SUPPORTER STORIES: LEANNE’S JOURNEY WITH BREAST CANCER

Throughout the month of October, we’re shining a light on issues related to breast cancer as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In this blog, we’re speaking to Cancer Research Wales supporter Leanne, who was diagnosed with breast cancer following the discovery of a lump. In Wales, every day seven women receive a breast cancer diagnosis however if breast cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage over 99% of people will survive for five years or more. At Cancer Research Wales we are pioneering research into the early diagnosis, better treatment and prevention of cancer for Welsh patients and beyond.

Sunday 2nd June: My day started as normal

On Sunday 2nd of June my day started as normal. I went for my run, cleaning and the usual household chores. I lost track of time engrossed in the cleaning, went to have a quick shower before my Sunday gym session. While in the shower I grabbed the bar of soap and started washing and I felt a very small lump on my left breast. I checked the other side… nothing. I put it down to training hard in the gym and possibly a muscle or something.

That was that I dried myself, got dressed and off to the gym I went 💪.

When I got home I asked my husband Mark to have a feel (that put a smile on his face) he confirmed that he could feel something, and started stressing as men do!

I spoke to a friend the next day who is a GP and showed her. Her words were ‘straight to the doctors in the morning.’ I will always be greatful to this lady for taking time to check me out.

Leanne and husband Mark

Tuesday 5th June

8am the doctors opened. Good luck with getting an appointment last minute, I also had to explain everything to a receptionist which wasn’t on my list for today! Apparently there were no emergency appointments, so I was down for a call back appointment.

My day continued as normal. I went to work had my nails manicured and also some new lashes.

I received a phone call around 2:30 ‘can you come up now?’ Off I go to my appointment.

The GP confirmed that there’s a lump and would be treating it as cancer until it’s ruled out!

I’m 42, fit and healthy there’s no way in the world I could have cancer! The GP provided me with a letter of referral for the hospital.

Wednesday 6th June

My day started as normal with a morning run, shower followed by work. It was just another day. My phone rang at 9:15 it was the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, ‘come straight up’. I left work with so many things going through my head… things have just got real.

First step was a mammogram. It’s amazing the shapes they can squeeze your boobs into. The mammogram isn’t painful at all, I sat in the waiting room in my sexy cape waiting for the ultrasound followed by a biopsy. I was doing so well until she said ‘right I’m going to take a biopsy now’ it was then my tears started along with panic. In my mind biopsies are associated with cancer. A biopsy was taken from my breast and lymph glands.

Now to wait for the results.

Wednesday 13th June

(I’m doomed with the date straight away) hospital appointment 8:15.

Maria the breast nurse confirmed my worst nightmare. The results of the biopsy showed that I had stage 3 breast cancer. My world came tumbling down around me, she was talking about chemo, lumpectomy and terms I knew nothing about. I can remember thinking…. stop the world I want to get off! My lump was only very small, it was only 16mm.

She phoned around and arranged for me to go for bloods and an urgent CT scan. I really don’t do needles so more nerves settled in.

Off I go for bloods and a CT scan, the stuff they put in you for a CT scan makes you feel like you’ve weed yourself.

Two weeks until my next appointment so I was told to go on my holiday and to enjoy myself, so that’s what I did.

Friday 15th-22nd June.

We had already booked our holiday and boy did we need it! A week 5* was total heaven. A mixture of sun, palm trees and sangria made me forget all my troubles.

We did talk about things while we were away and tried to put everything into perspective!

Will I be bald? That’s a look I wasn’t looking forward to.

What type of chemo will I have? How big my scar will be? What if I’ve got the BRCA gene? Will I lose my boobs? These questions I still didn’t have answers to.

I thought if I’m bald… I’ll get a wig. If I’ve got to have my boobs off… I’ll get the boob job I’ve always wanted. Every cloud has a silver lining right? We had a lovely week away it was just perfect.

The next week was the longest week of my life. Only telling people who needed to know at this point. My emotions were all over the place, tears would sprout from nowhere for no reason, I just wanted things to go back to normal. I didn’t want to talk about it because that way it wasn’t happening to me!

Wednesday 27th June – Follow up appointment

Today was all about staying positive and trying to keep my options open. The results of my CT scan show that all my vital organs are clear, phew what a relief!

My bloods show the cancer is triple negative which means it’s a more aggressive cancer and needs to be treated with chemo. Oh no, I will be bald.

My scan also showed a shadow on my right ovary which needed further investigation before we can proceed with any further treatment.

I had to go to ultrasound to have a marker inserted into my breast so the surgeon will know what tissue to remove once the chemo has worked its magic and killed the bloody cancer!

Oh I also have an appointment tomorrow with a gynecologist to investigate my ovary further!

Thursday 28th June, always a drama but never a crisis!

My appointment was at 2:30, again the worst news that I could possibly get, they are treating me for suspected ovarian cancer! So now all my lady bits are waiting to being taken away.

I don’t need them anyway I have my beautiful amazing daughter Chloe who is my world, no more children are needed!

So I’m now waiting on a phone call (any time after Wednesday) to be admitted for a hysterectomy on the plus side no more periods. They won’t treat my breast cancer until downstairs is sorted as it takes priority!

Wednesday 4th of July

While at work this morning (yes I was still working it’s just a normal day and I love my job) I had a telephone call off my Oncology nurse Andrea. They’ve discussed my case in the Heath this morning and they’ve had a real good look at my CT scan and they don’t think that the mass (5cm) looks malignant, although they won’t know till all my lady bits are taken out and the mass sent for analysis.

The Heath Hospital are happy for me to be operated on in the Royal. While I’m there they’ll be doing my lumpectomy as well as my hysterectomy. Two operations for the price of one.

Monday 16th of July.

So I’m sat here with a million things going through my head! Within 6 weeks I’ve been diagnosed and will be operated on. I can’t praise the NHS enough on how fast they’ve got this sorted! It’s been an absolute whirlwind. I haven’t really sat down and thought about things until today!

I’ll tell you something, thinking isn’t good!

Why me? Why now? I’m the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m learning to love myself and my body just the way I am. I’m putting myself first for a change and doing what I want to do instead of pleasing other people.

What did I do to deserve this? Today it’s actually hit me hard, I’ve got cancer!

Do I deserve it? No!!! Do I want it? No!!! Am I scared? Hell yes! I’ve never been so scared in my life! Yes I’m being brave but inside my belly is in knots, today the tears have been on more than off. I’m dreading waking up from the surgery and looking at myself, realising what has actually happened, I’m afraid I’ll wake up to just one boob, they might be little, but they are mine and I love them.

Seeing the scars that are left behind from surgery, will I be able to look at myself in the mirror again, I’m only just learning to love my flabby bits after all these years!

Fingers crossed by tea time tomorrow I’ll be back on the ward with the cancer removed and starting my journey to recovery.

Tuesday 17th July

Operation day was a bit of a blur, I’ve never been so scared in my life, walking arm in arm to theatre with Leighan (one of my gym butties) crying my eyes out!

Preparation room outside theatre was scary enough so I’m glad I didn’t see inside.

They were putting a vent flow into me at 1:50 and I said to Leighan ‘I’m going to close my eyes while you do that’. The next time I looked at the clock in was 6:40 and I was throwing up in recovery.

I felt a bit battered and bruised but SO glad to be alive, I was a bit spaced out on morphine, groggy from the anaesthetic and numb from the spinal block but was so glad to be back with Mark and Chloe where I belong!

With the drugs still in my system I woke up feeling great which I didn’t expect after having surgery. The doctors came around to let me know that the boob operation went really well, lump and margins were removed (margins were clear) as well as all my lymph glands. Dissolvable stitches on the inside and glued on the outside, it looks neat.

Downstairs, the doctor had a tough time as the cyst was stuck to my bowel, that’s why it took so long in theatre. It was endometriosis rather than ovarian cancer so that’s a huge positive!

Spent the next four days on ward 5 where the staff and the care they gave me was amazing, I’m so thankful to our NHS! I was sent home to rest and recover.

Tuesday 14th of August.

Today I had a meeting with my oncologist. Chemo will start in 2-3 weeks’ time. The chemo is called FEC-T and is two different treatments.

I’ll need 6 cycles 3 FEC and 3 T, cycles will be every 3 weeks, 18 weeks of chemo in total, that’s not too bad in the scheme of things, I think it’s doable. Each cycle should last about an hour, again not to bad when some are hooked up for 6 hours at a time.

It will be given through a picc line which will be in the top of my arm and will stay there right through my treatment, again this is easier for me as the veins in my right arm are rubbish and I can’t use my left arm because that’s my surgery side.

Side effects: there is a huge list, the one I was most concerned about is hair loss. I really didn’t want to be bald. I’m going to try the cold cap as this lowers the temperature of the scalp so less blood flows through them, mega brain freeze!

Tuesday August 28th

Today I’ve had my first visit to Velindre! Scared was an understatement. Velindre is for people with cancer. I haven’t got cancer nor have I admitted to myself that I’ve had cancer (my way of coping, put it out of my mind so it’s not happening.) The department I needed was nuclear medicine, that in its self-scared the hell out of me. My heart needed to be checked to see if it’s ok to go through chemo, I don’t think I have any problems with it but time will tell!

Staff in Velindre are all so lovely, I’m hopeless when it comes to needles, but they keep you talking and your mind off things.

Velindre isn’t such a scary place 💖

Tuesday September 18th

Today was my first chemo session. I went in completely open minded as I have been throughout my journey, no point stressing it will be fine! I sat down, observations were all great and I was asked if I was cold capping so I said yes.

The machine is like an air conditioning unit, she wet my hair first then put lots of conditioner on, followed by what looks like the rubber cap I had years ago for my highlights, then a skull cap! I’m not going to lie, it’s very uncomfortable and bloody freezing but it’s totally doable, 30 minutes before treatment, during treatment and 45 minutes after treatment. The only thing that phased me during this time is losing my hair, I really don’t want to lose it, and so it’s worth a go.

I had two lovely nurses from Velindre, who work between Velindre and Prince Charles Hospital. Treatment took around 20-25 minutes. FEC was seven syringes in total, three of them were red in colour so my wee was a lovely colour.

I’m open and honest so there’s no rose tinted glasses here!

The picc line is so easy for chemo, glad I went with it. Side effects have been pretty minimal today, I’ve taken 10 pills in total not sure why or what for, most are anti sickness. I’m feeling really sick, bad head and aching so it’s two neurofen and an early night. Temperature tonight is 36.2 so all is well. Let’s hope I sleep. I’ve got a little cap to sleep in to stop my hair from catching on the pillow.

My side effects through the whole treatment were very minimal and my care was second to none!

I was so scared of the treatment but everyone is scared of the unknown! Both chemo and radiotherapy are totally doable. In the last 10 months I’ve helped and guided three of my friends through chemo and radiotherapy. There are so many horror stories on social media and on the internet but mine was really straight forward, I wouldn’t be afraid to fight again!

Just after my second treatment I was introduced to Anna-Marie the Community Fundraiser from Cancer Research Wales and agreed to help raise vital funds. Something I wasn’t aware of was that Cancer Research Wales is an independent charity raising funds for research here in Wales.

We were both invited onto Rhondda Radio to raise awareness for breast cancer during October. We had a real good time and I have organised many events over the last year. It helped to keep my mind occupied during my treatment.

My next fundraiser is a Glitz and Glamour Extravaganza on Friday 15th November at Thomastown Social Club. Tickets are £10 and if you would be interested in joining us please contact me on 07855 237514.