Feb 24 2012 was the day that my life changed forever. That was the day I had it confirmed that I had breast cancer. Me? Janice? Never! I was the half marathon runner who was fitter, leaner and healthier than any of her friends. “Its not true” I cried but yes, it was, and so began my journey for life and survival.
Private? Public? What Doctor? What oncologist? Lumpectomy? Mastectomy? What hospital? All these questions that i didn't understand the meaning of, never mind have answers to.That’s when I first came across Breast Cancer Care WA.
Janice meets Breast Cancer Care WA
I met Heather one of the breast care nurses and she took the time to sit with me and explain all the stages, treatments, options, and alternatives that I had to consider. In what was a completely uncontrollable situation she managed to give me back a little bit of power to help me make good and informed decisions. I still recall being so I had to ask her if she minded if I vomited into her waste paper basket!
I started with a lumpectomy in March 2012 only to be told that there was no clear margin and possible DCIS cells and was told I could possibly have a mastectomy n a bit later after further treatment. I remember walking out of the Doctors surgery, with Isobel, my best friend and crumbling into a heap on the floor in panic.
At this stage I met up again with Breast Cancer Care WA, this time in the form of one of their support sessions in Leederville. Cathie, one of the counsellors, was able to help me and other women like me to explore our thoughts and anxieties about what lay ahead.
For me, at this time, it was just so meaningful as I was heading into my first chemo treatment and, to be honest, was beside myself with fear. During all my chemo treatments I clung to Marion, my friend who came with me on chemo days and to these group sessions and the support of others who really understood what I was going through.
Decisions to make
In September 2012 came five weeks of radiotherapy, so easy compared to chemo. I knew however that I had major decisions to make regarding my next surgery and that’s when I turned to Breast Cancer Care WA once again for some individual counselling. Along with advice and physical input from my medical team, I needed some emotional help to get to grips with what was coming next. Thanks to Cathie for teaching me about mindfulness and other strategies to keep my mad monkey mind off my back.
On 28 November 2012 I had a right mastectomy and LD flap. This from the girl who had never before been in hospital up until the beginning of the year. Never mind, I thought, now at last an end to it all. I spent the summer in Perth recovering with my family who joined me from Scotland and had implants put in later in 2013. Sorted, I thought.
I was feeling well in Jan 2013 and went back to my teaching position ready for the start of a new year. At this stage my association with Breast Cancer Care WA became even more important. I was frightened of leaving all my medical team behind and joining the “normal” world again. I joined the After Hours Support Group with Aileen at its helm. Here I was offered support and comfort knowing that these feelings were common and “normal” for women who have gone through similar circumstances.
My exchange surgery where the tissue expander would be taken out and the implant put in was set for early July 2013 and in May I trundled along to have my one year mammogram on my left breast – the good one.
It came from completely out of nowhere, yet I knew the minute the girl said “We need a few more slides”. Within minutes I was on my knees in the waiting room consumed with the fear of death. They were telling me I had cancer in my left breast. I arranged to see my Doctor the next day and went to stay with Isobel for the night. My lasting memory of that night, the night I thought I was dying, was my teardrops and how big they were bouncing of the kitchen bench of her home.
As it turned out the cancer had not spread and I was lucky as it was only DCIS non-invasive cancer at this stage but it would require me to have a mastectomy on my left side. I also opted for reconstruction to make it the same as the right breast. At least I could have the expander put in without the need for the LD flap this time. I remember standing in my Doctors surgery saying to him” If you don’t cut of this breast I will stand over the kitchen sink and do it myself!” I couldn’t wait, I wanted it off, and this surgery was carried out in early June 2013.
My new normal
All I could think about was how fortunate I was that it was caught early, I didn’t need chemo and I wasn’t going to die. Losing my other breast was a good trade. I was so over breasts, I really had had enough. I began to think that maybe my prayers for good health were being answered but just not in the way I had expected.
The July surgery for the right implant exchange was cancelled and on the 2nd of October 2013 I went back to have expanders taken out and the silicone implants in both the left and right breast. It is now so long since I have had breast tissue I have forgotten what “normal” boobs feel like. These implants, through time, will become part of me and I will learn to accept what is “my new normal”. I am very happy with the results to date.
The last two years have been life changing. I have had a wonderful group of friends who have been there for me in so many ways. Physically when I needed soup on chemo days and my toilet needing cleaning! Emotionally when I needed a hug and the touch of another human being. I understand, too, that for others cancer was too hard, too frightening, too fearful to face and their option was to turn away.
I have found it difficult to cope without a husband, partner or significant other close to me. My strength of character, courage and resilience all have been tested many times and the need to reconnect with my family and find my roots again came early in the piece. I am a Scot originally, from a tiny village called Appin in the Highlands of Scotland. Immigrated to wonderful Perth almost 10 years ago midlife and never thought I would go back.
But times change and both my family and the village locals have followed me on Facebook offering words of encouragement and care like a warm comforting blanket on my many down days. It’s time to go home. I have been granted a years leave from my job, I am packing up my house and flying at the end of the year. I have never felt homesick and now I feel it all the time.
And so I turn to Breast Cancer Care WA for one more time. I am about to begin a six week Therapy group for women like me who are ending their treatment and looking to the future. A future where coping with fear is an every day battle. I have a fear of leaving all my medical team, here in WA, and starting a fresh in Scotland. I am fearful of my cancer returning. I am scared of becoming sick again and being a burden to my family and friends. I am fearful of death and dying.
I know it’s not healthy to live in this fearful state. I want to live well and with peace in my soul for whatever time I have. I know how lucky I am to have been given this second chance. It’s an opportunity to make sure nothing has been left unsaid. I like myself better than I did before. I understand how precious are the people who walk beside me on this earth, the people I care for and those who care about me. I know I am loved. Cancer has taken so much of me but in return it has given me the chance to examine what I consider to be really important in my life and act upon it. For that I am blessed.
Nothing else for it but to look backward with gratitude, look forward with confidence and up wards with hope.