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Irish Daily Star - August 2013
Finding a lump in my breast whilst on honeymoon was the last thing I’d have expected, I was 33 years old and the timing felt right to settle down, have children and start the next chapter in my life with my husband. I was naive to think that I was too young to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and I quickly dismissed the peanut-sized lump in my breast. I didn’t do anything about it for a month after until I spoke to a close friend and asked her to take a look at the lump, hoping she would reassure me that it was normal. Instead she encouraged me to simply go to the doctor to have it checked out.
What happened after seemed to move quite quickly; it started with the appointment to see my GP, being referred to see a specialist, having an ultrasound, biopsy and then within a few weeks, a diagnosis of an aggressive type of breast cancer.
Not having known anyone who had been diagnosed with any type of cancer before me, my family and friends helped me battle through the eight months of treatment including a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We weren’t prepared for the side effects and worries that we’d meet along the way, but we did it and got through it together.
Only years later did my close friends and family members feel comfortable with telling me about the ordeal that they went through during my cancer experience. Having no prior knowledge or experience of the disease; they didn’t understand the medical terminology or the process of treatment let alone what awful side effects I would undoubtedly experience. Ultimately, the consensus was that they felt totally helpless and unsure of the right things to say or do.
It dawned on me that the focus was all on me, the patient, and yet there was little to guide my friends and family. Having come through it all, I now have the answers to all of the questions that I (and all those who supported me) wanted answering. Fundamentally, I want to share my experience with the mothers, sisters, sons, husbands and best friends to women who have been diagnosed. It was imperative for me to break down the medical jargon into easy-to-understand explanations, providing tips and advice on how the patient would be feeling, how they could help and most importantly, to give them an insight into my personal experience so that they had first hand information.
That’s when I had the idea to write ‘Your Guide Through Her Breast Cancer Journey’, an easy-to-follow informative book that explained everything from diagnosis to coming out the other end. It breaks down the medical terminology into easily understood explanations telling you what the ‘Stages’ and ‘Grading’ mean. If she’s having an operation to remove the tumor, I explain the procedure and why a number of lymph nodes are removed for examination. Chemotherapy is commonly used as breast cancer treatment and the book explains the cycles, how you can prepare her for chemotherapy, hair loss and how to assist in reducing the side effects. These are all things I picked up along the way with tips including to use a silk nightdress over a pillow to reduce the friction of her hair loss against her pillow at night. Chemotherapy unfortunately leaves a rather unpleasant taste sensation as it affects the saliva and taste buds in the mouth; this can also result in mouth ulcers. Straws are great to have on standby that will help keep her hydrated whilst bypassing the taste of the fluid and also ice-cubes and plain water ice-lollies will help numb the ulcers and keep her mouth moist. Similarly, avoid sharp and crunchie foods or high acidic drinks like fruit juices, as these too can cause irritation.
Radiotherapy is usually given to only those women who have had lumpectomy surgery however those who had a mastectomy and had a high graded tumour, a large sized tumour or if cancer has been detected in the lymph nodes of the armpit, may also be given radiotherapy. To ensure that the radiotherapy rays are aimed directly to the affected area (and to not damage the healthy tissue) a small dot is tattooed to show the markings across the full breast area. This is so that when she goes for the radiotherapy treatment, the radiographer can align the dots under a laser beam line to ensure that the radiotherapy is applied to the same location every time. I also explain the side effects of the treatment and how you can assist in keeping skin irritations at bay.
The book also includes ideas for gifts, ways to keep her feeling positive and her spirits high, how healthy eating and supplements can assist in her recovery and a checklist for you to be prepared for treatment and help deal with the side effects. Throughout the book, I explain my experience within each section so you can read first hand about my journey and get an understanding of what she may be going through. I also end the book a section on how you can help her once she’s through the treatment and ready to start her life again, plus events throughout the country that offer support and courses to assist on her road to recovery.