With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we at A Life in a Day saw it as a great opportunity to reflect on the stories we’ve heard and relationships we have built with patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Although it is one of the more well-known cancers, there are still various elements of a diagnosis, treatment and associated impact that are regularly unknown. We recently had one of our new Business Development Managers David Foster take part in our breast cancer experience:
“As someone who has personally experienced the A Life in a Day breast cancer program, I gained a rare insight into the challenges that both men and women may face. It was a thought-provoking and challenging experience, but at least I knew it would be over in 24 hours, unlike those who live with it for real. This experience led me to have a conversation with a friend who almost lost their sister to breast cancer, and I apologised for not understanding enough at the time. Let’s continue to have open and honest conversations about this disease and support those who are fighting it every day.”
Real patients and their journeys are what build our experiences, and so here are some insights into some of our breast cancer patient stories:
Charlotte, a breast cancer survivor, candidly shares her experience with hormone treatment, which brought on hot flashes. “My hormone treatment gives me hot flushes,” she says. “I can be fine, then suddenly I am burning up. It’s not a fever; it’s just so hot, and I sweat so much I have to change my clothes.” Charlotte’s journey reminds us that even unexpected challenges can be faced with grace and humour.
At just 31 years old, Charlotte faced a difficult decision about her treatment. “My nurse told me I was probably going to have to have a mastectomy because of the size of my tumor,” she explains.
“But she said if it did shrink back enough, they might suggest a lumpectomy instead. I haven’t spoken to my surgeon yet, but I would rather have the mastectomy. I don’t want to risk the chance of recurrence.”
Life After Treatment and Social Struggle
Charlotte shares her experience with the lingering side effects of her treatment. “I have many side effects from my treatment that have just not gone away,” she reveals. “I’ve got hemorrhoids from constipation, cold hands, and achy joints. I wake up most days feeling like I have flu. On top of that, I have fatigue. I am always drained and lacking in energy.”
Charlotte shares the challenges of social interactions post-cancer.
“We were invited to a friend’s wedding, but I was so exhausted we couldn’t go,” she admits. “I was disappointed, but I was also relieved. I don’t like seeing lots of people because while I know some will be amazing and not bring up breast cancer, I also know some people will do the whole ‘head tilt’ thing and not know what to say because they feel awkward.”
Natalie’s story reminds us of the profound impact a cancer diagnosis can have.
“The only words I can remember from that day are ‘I’m so sorry, it’s breast cancer,'” she recalls. “Then all of a sudden, I went deaf. I could just see his mouth moving, and everything around me was just going in slow motion.”
Katherine also shared her experience of coping with a life-threatening condition. “I have asked for a double mastectomy, even though I have no evidence of disease in one breast,” she reveals.
“The mental impact of living with breast cancer has made me feel like I have a ticking time bomb strapped to my chest, and I want it gone. I no longer feel like my breasts are mine.”
Beyond Breast Removal
Katherine shares her emotional loss after undergoing breast removal.
“I’ve never been confident in the way I look, but I was proud of my hair,” she reveals. “So, the most traumatic thing for me, other than losing my breasts, was losing my hair. If I had lost my breasts but kept my hair, I think I would have been ok.” Katherine’s experience highlights the profound impact that physical changes can have on one’s self-esteem and identity.
Lauren, who once lived a routine-driven life, shares a profound perspective on her cancer journey. “My life was 20 years of working and eating and sleeping,” she reflects.
“My friends were miles away, I didn’t give money to charity, I wasn’t really looking after myself, and my diet was crap. I hate the fact that cancer made me do it, but being diagnosed was a wake-up call at 40-years-old. I think a lot of patients realize, ‘I do not need all the money I was making; I don’t need all that stuff. This is what is important to me’. They have a kind of Eureka moment of, ‘actually I’m going to make some changes’. I just hope I stay well enough to enjoy my new direction in the future.”
Lauren recounts a perspective from a friend who battled metastatic cancer. “A friend of mine, who has now died of metastatic cancer, told me he was relieved on the day he was told it was back because he could finally stop waiting for it to happen.”
Insights from an Oncology Specialist Nurse
An Oncology Specialist Nurse sheds light on the challenging journey of breast cancer patients. “The side effects people experience very much depend on the treatment and the condition of the patient,” she explains.
“But a lot of breast cancer treatments are grueling and come with a lot of side effects. We’ve got some good drugs to help, but nevertheless, it takes its toll. Breast cancer patients tend to have quite a difficult experience.”
These are just a handful of patients who have given us their time and stories and we are extremely privileged to have met them all. We would like to thank all our contributors, who are able to share their strong journeys that offer deep insights into what it is like to think, feel and live like a patient.