Kati overcomes the difficulties of breast cancer treatment with resilience, love and the profound impact of shared experiences
Diagnosed with breast cancer at just 30 years old, Kati reflects on the emotional toll of treatment, the importance of love and the transformative power of connecting with a fellow survivor.
On Christmas Day 2021, just after I turned 30, I found my lump. I had stopped wearing bras, given the pandemic, but I thought I’d make a bit of an effort for a visit to my parents.
I put a wired bra on, and it didn’t feel right, so I took the bra off and I just felt a little lump. It was moving differently to the way I’ve had lumps before. I already knew this was something, especially as there’s a history of cancer in the family on my mum’s side.
I rang the GP in the new year, and I had to beg the receptionist to be seen. I got an appointment. I was then referred to the two-week breast clinic. I had a mammogram and a biopsy which really hurt because of where it was, right on the edge of my breast tissue underneath my armpit. My biopsy caused bruising and I had trouble with moving that arm.
They sent me home with a leaflet for fibroadenoma, but I knew it wasn’t that. A week later they asked me to go back to the hospital, at which point I knew I had cancer.
So, February 9th, 2022, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was on my own because we were still in COVID restrictions at all the hospitals. I did my entire treatment on my own.
My mum was parked outside the hospital. I got in the car, and she just looked at me. She didn’t say anything, and I just shook my head. I just burst into tears. She handed me a little caramel wafer chocolate bar to eat, which then became standard – every appointment ended with a caramel wafer chocolate.
I don’t smoke. I don’t tick any of the risk factors other than a family history of cancer. It was like I’d won a really bloody awful lottery and that’s how we referred to it the whole way through. I won a lottery you wouldn’t want to win. So we approached it with humour the whole way through.
It was stage 1, so really early, and it was a grade three tumour, which meant it was growing quite quickly. In the space between having my biopsy and then having my lump taken out, it had tripled in size.
I had surgery on March 1st. My mum stayed with us for three weeks to help out. For about two weeks after surgery, there wasn’t a single moment where I was on my own. The first time I was on my own, I decided to look at my own boob. I’d been getting Mum to take pictures before. I just bawled my eyes out cause it was way worse than I was expecting it to actually look, which made me feel angry about the cancer’s impact.
Originally, they’d never mentioned that chemotherapy would be a part of the plan, but because of the type of cancer and how quickly growing it was, they wanted me to have 16 weeks of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy. I wasn’t happy and I was just like this tiny little raging ball of anger. I was really struggling an awful lot with all of these emotions that I’m not used to feeling.
I wanted to use a cold cap but it didn’t exactly work. My hair started falling out really quickly, within my first round, which is quite rare. I had to be there that time for four hours, whereas the actual chemotherapy part for my first four sessions was only half an hour long.
The first round of chemotherapy was the worst two weeks of my life. I caught an infection that caused horrendous bone aches and one day I woke up and I could feel my skull all the way around my brain, I could just feel everything and it was so painful. I was curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t move.
My parents took my temperature, which was 39C – when you’re in chemotherapy if your temperature goes above 37.5, it’s considered life-threatening. My parents were begging me to let them take me to the hospital. And I said no because I was convinced I was dying and I thought, if you take me to the hospital now, I have to die alone in a hospital. Whereas if you leave me here, I get to die with you. I never voiced this thought process to them.
I forced myself to stay awake until 5:30 to see my partner Shane one last time. He came home and I gave him the biggest hug, and then I fell asleep. I remember thinking, if I don’t wake up, that’s OK because I’ve seen the people I love the most in this world. Then I woke up 16 hours later.
After that first round, everything was much better. I got a couple of infections and then the side effects, like nausea and hot flushes were horrendous.
Eventually, we shaved my hair on the 2nd of May. My hair had been falling out, so over the holidays when we had the kids, Alice had asked me to lay down and she brushed all my hair and found all my bold patches and she stuck lots of little gemstones and stickers to them so that they weren’t bold anymore.
After she’d done that, I felt a bit more ready that they were more accepting of what was about to happen as well. I woke up one day and I just knew it was time for my hair to come off. I rang my mum and dad, they came over and brought cake and non-alcoholic Prosecco.
Shane shaved it all off for me. After he did that, he told me to go upstairs and have a shower, and he’d come up and he’d get the last bits. Then he was like, I’ll go get you a towel. I went to turn the shower off and turned back around.
He was down on one knee in the bathroom. He said ‘will you marry me?’ And I was like, “what? What are you doing? I’m naked and I’m bald.” After five minutes, he said ‘just answer the question, Kati’ and I was like, ‘of course I’ll marry you’, and burst out laughing.
Radiotherapy was fine in the general scheme of things. I wasn’t any more tired and didn’t seem to have any of the normal side effects that come with it. After my last radiotherapy session, I walked out of the room and I just burst into happy tears because active treatment was over, even though I knew I still had a lot ahead of me, such as hormone therapy and other medications.
In March I decided I wanted to start exercising again because exercise has always been my way to deal with stressful things and cancer took that from me. So I went for a run but as soon as I started running I just cried. It was cathartic just releasing everything.
I went for that run and just cried. And I realised that for the first time in my life, I didn’t think I was going to be able to exercise alone. I put a post out on our local Facebook group, looking for someone in a really similar position so that they can understand what my body is going through in this process.
I met Shelley, who lives down the next road along from me and is six months further ahead in her treatment. When we met at the pub, we just hugged and cried and she was like, I can’t believe you’ve been down the next road this whole time. I was like, ‘I get it.’
It would have been so helpful if there was a service to connect people going through treatment who live in the same area, as it’s hard to find people your age going through this. We could have been going through chemotherapy at the same time. How easier would it been for us and our families to do that process together?
Shelley is the best addition to my life and we go for a run once a week. We go to exercise classes every week together. Every other week we go for like just a little coffee day and just hang out.
We both think about death all the time because we’ve come so close to it. It scares a lot of people because we talk very matter-of-factually about it. But to us, it is a genuine thing we had to face at one point.
I got so scared after I thought I was dying, I spent the rest of my time on chemotherapy building an emergency binder, so that if I die, Shane has everything he needs to look after the house, the pets and the kids. There’s a long list of where he can find all the insurance documents all the house deeds, anything and everything he might ever need if I die.
It’s honestly one of the greatest pieces of work I think I’ve ever done in my life. I wasn’t doing anything else in the time whilst I was lying on the sofa, feeling rubbish. I could’ve been watching crap on TV, or I could just be typing on my laptop, using the time productively, which I think helped me.
I had my first annual scan in March of this year, which was clear. I’m cancer-free as of now. I very much approach it that the cancer could come back. That’s a fact. I think a lot of people struggle with when I say if it comes back. I’m not prepared to live my life denying the fact that it could come back because if it does come back, it will turn our lives upside down again.