Breast Cancer at 34
My breast cancer story.
I first noticed a lump in my breast in October last year. I’ve always described my breasts as a bit “lumpy” much to my friends amusement, so I didn’t think too much of it. Afterall, I thought, breast cancer at 34 is quite rare.
However, by November 2020 this all changed. My breast started to feel a little tender. It was painful in my nipple if I did burpees, or if I slept on my front. By this point I knew that something was wrong. However we were in another mini lockdown in the UK and Covid cases were rising, so it didn’t feel appropriate to seek medical support. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Just before Christmas I called my doctors and arranged an appointment for early January 2021. Following this appointment, an urgent referral was made for the breast clinic.
My breast cancer diagnosis.
I got my actual diagnosis on the 28th January 2021.
Going into hospital that morning I was treated like a routine new patient who had found a lump. I was in the hospital for four hours that day. Firstly I was given an ultrasound, two different types of mammograms and nine biopsies were taken from my right breast. But they didn’t need to wait for the biopsy results because what they saw on the screen was obvious to them that it was cancer.
They found three different areas of concern.
There was a large mass behind my nipple, there was the lump that I could feel at the bottom of my boob and my lymph nodes. Whilst the biopsies were being taken, the woman doing them asked me which lump had brought me in and I said the one at the bottom of my breast. She said, “that’s funny, that’s the one we are not concerned about it is the mass behind your nipple that is cancer and the lymph node”.
As it turned out all three were cancer.
So I had nine biopsy samples and all nine came back cancerous.
From there I went back up to meet my consultant and I spent maybe half an hour with her, roughly talking about what my treatment would look like. Then I met my breast care nurse who gave me an idea of what the next steps would be. I was given a rough idea of the next steps but for them this was also brand-new news. Until they had the results back, they didn’t know what kind of cancer it was for example was I hormone positive.
Was there a plan for me?
They didn’t know what the plan would be exactly, but the rough plan was either surgery then chemo, or chemo then surgery and then radiotherapy. And if I wanted to have my eggs frozen that would have to be done beforehand. They did give me a rough idea but no dates as it was new to us all that day.
It was on this day that they also asked if I minded them taking some blood from me. They knew I had been gene tested seven years before. But that had confirmed I didn’t have the BRCA Gene. Then the results from that blood test took about three weeks to come back.
That’s when they told me I had the ATM Gene.
I could tell when they were doing the biopsies that things were not looking good as they asked my Mum to come into the hospital. Just so I wasn’t on my own getting the results. But although I knew then that things weren’t right, I thought they would need to get biopsies back to work out what it was. Every other time I had been in for biopsies they’d said, “oh we will give you a call in a week” or “they’ll be back in a week”.
To be told there and then from what they could see that they knew it was cancer was a shock to me. But I have always viewed it that I am going to have a bit of a sh*t year. But it is just going to be a rubbish year and then that’s it. I have never thought that cancer is going to kill me or that cancer is going to take me away.
It never crossed my mind I would die.
So as much as it was a complete shock to be diagnosed at 34, having just turned 34, it didn’t scare me in the way that I thought it is going to kill me. What sticks with me is that when I had my final scans after all my chemo. At this point it looked like all the cancer had gone I had lots of messages from people saying “It must be amazing to know you will now be able to watch your daughter grow up”.
But that had never crossed my mind and it still doesn’t cross my mind that cancer will take me I just still think of it as a rubbish year.
A breast cancer diagnosis at 34 is still daunting.
But it never occurred to me that I might not be here, that it might kill me, and it still doesn’t. I think that is how I am wired, and that’s probably why I cope with it quite well. People have said all along that I am quite regimented with cancer. That I don’t have a mass of emotion when I go near it. I think the reason I am like that it because from day one there has been a plan.
Right at the beginning it was “you’ll have your chemo form this date to that date, you then have your surgery on this date”. As long as I have a plan, I can mentally deal with it. It is when I am waiting on dates for things to start that I get a bit more… “I just want to know what is going to happen”.
Cancer helped me find a bit of me that I really quite like.
Getting scared isn’t part of it for me, a bit daunting and more just upsetting that I am going to lose a year of my life. But then I have also gained something from it. I have gained a lot more confidence in myself. For example I would never have been doing all these fitness challenges if it wasn’t for cancer. It has driven me forward and it has found a bit of me that I really quite like.
I started thinking about hair loss on day one, on the day I got my diagnosis.
At this point no one had actually said the cancer word to me. I always remember I was sat in that chair and my consultant thought that I had been told. My poor Mum didn’t know as she had been brought straight in form the car. I just told her that I needed picking up and that I had to get something from upstairs. As we sat down the consultant said, “I am really sorry that I gave you false hope before, but it is cancer”.
My Mum just fell away and I just looked at her because it was the first time they had said it to me. But I feel I dealt with it alright. The consultant was talking through everything she said, “you’ve got cancer” and I dealt with that fine. Then she said, “the likelihood is you will need to have a mastectomy because the tumour is almost the size of your whole breast, we will need to take it away”. I was fine with that.
The word chemo was like a kick to the stomach.
But when she said the word chemo to me, that was when it was like a kick to the stomach to me.
For me the thought of someone having chemo is someone lying in bed, they are grey, they look ill and they have got no hair. The thought of losing my hair and feeling like that was the biggest thing for me. The whole way through chemo the worst part of it for me was the hair loss. It is as much as everything else you go through, and there are hundreds of side effects people don’t talk about and some of them are really bad, for me hair loss was by far the worst.
From day one before my hair even started falling out it was the one side effect I thought about. And soon waking up to find clumps of hair on my pillow was the harsh reality of cancer treatment.
Thankfully my friend Frederica found something that proved to be a solution to my hair loss.
About halfway through my treatment, just as I was preparing to shave my head because I couldn’t cope with my hair any longer and I thought “let’s just shave it off”. Then Frederica found Hair Solved and sent me a link so I could look at the solution for myself.
I am not a vain person myself.
I can go out of the house without a stitch of makeup on and I don’t really care. But my hair is something. I have never dyed it ever and I have always just had a really standard style; long hair with a few layers through it, nothing else. I only go to the hairdressers every seven months.
But I washed my hair every day, probably brushed it thirty times a day, I didn’t have to blow dry it or straighten it because it was straight, and I had always had compliments on it. My hair had always been good, healthy hair and had always looked nice.
My hair was a big thing to me.
As much as I am not vain and my hair was low maintenance, my hair was a big thing to me. Although I had never thought about hair loss before my diagnosis it was the one thing that shocked me. It was a lot for me to deal with. Before I started chemotherapy, I got my hairdresser to cut it for me from a long to a shoulder length bob. That was a big step for me because I had never had my hair that short.
Then before the end of chemo he cut it from the shoulder length bob to a short crop. I wish I had done that so much earlier because my hair felt so much healthier and easier to manage. But I kept the length in it for as long as I could because long hair was me. I just didn’t know myself with short hair and with the system I feel like me.
I have more confidence now.
Perhaps in a year I could have a short pixie cut, I don’t know but I could accept having short hair now. If you’d have said a year ago could you cope with short hair; I’d have said not in a million years. But I have more confidence now and I am more open to new things. I could have the system for two or three years or I might go short!
I think I have more confidence since my diagnosis than I have had in my life which is a bizarre way to be. but I thinking having cancer has given me a confidence that I never had before.
The Enhancer System helps me look like the ‘old me’.
I would never have been able to go and meet my work colleagues and walk into a room with 80 people without the hair system. Honestly I just couldn’t have walked in there without any hair or wearing a hat. Whereas I walked into that meeting just feeling like me and everyone said I just looked like me there was no difference. I felt I could really enjoy that meeting being carefree almost forgetting about cancer for two days.
What is the best thing about the Enhancer System?
It is as much like my own hair as you can possibly get.
I can’t wear the system in a high ponytail and I have to try to remember not to play with it all the time! But I wear it down most of the time and I can wear it in a low ponytail which is great.
There are some massive benefits, so I don’t have to wash it every day. My own hair was so thin it was greasy all the time, so I had to wash it frequently. I wash my system once a week. Also, if you curl it, the curls really last, up to a week or until you wash it again. It really keeps its style whereas my own hair would last a day.
It is a little bit tight when you have it adjusted but then you know it is secure. Everyone I have told said you would never know it isn’t my hair and that it looks amazing and not like a wig at all.
I never wanted to be the one who looked sick.
I never wanted to go out for dinner with my girlfriends and be the one sat at the table with people thinking “oh look she is ill”. Now I can be sat at a table of ten girls and I just look like one of them I don’t stand out in any way.
My breast cancer journey isn’t over yet and I have radiotherapy and more surgeries planned, but I am positive and confident and looking forward to returning to work.
I hope you will follow me on Instagram at vicsbreastcancerstory and Hair Solved on their Instagram . So that you can read more about my experience of breast cancer and of course my beautiful hair system.
How can Hair Solved help you?
To find out more about how Hair Solved can help you cope with hair loss before during and after treatment visit our dedicated cancer care page. We can help you manage you hair loss before, during and after treatment.
To read more about our clients experiences you can read about Louise’s diagnosis with cervical cancer. She explains how her Enhancer System helped her cope with the impact of losing her hair during chemotherapy.
For support with Breast Cancer visit Breast Cancer Now
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