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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: My Breast Cancer Story

Author: Kelly Sallows-Cole, Commercial Director at Healthy Performance

Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Wear it Pink day, always prompts me to remind my friends and my loved ones to check your boobs! If I have learnt anything over these years that is; you are never too young to get Breast Cancer. You don’t have to have a family history and breast cancer can cause pain!

I will try and be brief but let me share my story with you in the hope that someone reads this and a small part of it will resonate.

In Feb 2009 I found a lump on my right breast and, almost under my armpit. It was a very small hard lump that hurt and radiated up my arm causing pain. Over the previous 12 months, I was being treated for a ‘rotator cuff injury’ and was experiencing severe pain in my right shoulder and couldn’t lift the weight of my own arm. The pain woke me at night, and I would have to pick my arm up to move it.

After no successful treatment, I was referred for a consultation and the X-Ray showed the presentation of Calcium. I underwent a procedure to break down the calcium (which was horrendous I might add) with a view to alleviating the symptom.

Fast forward back to Feb 2009 – and this lump. I presented to my GP. With no family history, I am only 39, he felt it was unlikely this was anything to be concerned about but would send me to the Breast Clinic to be safe.

Just over 2 weeks later, I present at the Breast Clinic. The breast consultant checks my breasts and said the reason I can feel the lump is that I am slim and I had been playing with it (true I might add, but when you find a lump, you do keep checking it’s still there!).  She was very nice and told me that there was nothing to worry about and to get dressed.  I was ready to accept this, however, my mum wasn’t (who probably saved my life!)  She insisted that whilst we are here, to send me for a Mammogram. Reluctantly, the consultant said yes.

30 mins later, an ultrasound, and a needle aspiration I am being told I have cancer. I didn’t see the first consultant again; I saw the Oncologist and a wonderful Macmillan nurse whom I am still friends with. He explained, we know it is Cancer, a ‘busy’ one was his words. but we do not know yet more than that. I needed surgery to remove it and then we would know more.

The next two weeks were a blur as I waited for blood tests and for my surgery date to come through, meanwhile knowing that I have this ‘cancer’ inside of me and not knowing how bad it was, thinking the worst all the time. Every movie I had ever watched about Mothers, Sisters, Friends dying of cancer were replying in my mind repeatedly.

A few weeks later, I had the surgery, a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy to see if or how many nodes were involved. When I came round, the surgeon told me that the tumour was located quite high and near the back of the breast which is why I was experiencing pain when moving my arm. The lifting movement, rotation and weight were aggravating the tumour due to where it was. It was likely as to why there was also calcium found in my breast and in my arm too.

There was a long time to wait following the surgery as the tumour went for a full biopsy and staging and this waiting time felt the longest and most anxious of them all. The day finally arrived, and I went to the appointment with my mum and my partner feeling so anxious and overwhelmed not knowing what to expect.

The Oncologist was with the Macmillan nurse, and he explained, I had the rarest type of breast cancer you could have. Of course, I did!  It was Grade 3 Triple Negative BC, which means it is harder to treat and has a higher recurrence rate. It was fast growing and although I only had a few nodes involved, we needed to throw everything at it quickly. The only options for me were Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.

The rest of what he said was a blur. I just remember saying these words (in this order) ‘will I lose my hair’ and ‘am I going to die’. The Consultant calmly replied, ‘yes, you will lose your hair’ and no you are not going to die’. That was all I needed to know because everything else I can deal with, and I did.

I am not going to lie, Chemo was tough, I had three different types, each one giving me a different side effect.  The first one was a bit of a breeze, but the second one hit me like nothing else. I wish I could have just laid in bed for weeks, but I had two sons who needed their mum so every day we pushed through, survived each week of chemo, felt fit again, only to go through another cycle and feel like I was dying all over again. But we did it.

This may sound extremely vain, but nothing will prepare you for losing your hair in so far as it is not like you imagine. It isn’t just the hair on your head, and no one told me how sore it would be.

You lose hair EVERYWHERE. I lost my eyebrows, my eyelashes, my forearms, and my nose hair, I would be talking, and my nose would just run on its own as I had no nose hair to catch it. Just things you don’t think of AND the strangest thing for me is, I didn’t lose my leg hair, so I was as bare as a newborn baby everywhere with hairy legs.

I decided to shave my hair off myself; choosing to go short, then GI Jane before taking a razor to it.  Never did I imagine how sore it would be when your hair falls out. After my second Chemo, the hair follicles were prickly and although my hair was very short, it was like laying on a bed of needles, so out came the razor and then no more pain, just a very very white head (fake tan sorted that though).

Radiotherapy for 4 weeks followed Chemotherapy and then it was all over. Within 10 weeks my Cancer treatment was over, and it was time to get back to living again.

Life after cancer is very different to the one before. Cancer changes you not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.

This year marks my 10th year of being cancer-free and I feel completely humbled by the people I have met over the years and sadly the friends I have lost to Breast Cancer but one thing I know for sure and that is I wouldn’t have chosen another path for me. I was grounded to a halt, and it was a reality check to take more care of my health and my wellbeing.

Every day I wonder if the cancer will come back and I live with but know that I do everything I can to live a healthy life for me and my family and feel so very lucky to work in an industry that I am truly passionate about making a difference to people’s lives, not just now but also for their future health.

Being part of the Healthy Performance family means that we are lucky enough to receive a health assessment every year. Recently, along with some of my colleagues, I received mine and it was fantastic! Let me tell you why…

When living with chronic pain and fatigue, as well as having gone through all of the above, I can often feel pretty rubbish, tired and in pain. What my assessment did is tell me that in actual fact I am doing REALLY well. Not just that, but it gave me a real boost in confidence in my health. I feel so overwhelmed and genuinely thankful that we are offered health assessments – they aren’t just about identifying potential risks in your future health, but sometimes it is about confirming that you are doing great and you are going to be okay!!

To find out more about Onsite Health Assessments, please click here.

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