• Caroline Burnish

It was a whirlwind of appointments and tests!

2020 was supposed to be the start of a new chapter for myself and my husband. I’m 43 and we have

three children aged 19, 22 and 25. It was going to be a great year. We’d just sorted our finances and the

children were old enough to look after themselves.

Then in mid January I found a lump. A friend at work had enlarged lymph nodes which turned out to be

nothing but it made me check myself. It was just a pea sized lump in my right breast. I'd had a cyst

about 10 years previously but this didn’t feel like that. I saw my GP and she also thought it was a cyst even

though I had my doubts. She referred me via the two week wait referral system and I got an

appointment at the beginning of February. I actually wasn’t that worried and the appointment at the

clinic was fine until the consultant said they weren’t sure what it was. He initially examined me and said

he thought it was cyst and I had two mammograms and then an ultrasound and a biopsy. I went back to see the consultant and he told me I was borderline for cancer and that the results could go either way.

So then it was a waiting game. I was to go back in 10 days. That was the longest 10 days of my life! Very little sleep and so much worry.

Results day arrives and I’m so nervous, very glad my husband could come with me at that point. It was

the news we were dreading. How could this be? I have breast cancer. It was all a bit of a blur after that

in the appointment. The nurse talked through next steps – probable lumpectomy and then radiotherapy

and tablets. Ok, I can do this. I was appointed my own breast care nurse who I could ring at any time.

And I was to have an MRI in the next week. Why did I need an MRI?

Now we have to tell family. We had warned them I had a lump previously. It was so hard telling our

children as they were old enough to know what it means.

Soon after I had the MRI and got an appointment through for the results and I was not ready for this. They found a mass in my left breast – much bigger than in my right and it has spread to one of my lymph nodes. I have bilateral breast cancer and I was going to need chemotherapy.

I was sent for more tests, biopsies, mammograms and a CT scan. All of this happened within the space of

a few weeks. It was like a whirlwind of appointments and tests. Then I saw the oncologist, who is lovely

and she explained everything. I was to have chemotherapy before surgery to shrink my tumours.

Wow! How can this be happening to me? I’m such a well person and I’m never ill.

I also had genetics testing done mainly because I’m an identical twin. I was so worried for her. The results

came through really quick and I had the all clear. My sisters and daughters need to have mammograms

early and just be more vigilant. Such a relief for us all.

My first chemotherapy was on 27th March, the beginning of lockdown. I had to do this on my own and

every one after. It was actually fine and I got through it. I had seven cycles, which floored me for most of

the time. Aches and pains and hair loss, tiredness and nausea, all part and parcel of the treatment. I

finished chemo mid July.

Mid August and time for surgery. I had four different procedures – left side mastectomy and full lymph

node clearance and right side lumpectomy with nipple removal and sentinel node biopsy.

The surgery went really well. The chemo did its job and it looks like I’m now all clear. I’m now

recovering and doing ok. Still really quite sore on my left side. Because of COVID I’ve had to do all my

clothes shopping online and I haven’t found a bra that is comfortable yet so I'm not wearing one, - luckily I’m still not going out to many places. I need something that’s not too tight but still supports and is made of really soft material. The back of my arm and my back are still really sensitive. Something that is pretty would be nice to make me feel a bit more feminine. A bra with just one cup would be good – I don’t necessary need a cup for my mastectomy side while I’m recovering. I’m quite small in the breast department so it doesn’t look that different with clothes on.

I’m continuing intravenous targeted therapy every three weeks until June 2021 and I’ll be on tablets for

the next ten tears. I’m also waiting for an appointment to start radiotherapy, hopefully in the next

couple of weeks. Because of COVID I couldn’t have reconstruction at the same time as my surgery so that is going to be next year sometime now.

So that’s me, so much has changed and it's all gone so quick. Still a long way to go but I’m so grateful it

was treatable and I’m over the worst.

Please ladies check yourselves regularly and don’t be afraid to see your GP for any new symptoms no matter how small.

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