Not only is Catherine the youngest women to share her story with us, but she’s also the first international participant (which makes her story that much more special). It was not easy talking about her experience (it never is), but we’re sure her story will inspire other women going through breast cancer – especially young women who wouldn’t expect to be diagnosed with it.
Read our full interview with Catherine below:
1. How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I found a lump in my breast a week before my first year wedding anniversary. Occasionally I’d do a self-exam, no particular routine – just whenever I thought it, and this time there was a lump. After visiting my GP she referred me to the breast clinic, where they took an ultrasound followed by mammogram and biopsy. I was still clinging to threads of hope before receiving my results. But they kept me waiting in the reception for what seemed to be forever, after which my husband and I were called into a side room. The doctor entered with a nurse, and he started feeling around my chest, asking if my family lived in the area (which they don’t. I live in England and my entire family, except Zsolt, live in Canada). His fingers were probing my sweaty armpit when he said those few impacting words: Well, it’s cancerous.
I just burst into tears.
Gosh, even rewriting about that day brings up so many emotions. It’s a deep memory of pain and shock. That was a big day, and maybe the hardest. I hope to never have a similar conversation.
2. What was the treatment like?
Because I’m only 28 (27 at the time) they decided on a aggressive treatment plan. My family generally stays away from drugs and harsh therapy, but then the doctors throws stats like ‘90% reoccurrence’ without any treatment, and that’s scary. So I had a mastectomy on my right breast – totally removed, along with the lymph nodes.
After recovering from that, we started chemotherapy – which was 4 bi-weekly sessions of a volatile cocktail, followed by 12 weeks (every week) of a less intense chemo.
Next I’ll have radiotherapy, which starts on Feb. 7th. And I’ve now begun my hormone therapy, which is meant to last for five years (though I may stop early and try to have children). Also, I took five shots of Zolodex during chemotherapy – this shuts down the ovaries and put me into ‘temporary menopause’ . . . however I’ve been off Zolodex for a month and am still in menopause. Hot flashes at twenty eight – now I understand what my mother is going through.
3. Is breast cancer genetic in your family?
There is no history of breast cancer in my family on either side. In fact, there is no history of cancer, period. Nothing. However, I have not yet been genetically tested though may be in the future.
4. Did you wear a wig? Any experiences with wearing a wig you’d like to share?
I never wore a wig. I have a wig, it’s still in the box.
Trying on wigs is bizarre! It’s incredible how much hair changes our looks. My mother and I went to the shop to try on wigs and it was a surreal experience. In the end I decided to go bald, mind you – now that my hair is growing back in patches, I might reconsider the wig idea.
5. What helped you take the decision to not wear a wig?
I was so tired during chemotherapy, the thought of a wig – even a scarf – didn’t appeal. Instead I went bald after shaving my head; it was pretty cool. As my hair grows back (in patches) I am wearing scarves, socks, hats, etc.
6. Were there other women your age that you connected with during treatment?
There was this younger girl across the room who looked to be my age, however I never approached her, which I regret. In general the ladies were significantly older than me, but very friendly nevertheless. The elderly women often looked at me and ‘tsk’ed: “So sad when they’re so young”. But otherwise I fit in – except for my bald head, Canadian accent, and the difference in age.
Actually, I connected with the nurses. Most of the nurses were around my age, and it was great to talk with them (about school, nightlife, marriage, etc). They provided a gentle medicine amongst all the needles and chemotherapy drips. Kindness and compassion go a long way.
7. Now that you’re in recovery, are there any positive things that you drew of the experience?
I’m in a strange phase between treatments and my body is regaining strength. The very best thing about recovery is connected to my mood. Now without all those drugs my depression has lifted, I’m less emotional, and my confidence is returning. There will be good days and bad ones, but since recovery began the good have outnumbered the bad.
A positive thing from this entire journey is how close it brought me to my family and friends. The amount of support was incredible. Aunts, friends, strangers, co-workers, parents – people were there to help, whether it be a prayer, a meal, or a chat.
Also, I have to mention my blog because it’s been a hub of discussion, reassurance and focus during this past year. Writing is my passion, and it was amazing to share that – share my story – with so many people. Connections were made that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, all because I write every now and then. My grandmother loves it.
8. What would you advise other women your age going through breast cancer treatment?
1) Persevere. Keep fighting, and let others fight with you. It’s overwhelming, it’s infuriating, it’s unfair. Keep fighting. Turn that anger into rocket fuel.
2) Share your story. Your bravery will inspire others, but also – and more practically – this is way too challenging to do alone. The emotional, time and physical pressures can be eased through a good support network. But first, you need to be brave and tell people. They will surprise you.
3) One last thing, despite surgery, chemo, hair loss, etc., you are still beautiful. People don’t see the hair loss, they see you – they are so glad to see you. And you are beautiful, and you will be even more beautiful when this clears. For me, it wasn’t the mastectomy that effected my body image, it was the chemotherapy and hair loss. These things don’t last forever, and when you stop being tired, you’ll see how quickly those good feelings return.
Thank you Catherine for opening up to us and sharing your story! Best wishes for a healthy recovery :-)
Keep posted with Catherine as she recovers through her blog Bumpy Boobs.