Coping with breast cancer treatment, Tina created and launched her own business
Tina was fifty-five when she found a lump whilst on holiday in August 2018.
I never usually go into the swimming pool as I don’t like getting wet but as it was so hot my eldest daughter Lucy insisted that we had what she called family swim time. I knocked against a float as I jumped into the pool and I felt something. It didn’t hurt but something about it made me swim straight over to my husband and tell him.
I got out of the pool and phoned my GP surgery. Bearing in mind I had no relationship with them as I never really went, I was surprised that a doctor phoned me straight back. We were returning home the next day and the doctor booked me in for an appointment that afternoon. Still, I didn’t read too much into it.
At the appointment the doctor said that she could get me a referral appointment in ten days. My husband suggested that we try and get a referral sooner though his private medical insurance. Indeed, The London Clinic could see me the next working day.
My initial appointment was with the surgeon who examined me and booked me in for a mastectomy on the 1st September, just to keep the place in case I needed it. The next two weeks consisted of more scans, tests and biopsies. At the end of August, I heard the words ‘we have a cancer diagnosis’.
I now have a fear of walking through the doors into the consultant’s office. It seems that every time I go in there, I receive bad news.
The tumour was triple negative and measured 5cm. The cellular turnover was strangely slow, suggesting that the tumour would have been there when I had a mammogram in November 2017, but due its fibrosity it was not detected. Because of this, I would strongly advise anyone who notices anything suspicious to get it checked out, even if they’ve recently had a mammogram.
My treatment plan started with chemotherapy and so I was fitted with a Port-a-cath on the 1st September. On the 3rd September I started the EC chemotherapy which I would receive every three weeks for three months.
The team thought they administered the drugs too quickly on the first round as not only did I struggle to walk to the car but I started to hallucinate whilst my husband was driving me home.
It was my 56th birthday a couple of days after my first round of chemotherapy. My husband and I went to Ikea for a few items and I remember sitting in the restaurant, eating a prawn and egg open sandwich and just thinking ‘today is a good day’. Feeling better was like a birthday treat, I had managed to get out of the house and walk around the store, albeit still in a bit of a daze.
I developed a system to help me manage the subsequent rounds of EC. I always had the chemotherapy as early as possible on a Monday morning as it took about five hours. I would travel up on the train and my husband would pick me up. I would then have a cup of tea when we got home and before I made dinner for the family.
I made sure I got up every single morning and took the children to school. Because I was on steroids for three days each cycle, although I felt terrible, I was energetic and it felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do.
We started naming the days; Manic Monday and Turbo Tuesday. Then came Weepy Wednesday when as if by clockwork I would be tearful. This upset the children to begin with but then we found that this was just something that happened every Wednesday. I’d then experience flu like symptoms on the weekend, but after that, the two weeks in between cycles I felt quite normal.
I lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes very quickly. I chose to wear a wig as I didn’t want my cancer to go before me. I bought my wig from Hair to Ware and chose a synthetic one as my hairdresser told me that real hair wigs were very heavy and needed to be maintained by hairdressers whereas synthetic ones don’t.
I then received Carboplatin and Taxotere (Docetaxel) every week for twelve weeks. This caused my nails to dislodge from the nail bed and the pain would wake me up in the night.
I recovered well from my lumpectomy, only staying in hospital overnight and stopping the painkillers the day after. I chose to do this as I thought that being aware of the discomfort would make me less likely to knock the area.
One month later I started radiotherapy and it may sound silly, but I loved it. I was going into London every day and rather than feeling tired, I felt energised.
Just before the chemotherapy started, I’d given up my voluntary work at the food bank and the children’s reading scheme that I founded due to risk of infection. I found myself at my desk with a piece of paper thinking ‘I’ve given these things up, what am I going to do now?’
I started writing ideas down and I came up with renting luxury handbags. I saw the business as moving against fast fashion and supporting the sharing economy. The first item I bought was a black Chanel bag from Harrods and after that investment, I bought a handbag almost every day of my radiotherapy treatment.
After thirty days I had finished radiotherapy and thought that marked the end of my treatment. Instead I was put on another six months of chemotherapy, this time Capecitabine (Xeloda) which is taken in pill form every third week. I hadn’t bargained for this at all.
One of the known side-effects of Capecitabine is palmar-plantar erythema (hand-foot syndrome) and there were days that I couldn’t bear to put my feet on the ground. I was told that the side-effects were a sign that my body was metabolising the treatment. Once I had that information, as I was determined for it to work, I tried not to vocalise the severity of the side effects.
This treatment finished on the 6th December 2019 and just before Christmas I went to have a scan before I saw my surgeon. Once again, I thought that I would be told my treatment had finished but a suspicious area was found in the same breast, so I had a biopsy there and then. When the results came back, they were inconclusive so I had to have another biopsy this time guided by MRI. By the 5th of January 2020 I received confirmation that It was just a calcified cyst.
‘I now have a fear of walking through the doors into the consultant’s office. It seems that every time I go in there, I receive bad news.’
I never thought I would be a candidate for breast cancer as I have no family history, I’ve never smoked, very rarely drink and have never tended to gain weight. But it’s not a question of ‘why me’ it’s a question of ‘why not me’ because we all know people who have been affected by it. Infact, one of my friend’s husbands said to me ‘cancer is something we all need to take responsibility for as it is so common’.
Looking back, I think I’ve been extremely lucky. I now know I don’t have the BRCA gene mutations, I was never hospitalised, and my treatment was never deferred due to illness.
Everyone I’ve met has been wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from my husband. He has been so supportive of me and never complained once, even when he had to go to the pharmacy five times in one day. I draw a lot of strength from my mother in law too, she is just incredible.
My daughters Lucy and Tilly both offered me huge support whether it was a well-timed hug, a heartfelt note or an honest appraisal of my attempts at drawing eyebrows! They are amazing girls and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
Having two teenage daughters was a massive benefit as it motivated me to be a positive role model in how to deal with difficult life experiences. I felt I had messed things up for my daughter Lucy who was finishing her A levels and looking at Universities last year. When she didn’t apply, I thought my diagnosis influenced that in some way. But she applied a year later and has just been accepted to Cambridge University!
Now I’ve moved on emotionally from the cancer, I want to help. When I saw Against Breast Cancer’s website and learned about their bra recycling scheme, I knew this was the place for me. Bra recycling is such an easy thing for individuals to do, but collectively it can make a big difference.
I find it so compelling that medicine has moved on so much that most breast cancer related deaths are associated with secondary spread, so if the spread can be prevented, something can be done to reduce these deaths.
Tina is asking her customers to consider donating an unwanted bra when they return their luxury handbag rental. To find out more about this innovative scheme, visit www.bagbutler.co.uk