Fi, raising awareness of breast cancer treatment that leads to early menopause
After finding a lump, Fi went through a challenging breast cancer treatment programme that has led to an early chemically-induced menopause aged just 44. Fi would like to share her personal story with a hope to raise awareness of breast cancer and menopause.
I was just an ordinary working mum with two boys. I was oblivious to Breast Cancer and had no idea about checking my breasts, until a couple of my friends – one of whom had just been diagnosed – started posting on Facebook ‘how to check your breasts’. So, I checked for the first time ever, and found a lump in my right breast.
We had just returned from a beautiful, relaxing family holiday in Turkey. I was applying sun lotion daily, and wearing a bikini, I just did not feel the lump! The day we arrived home, I checked my breasts, I was so shocked to discover a hard lump in my upper right breast.
Seeking advice from a dear friend a couple of days later, she pushed me to discuss with my GP. The GP referred me straight to the breast clinic at my local hospital. By this point the lump was quite prominent although doctors had put the swelling in my breasts and high fatigue levels down to an underactive thyroid previously diagnosed some years earlier.
I had to sit tight, wait two weeks for my first breast clinic appointment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all hospital appointments were mandatorily on an individual basis, but my best friend kindly drove me and waited in the hospital car park.
During the appointment at the breast cancer department, I had a mammogram, followed an ultrasound scan after which the doctor said they believed the lump was benign. I was subsequently sent for a biopsy and told there and then that it was breast cancer, although officially they could not confirm diagnosis until the results were back from the lab and a letter had been sent to my home address. The breast cancer nurse called my friend to come up from the car park, I was devastated and in shock.
There was another two-week waiting period for my surgeon appointment, and following from this meeting I was booked in for a lumpectomy the next week. In the first operation they removed five lymph nodes as well as cutting out the cancer lump, and they discovered a 13mm growth grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.
Unfortunately, because the cancer cells had been growing so fast, they could not clear all of them. Three weeks later I was back for my second lumpectomy which was at a different hospital due to high COVID numbers inside my local hospital.
I was only just recovering from my first major breast operation to then have another, which was tough. I found having my lymph nodes removed so painful.
However, the breast care unit were unbelievable, as was my surgeon. I was often in her office in floods of tears. She looked me in the eyes and say “Why the tears? We are going to fix this. We’re going to cut the cancer out and it is going to be okay,” which was encouraging.
“Why the tears? We are going to fix this. We are going to cut the cancer out and it is going to be okay”
I started on Tamoxifen a month after the operation – it was now Christmas 2020, the new wave of COVID-19 had hit hard, and another lockdown was on the horizon. Radiotherapy treatment followed in early February 2021, for three weeks, 15 sessions. Towards the end of my Radiotherapy, I developed an upper body rash and swelling in my right upper arm. It sadly turned out to be a large blood clot in reaction to either the Tamoxifen or the radiotherapy. This is an exceedingly rare response to the breast cancer treatment, so rare I became the first case at my hospital in over a decade!
I was so poorly for the month following, a horrendous raw hive irritation over my upper body. Due to the reaction my radiotherapy sessions were cut short and they halted the Tamoxifen treatment, which resulted in two months of no breast cancer treatment whatsoever to allow my body to heal and recover from the reaction, which was very frightening.
At the time of writing, I am on monthly Zoladex injections with 1 mg of Anastrozole daily, both of which close the oestrogen drivers, pushing me into a chemical-induced early menopause, which I never expected to be going through aged just 44. I feel fortunate that I already have my two adorable boys. I always dreamt I would have another child, but this is very final.
A review with my surgeon in December to discuss reconstruction options is next, Currently, there is no evidence of the disease in my breasts at this moment in time.
It is especially important that you can learn to love the skin you are in no matter the shape or size.
Cancer has left me feeling as though I was on the moon for the past 12 months, having an out-of-bodily experience, my life split into ‘Fi past’, ‘Fi cancer’ and ‘Fi now’. This has affected me both physically and mentally. I am trying to remain fit and healthy by swimming, lifting weights at the gym as well as eating a ‘rainbow diet‘ as suggested by my oncologist. Trauma counselling helps. I also practice meditation and mindfulness which are a wonderful coping mechanism, reading self-care books help to calm a busy mind. Reflexology alleviates my monthly cancer treatment anxiety.
My family’s support has been incredible. We have decided not to discuss with our boys concerning my breast cancer. We went through the lockdown, pandemic, home-schooling and we felt this was enough for the boys to deal with at such a young age.
My heart is with all the cancer patients going through treatment within the COVID-19 pandemic, attending appointments and operations completely on their own, which is tough, as well as not being able to use the wrap around care packages and aftercare courses the NHS offer.
My understanding of breast cancer has certainly changed. I promised myself to stay as fit and healthy as possible, to increase awareness of primary and secondary breast cancer, the menopause and how they relate, there is just not enough awareness and support for both men and women.
Follow Fi on her Breast Cancer Awareness journey @team_firaisingcancerawareness on Instagram.