A breast cancer patient's journey - introducing #RuthsJourney

Ruth Taylor
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Ruth Taylor, 45, is a mum of two who was diagnosed with breast cancer back in May 2016. We are honoured to share her journey from initial diagnosis, informing her family, through to chemo and radiotherapy. She hopes to raise awareness and educate others about breast cancer, while firmly kicking cancer back where it belongs.
Where do I start? I suppose the best place would be at the beginning, but in my true disorganised style I am starting this 5 months later, so I am part way through “my journey”, but I made some notes of key dates and milestones and I have been told I have the memory of an elephant, not for useful stuff like who are the presenters of The Great British Bake Off, but for things like “she said that” and “that made me feel like this”.
2016.09.13 Ruth Cold Cap - Chemo day 1 - Copy.jpg

Firstly, I would whole-heartedly agree with the nurses and doctors that I have spoken to and the literature that I have read, that says everyone is different.  So your own experience of having to go through something like this will be unique and, as such, I would urge you to embrace this and remember that although thousands of other people have all had to endure surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and all the drugs and such that goes with cancer, no one except you will have had to face your particular type of cancer in the way that you will.  So take the support of the others who are like you, and the strength from yourself in dealing with your cancer in your own way.

There is the good side that everyone is different, in that if I hear a horrendous story about someone who went downhill fast and was dead in six months, or reacted really badly to chemo and was in hospital for weeks, I take it for what it is, as a particularly sad story of someone else’s experience, but say in my mind “how awful, I’m glad that won’t be me”. 

The not-so-good side that everyone is different, is the uncertainty that comes from not knowing exactly what the future holds and what the next few months/years will be like for you.  “OMG!  What is going to happen next?!” is a very familiar feeling and the more you can do by talking to the medics and asking questions of them, so you are 100% clear on the present situation and what is going to happen over the coming months, the better.  I have found it calming to know what is the next step to face/hurdle to get over.  The sad thing is though that in the first few months, when I was at my most vulnerable emotionally, there were a huge number of unanswered questions, so I found I was trying to get my head around the big C word, but I still had no idea what that actually meant for me.  Given that this will be the same for every person diagnosed with cancer, I would urge you, as far as you possibly can, to accept the situation you are in now and do not stress yourself with all of the things that you will have to endure further down the road.

Sounds dramatic, but I owe my life to a complete stranger, to whom I will be ever grateful and indebted. My story starts back at the beginning of April 2016 when I was doing the usual, scrolling through Facebook catching up with posts from friends and skipping all the advertisements that manage to find their way into your feed.  I saw a post from someone I didn’t know which caught my eye.  A picture of their breast, with a very clear dimple on the side, not much bigger in size than a 5p.  The lady was urging girls to check themselves for signs of any differences between their breasts and in particular if they spotted any dimples or “puckering” of the skin to get checked out by the doctor, even if like her they could not feel any lump.

Discovering the lump

The usual of then having to get on with dinner and sort my two kids Laura (age 16) and Josh (age 12) kicked in and the image was a fading memory in my mind.  It wasn’t until over a week later that I was standing in front of the bathroom sink after a shower, cleaning my teeth, when I looked in the mirror and noticed a distinct indentation on my left breast.  A warning bell rang in the back of my head of that Facebook post.  But mine didn’t look the same, it was along the line of where my underwired bra would sit and I thought “it’s just where the bra wire has been pressing on your skin, it’s nothing”, but then I thought “yes, but why don’t you have that on the right hand side?”  The point of looking out for differences between your breasts was resonating in my brain.  So, I decided it warranted further investigation and so I felt across the area for any tell-tale signs.  Initially I couldn’t feel anything different, but when I leant slightly forward, there it was, an unmistakable lump, which to me felt about the size of a polo mint, or maybe an Extra Strong Mint and then my mind wandered back to when I was 11 years old and I bought 20 packets of Extra Strong Mints in order to get the sufficient number of coupons required to send off for a free shiny presentation pack of five brand new minted 20ps issued by the Royal Mint.  I hated Extra Strong Mints, but they were worth it for this coveted offer, which I was so excited about.  This is still one of my overriding disappointments in life, that I sent off all my carefully cut out coupons from the wrappers and waited and waited and waited.  My five brand new shiny 20ps never arrived and to add insult to injury, my Mum decided not to give me any more pocket money for sweets until I had eaten all the Extra Strong Mints!  I was giving them away to anyone who would take them!  Anyway, I digress.  The lump was most definitely there and it was at that point that I also thought, that doesn’t mean it’s anything more than a cyst, I’ve heard your breasts change quite a bit once you pass 40.  But I knew that I needed to get it checked out and so I phoned and got the first appointment I could with a lady GP that would fit around my working hours.  It was a week’s wait, but I did not dwell on it much, as I figured that in the scheme of things a week was not a long time to wait. 

Ruth shared what she saw on her breast on Facebook. It received over 460 shares. 

The Friday morning arrived, but with it an early phone call from my brother to say that my Mum, who had been suffering from a very nasty bout of flu, was getting quite a lot weaker and he was getting really concerned for her.  So, I went into panic mode and instantly decided that to wait another few days to see my GP would make no odds and that my Mum would always come top of my list, so I instantly started scouring the internet for the cheapest flight I could get that day from Aberdeen to London.  At this point, I would add I hadn’t told anyone about finding my lump and over the weekend I was in London I spent quite a considerable time dithering whether to confide in my sister or my Mum, but given that Mum was very ill and was taken into hospital and pumped full of antibiotics and my sister was going through her own turmoil of a divorce, I felt it would be best not to add to anyone’s stress levels by talking about something that would almost certainly be nothing.  I was also delighted that when I phoned the GP surgery to cancel my appointment and rearrange, they managed to fit me in with a different female GP who I knew quite well and really liked, so I felt it had happened for a reason and that I would be far more comfortable seeing her than another doctor whom I had never met before.

Visiting the doctor

So, my mind was still definitely preoccupied by my mother’s health when I went along to the local GP surgery, the morning after I got back from London.  I told the doctor my story of finding the lump and she asked me to slip off my shirt so she could examine me.  It always tickles me that medical staff will sweep across the curtain to give you privacy to undress and you are then left there wondering, “Do I say something to indicate I am undressed?  Should I go for a surreptitious cough, or a straightforward “Come and get an eye full, I’m ready and waiting!”?”.  I think I went for the middle ground of an “OK?” and then the doc was there, apologising her hands were a bit cold.  First she got me to stand in front of her with my hands on my hips and then she got me to lie on the couch and felt both of my breasts and under my arms.  She confirmed that she too could feel the lump and that it definitely warranted further investigation, but that the majority of these lumps and bumps which ladies find, turn out to be nothing more than a change in the tissue structure of the breast and are not cancerous.  She told me of the “One stop shop” system they operate at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where you get an appointment to have the mammogram, ultrasound and if required a needle test all on the same day, the medics then all discuss their findings and you come away at the end of the day knowing whether you are in the clear, or if you require further investigation, for example a biopsy.

She said that I could either be referred as a non-urgent referral and I would get an appointment within 4 to 6 weeks, or I could be referred as priority and I would be seen hopefully within 2 to 3 weeks.  I remember wondering at the time, why would anyone opt for being referred as non-urgent and so I instantly said I’d like to be seen as soon as possible.  Looking back I do wonder whether doc was trying to lessen my worry in some way by saying don’t panic if you get an appointment quicker than you expected, but I left the surgery feeling pretty calm and thinking that it would be good to get a definite diagnosis in the next couple of weeks.  At this stage I decided I would not tell Andrew my husband or anyone else until I had been for the appointment and I would then have something definite to tell them, which brings me nicely on to the next topic I want to talk about which is “when and who and how do you tell”, which will be a future instalment in my “breast blog”.

Come back soon to read the next instalment of #RuthsJourney.

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