In August 2015, after a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and was given a good prognosis requiring a small procedure and a short course of radiotherapy.
However, at my surgical follow up, I was informed that I had a type of breast cancer known as Invasive Lobular Cancer, and that it was ‘uncontained’ and heading towards my chest wall. This required more surgery in the form of a mastectomy and lymph nodes dissection, nine months of chemo and radiotherapy, followed by daily medication for the next 5-10 years.
I don’t even remember getting back to my car after hearing this news. I was numb, emotional and in disbelief that this was happening to me, but at the same time, knew that I was going to get through this with the love and support of family and friends, and so my journey began.
I met many amazing people following the same path who inspired and touched me with their strength and courage. I am also very much indebted to the dedicated medical team at Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and for the wonderful follow up support that the Cancer Council provides through their information booklets and services.
I finished treatment in July 2016 and whilst elated, I also found it daunting at the same time. When you are in treatment, you focus on dealing with the day by day routine and managing the various side effects. After that stops, you feel alone, uncertain and unsure on how you are going to pick up the pieces of your life. You know that you are different, and that things will never be the same and it is a big adjustment to recognise that this is the ‘new norm’.
Touching on this ‘new norm’, I soon discovered that the common side effect of ‘chemo fog’ had improved to a point, but that I still struggle now and then with memory loss, word finding and multi-tasking – this is especially evident when I’m tired, stressed or unwell.
I am now part of a research group looking at cognitive impairment in post chemotherapy patients which I have found not only empowering in a way of ‘giving back’, but also useful in learning to manage my own side effects, and knowing when to take timeout, rest and recovery.
Having said that, I am so blessed and grateful for a second chance here on the beautiful NSW south coast where I am regaining my life, step by step, one day at a time.
If you, a friend, or family member would like more information about cognitive impairment after chemotherapy (also known as “chemo brain”), the Cancer Council produces a fact sheet titled “Understanding chances in thinking and memory”. Please visit the Cancer Council website and click on “Cancer brain” to access the fact sheet.