Category Archives: Share Your Story

‘My experience of the C word’ by Hannah Mills

My name is Hannah and I got diagnosed with breast cancer on 25 July 2015 when I was 25 which to many people is young but the C word has no favourites. When I got told I went numb and didn’t hear a lot else. My mum cried, but my words were “I’ll be ok mum don’t worry” and from that moment of being told what needed to happen I was like, right I am going to kick this and beat it! I was told I needed a lumpectomy at first in my right breast just behind my nipple, so I thought its been caught early yay. But after an MRI I was called back in to hear that it had spread very quickly all in my right breast and I needed a mastectomy and the nipple was being taken away too. So on the 13 August I went down to surgery at Ipswich Hospital ( that I’m afraid to say I’m no stranger to anyway) for my right breast to be removed and reconstruction at the same time. I had one of the top surgeons. She was outstanding from the beginning and through the post op process. I stayed in hospital overnight and was then able to go home. I had a drain still attached which was hard to deal with at first and I did try to keep smiling and laugh through the recovery of all of this. This was the start of a two week supposedly of my summer holiday as I work in a school.

I have a passion for fitness and zumba and swimming and baking and dancing. Well as i needed help with the simplest of tasks like getting dressed or going down stairs I started to find things very tough as I realised I was stuck on the sofa for weeks and I hated it. I was assigned a cancer nurse. She was amazing and always smiling and upbeat. Even when she told me the drain couldn’t come out after the two weeks she was there because i wanted to cry. The day the drain came out I felt free and even though it was hard to walk how I used to and still do basic things I was smiling again. I felt awesome! To celebrate this event I went to zumba. I watched of course but I felt normal even though I could not move my right side of my upper body. I was happy to be where i loved!

Chemo was next. It sounds scary. I had to have chemo for six months, plus a year of herceptin injections in my leg and five years of tamoxifen {another hormonal drug} on top of that. The cancer nurses were amazing and always smiled and there was lots of laughter. Which helped as it was a scary time. I Started my first chemo on the 25th September at 3pm. My aim was just to deal with it but I knew it would involve a cannula, and that for me was the hardest part of the chemo. I have been a pin cushion since I was born, so needles were my enemy. But my nurse was brilliant and made me feel calm and relaxed as she put the needle on my hand. She then had to give me 5 syringes of medication. The one I remember was a huge syringe with red liquid in which was the main chemo drug. I was given anti sickness and hair loss syringes. We chatted about what I loved doing and what I did. This often took a good few hours but I didn’t mind, I was happy. Odd, I know.

I started to make treats for the nurses each time I went up for my chemo. Which they loved and soon enough as the months ticked by, even though it was getting harder to put a needle in, I kept smiling. Yes, there were tears every time the needle went in, but i was fine after that. Soon enough January 8th arrived. It was my last chemo. I was so happy to have finished. However, the treatment was not over as the herceptin and tamoxifen started next.

The injections in my leg each month was not the hard part. The hard part was realising that my periods got worse and I ended up needing to have exploratory surgery to make sure I didn’t have cervical cancer. I was lucky and they could not see anything. I was sent to a place in Colchester to see about freezing my eggs ready for when my treatment had finished. I was told it was the easiest way to make sure I could have children. But it was not to be. I was given the news that i was going through early menopause which was triggered by my diabetes and the chemo. That had finished my chance of having children. I felt cross and frustrated and I hated my body. I thought I’m 26 years old and I can’t have children. This really does suck! Over time I got used to it. My herceptin had not worked so my amazing nurse specialist put me on zoladex for two years. It was in my tummy every month so when i thought i had seen the last of the cancer unit, i was back again. The two years went very quickly and it was working as the hot flushes and sweating started with a vengeance! March 22nd my last injection I made a cake for the nurses. It was a mixture of feelings as I had built friendships up over the last three years. I was sad to leave them but so happy to finish the injections.

With the side effects I was very lucky. I didn’t get many and I could eat just about normally. The chemo did affect me the second week each month. My skin was sore and I started to lose my hair. Just after the second round of chemo I knew I would. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen that fast. So my lovely hairdresser Dawn came to my house and shaved my head. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for a while. After one comment i decided to get some wigs and head scarves and I got used to it very quickly. I was able to zumba still and I loved it. If I could not zumba Gabi my zumba instructor told me to do it on a chair which was easier. This was for when I felt more tired and not able to stand for long.

July 25th 2016 a year since I was told I had the C word is now celebrated for a different reason. I was matched with my first guide dog Joy. She made all the injections and hospital visits and blood tests a lot easier. By this time my hair was growing back and I was getting my strength back so I was back to swimming competitively and zumba for a full session without using a chair all the time. I was nearly back to my full fitness yippee!!! In October 2019 I was told by the lovely nurse specialist that i should not have come off zoladex and tamoxifen so November I was given my first of five more years worth.

Now in 2020 the injections continue but I am a lot fitter more than i have ever been before. I had the C word, so I have embarked on a new fitness journey where I am now helping others become fitter and stronger and healthier in themselves. Plus my usual passion for ((Bounce)) and zumba continue with laughter and fun and full on gusto. Yes i still have five years left of treatment but I am able to do what I like. I am working full time and having a fun filled life and also looking into becoming a foster carer. Being told you can’t have children can be tough but there are other ways of having a child even if it isn’t naturally.

I do have days where I don’t want the hot flushes or the night sweats or just the fact that I still have treatment to have until I am thirty six. But that’s ok and normal too. I have an amazing family and awesome friends who are always there for me when I need them. I am so lucky! I hope that this will give someone the confidence to keep going with treatment or know that it’s ok to have a down or off day.

‘The Enemy Within’ by Lynne Ainge

It was November 2009. I had been studying for my MastersDegree in Health and Safety with Loughborough University, supported by my employer at the time. I was working as the Lead Health and Safety Advisor at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

I had decided to take some time out after my work and study on a Saturday and go to Ickworth House to make a Christmas wreath from vegetation from the grounds with a lovely group of people. I came home to Brome with my wreath, of which I was very proud. Very grubby from handling moss, holly and a few snails I leapt straight in the shower……….my life changed right there.

I have always kept a check on my breasts as per guidance and at 48 years old was too young for being part of the NHS mammogram programme. Soap on my hands, running them down my breasts and there it was. A small but definite lump. I was in shock and my brain went into overdrive. I kept feeling the lump but it was definitely not going away.

I finished washing, dried myself and can remember going downstairs and my late husband, Pete, knew immediately something was wrong. He was always someone who had the philosophy that worrying was not going to help and calmly said I would need to make an appointment for the GP when I told him and showed him what I had found. Not much sleep that night.

Lynne with her late husband Pete

Next day I booked the appointment and got to see the doctor straight away. He found that the lump was moving slightly and tried to reassure me and say that it could be a cyst as it was moving. He advised waiting until my menstrual cycle was over again as it can be linked to the hormones.

A couple of weeks later and I was back, the lump was still there and I was referred to the NNUH one stop breast clinic the following week. Simon Pain, my consultant, did the first check, I had a mammogram and because these were not conclusive, I had a biopsy of the lump. Anxious time then waiting.

Lynne with her consultant Simon

The next day I was at my desk in the H&S office at the NNUH, my phone rang, it was Simon, who said “can you come across and have a chat about your results Lynne”. That was the moment I knew that my cancer journey had begun.

Everyone was so kind and thoughtful but my husband was at home and I couldn’t ring him to tell him the diagnosis as I was sobbing at this point. Simon made the call. A close work colleague called Maxine came to be with me and we had to go back to the office and tell my colleagues. It was all a bit of a blur from there and to be honest I can’t remember the journey home except knowing that Pete was waiting for me at the door and we just hugged and cried together.

Not much sleep again but we talked and that helped. We knew that it would not be long before the operation to remove the lump but there were a few more scans, blood tests, lots of needles and poking and prodding before then.

I also had to go to my Graduation Ceremony at Loughborough University and was proud to receive my MSc in front of my husband and my Dad, however ‘my enemy within’ as I had called my lump, was the unwelcome guest at the graduation.

I had stopped the tears very quickly and requested that everybody treated me as normal. I didn’t want sympathy. My work colleagues were excellent and the in- house banter and jokes resumed. I quickly decided that Google searches about my cancer were banned and just used the expertise of the raft of specialists that were supporting me on my journey. The Breast Care Nurse team were really supportive and always responded if I had a question.

Each visit to the various departments for tests became a ‘moment’ My MRI scan was my ‘Madonna Moment’ as I dropped my breasts into what looked like top hats (rather than cones!)

My full body scan was my ‘beach moment’ as I imagined seagulls and the waves rather than clanking machinery. I had my ‘hot moment’ when radioactive fluid was injected for another scan.

Positivity was my way of coping, anyone that said something negative or said ‘well my friend had what you have and she did/felt/said……….. was politely asked to go away.

Everyone has a different cancer journey and whilst support from others who had been through a similar journey was goodI was not going to do something on the basis that somebody else did.

Christmas came and into 2010 and my date was set to remove the enemy within. My husband was very helpful in keeping my spirits up and insisted on waving a mars bar under my nose while I had been fasting since midnight and only on water!!

I walked to the operating theatre, was given my gown, my paper knickers and my surgical stockings. That was such an attractive look and being 5’2” and Simon, the Consultant, being 6’7” was in stitches as I was standing next to him, laughing and saying I was never going to forgive him for the humiliation!

After the counting backwards for the anaesthetic to work the next thing I remember was coming round and finding no drains fitted so I knew the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. Thankfully there was the option to remove the sentinel node at Norwich while I was under the anaesthetic and if clear then they did not have remove the others.

When Simon came to see me on the ward he told me that my doctor was right, there was a cyst, but it was above the malignant tumour. However, the tumour itself was small and he had taken it all away. My enemy within had become my enemy without! However bearing in mind it was January and very cold I think the pain from my nipple being taped down was worse at the time than the scar.

That night I was listening to my Josh Groban You are Loved (Don’t Give Up)  and You Raise me Up through my headphones and planning my escape from the hospital. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be a patient laying around in my bedclothes. I had bought a front buttoning cardigan that would allow the nurse access to see the wound, I was putting mascara on at 7am and had the requisite toast and tea and was not sick and had the necessary pee before discharge could commence.

All was good regarding the wound, I had take-out medication and could go home to recover in my own bed. From here on I kept up the attitude that I was now a cancer survivor not a cancer sufferer and was lucky as working in the hospital meant my appointments could be fitted around my working day.

I was then in the position of deciding if I wanted chemotherapy. I was not in the group were it would be definitely recommended and was not in the group where it would be deemed unnecessary. I saw this as another positive, I was back in control, not the cancer.

I weighed up the pros and cons, wrote it all down and decided that I would not have it. I was definitely having radiotherapy and my 17 session treatment plan was built up. Next step was the 3 tattoo dots to line me up. Also, the joy of knowing I had to stay the same size for the duration, diet on hold for nowafter a bit of comfort eating!

I had the early morning slot for which I will be forever grateful as you can’t use perfumes, soaps or deodorant when having radiotherapy. Lifting my arm to adopt the position for the ‘zap’ was not as bad in the morning for the radiotherapist as it would have been after a day at work!!

I had my treatment and then to enable me to make the transition from patient to staff member before heading back to the office I went to the Big C Centre. Ironically, I had been part of the design when the centre was built due to my job,and here I was using it as a patient. This was particularly helpful and the staff there made my journey through treatment so much better.

Thankfully, I am now 10 years cancer free. I have regular checks and of course I continue my self-checking in the shower. Without that in the beginning my story may not have been so positive.

Raising vital funds for The Big C

I continue to stay positive, do fundraising for different charities related to my journey, I am a Pink Lady on the Ladies Pink Tractor Road Run every year and am part of a breast cancer support group in Ireland too, where I have a holiday home.

Ready to start the Pink Ladies Tractor Run

Lynne July 2020