mammogram was an experience bit of a white knuckle ride initially but fine once you realise it was more uncomfortable than painful. The biopsy was done by a lovely lady doctor under local anaesthetic where she syringed out some tissue.
Results appointment at the breast clinic: What a surprise apparently I was one ofthree surprises that day I was diagnosed with oestrogen positive breast cancer and not only was my pea sized lump 9mm in diameter, the mammogram also showed a second area in the lower cleft quartile of my left breast which was pre-cancerous this shows up as white calcareous deposits.After the shock news I wanted to know why, but I shall never have the answer to that question just rotten luck. As a scientist with a degree in zoology that has been the hardest thing to have to accept, that I have the result but not the reason.
I was sent for another biopsy in the breast care suite, this time clamped into the mammogram machine for what seemed ages while biopsy needles were fired into the lower area these were painful and I was distressed after my news, but we coped.
Andrea the nursetook me through to a room and we talked about I cannot remember what, though I did feel she had me taped and it must have been about my boys (then 7 & 14), my job, family, the house, how serious it was, and as for the mastectomy I would need well! Single parent,two kids, age 46 and diagnosed with breast cancer.Why me?
My world had turned inside out and upside down, how do you get your head round this when you least expect it I believe it is called hope, expect the worst and pray for the best.The control freak andscientist inside me found it hard to make sense of it. Tears, anger, despair, what if? Why me? All jumbled up together. Still I had to get the boys to school, go to work and run the house.I remember getting up at midnight unable to sleep and padded down to the kitchen for a cup of tea and another read through all the information I had been given. The internet is a good source of information, but reading through tearful eyes is tricky and it all says the same thing in the end so I gave up. What an awful week: I had to tell the boys, my ex-husband Adrian (turned out to be really supportive) and of course work colleagues. My mind was not on work at all and I earned no commission in March. My mastectomy appointment came through for April 2. Age 46 and onlyone boob, how would I ever find a new man life on hold
Couldnt even talk to my mum, she was on holiday in Antarctica with one of my brothers. How do you tell your own mum you have breast cancer? There was no known family history on her side, though my fathers sister did have it and died when I was pregnant with my first child. Mum had had a fabulous holiday in Antarctica, so I left it aboutfive days after she got back before telling her and the rest of the family. I had got used to the idea by now so being able to put over the facts made it not too bad. However, I could hear her distress at the end of the call. Mum spoke to a friend across the road where she lived who had had breast cancer and lives to tell the tale, living a busy life and I understand she was a great help and support.
I saw Andrea the breast care nursethe next week too and she was brilliant, answered every question very honestly even down to the what if it has spread, how long would I have? (They keep you going for as long as possible with chemotherapy apparently). After the anguish and despair we got humour back into the conversation, she was excellent. Much more after this time I dont remember except telling your own mum is not easy. She agreed to come and stay to look after me as I wouldnt be able to drive after my operation. My car at the time was big trouble and broke down on the QE2 Bridge - Dartford Crossing on the way to visit friends and we had to be towed off! The Renault dealership was singularly unsympathetic.
April 2, 2006
Woken at 06:00, asked to shower and prepared first, ready for my mastectomy. Wheeled down to theatre, tearful and then for what seemed an age, kept waiting to go through the double doors into theatre well, the next thing I knew I was back on the ward!
Coming-to on the ward was awful, the emotions, the anaesthetic effects, at some point a nurse bought me a mug of tea but I threw it up all over the bed! Change the sheets and nightwear!The support of the other ladies during the day was terrific andone by onewe went down and came back in various states of grogginess.
The reality of what had happened really hit home over the next few days and with lack of sleep ( I am not good on a noisy ward) I got very low and tired, one lovely nurse made me a proper mug of tea in one if their china mugs much nicer than the brown plastic things.
I saw a breast care nurse who fitted me with a soft prosthesis to go inside my bras so it gave some form of shape under clothing. Later on I was properly fitted with a silicone one and specialist bras. Ive never spent that much on underwear in one go!The physiotherapist gave us exercises to do and I am glad I did, I have the same reach and stretch in both arms. Visitors were great and the flowers and cards were lovely and brightened up the ward and then at home - I was the last to go home on the Friday - it was good to be back in my bed in the peace and quiet of home.
I was off work for the rest of April; mum stayed with us forthree-and-a-half weeks and was fantastic: cooked, drove, cleaned and nursed! I gradually got more mobile and joined in doing simple things like peeling carrots and potatoes.
Id had a full lymph node removal and on analysis they were found to be clear so that the benefit from chemotherapy would be very small. In consultation with the consultant oncologist, we agreed on just a course of radiotherapy and Tamoxifen. The radiotherapy was 15 trips to Addenbrookes overthree weeks plus the initial visit for a scan and alignment tattoos.My first tattoos!I was back at work and doing mornings, driving myself there, having a treatment and towards the end going back to work. One day the electronics on the car suggested I hadfour flat tyres all at once Adrian came and rescued me! Another day I forgot my appointment and when reminded by a colleague, sped over to Cambridge and they fitted me in! That finished mid June and then life returned to normal! During our holiday in Worcestershire I slept a lot, looking back I was more exhausted by all of this than I would care to admit. Rested now, I was of the opinion that I had too much life to live,two great boys and was going to get on with the rest of my life. The critical illness insurance policy I had taken out a number of years before, soon after my divorce, paid out and meant I could reduce my work hours tofour days/week. That has revolutionised my life.
As my tumour was oestrogen positive the oncologist prescribed Tamoxifen, which I understand works like an anti-oestrogen, blocking the sensitive sites in breast tissue where oestrogen would link in and potentially cause the cells to become cancerous. So one pill a day started at the end of April. Reading the literature about this drug made me wonder how I would react to it. However, being a bit philosophical, I started the course (taken for the next 5 years) and thought - lets see what will happen. Not a lot to be honest! Had a few warm flushes in the first couple of months that was all. The main thing I noticed was that as a contact lens wearer, my eyes became drier and the lenses not comfortable to wear. Research on the internet proved fruitless, searching for information as a side effect of the drug and the optician was useless! Even joined the Breast Cancer Care website chat room with an enquiry, but had nothing back. In the July I eventually had to stop wearing contact lenses as the abrasion caused by lack of lubricating tears nearly bought about an abscess in the cornea. I was heartbroken after 28 years of lenses to be going back into glasses. Suppose it could have been worse. Still the Tamoxifen hasnt done much else except I do watch my weight and the extra I put on later was not easy to shift.
How do you get your head round having a new boob built when given a diagnosis like that? All I wanted was to be rid of the cancer and to carry on with my life. I had the information, had read about it but felt that I wanted to get to normal as quickly as possible for the boys sake. So I had a scar from bottom left into my arm pit and it healed nicely and faded gradually.Over time the wearing of a prosthesis and taking that out of its special pocket in the bra every night became a real chore, why couldnt I just take off and put on a bra like every other lady? Clothess buying was an issue as the fashions all become low-cut tops and as I had no cleavage, made choice very limited. Also every time you leant forward you ended up holding your cleavage area so that others wouldnt get a sight of half a flat chest.
After my annual check-up where we talked about it again, I saw Miss Canal the plastic surgeon in the summer of 2007 and she though it was possible, though a bit tight as there wasnt much of me! Yippee I thought initially, kept my figure, but then realised that getting a B cup from my tummy skin and fat would be a challenge! I now felt better to be able to make an informed judgement, even if it meant having my good breast reduced to match the reconstruction.
Threemonths later I saw Mr Morrison who had taken over Miss Canals work, and it was at the same time as the most fabulous publication The Boudicca Within by Elaine Sassoon hit the shelves during Breast Cancer awareness month. That made my mind up I wanted this done but in my time frame to fit in round the family. I gathered my thoughts and in the April I saw Mr Morrison again and put my name on the waiting list, which at 18 weeks would take me through to late June early July so I could have the summer off with the boys. The family rallied around, Adrian would have the boys while I was in hospital for the week then my lovely mum came up trumps again and agreed to come and stay and be chief cook and bottle washer, taxi driver and nurse etc! I would needsix weeks off work this time including the week in Addenbrookes. Work wereokay about itand I had a zero budget scheduled for the summer of 2008.
A week before admittance, I had a pre-op check at Addenbrookes which included cardio checks, photography, blood tests and a good talk to adoctor who went through all the things that can go wrong as well as what can go right. When he asked how old I was I knocked off 10 years, felt good but had to own up to being 48!
Read more of Deborah's diary next week