In 2016, Big C service user Katherine was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) cancer, a type of non-invasive breast cancer that forms in the milk ducts (breastcancer.org).
Although she had a mastectomy in 2016, she was diagnosed with cancer again in December 2019 and underwent treatment at the beginning of this year.
During her treatment this year, Katherine began to use Big C’s services, helping her to gain much needed support during this difficult period.
This is her story…
Before her diagnosis, Katherine noticed a lump in the bottom of her left breast, and she also had been experiencing what she described as a ‘tingling sensation’ in her left arm. As her mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Katherine knew it was imperative to talk to her GP about these symptoms.
After an initial appointment, Katherine’s GP referred her for a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), which confirmed that the cancer was present in six different areas of her left breast.
She said: “It was a complete shock to be diagnosed with breast cancer, as I was only 36 years old and had a two-year-old at the time.”
After discussing treatment options with her consultant, Katherine decided to have a mastectomy for her left breast followed by reconstructive breast surgery with an implant in June 2016. Eighteen months after her surgery, she also had nipple reconstruction surgery and had her nipple permanently tattooed.
Since the cancerous areas were removed, Katherine was prescribed Tamoxifen, a type of hormone therapy often given to people who have had breast cancer in one breast to help prevent its spread to the other breast.
However, in December 2019, Katherine began to feel the same ‘tingling feeling’ again from her left shoulder down her arm to her fingers.
She said: “I contacted my GP, and they referred me for an x-ray, but this did not show any signs of cancer in my body. It wasn’t until March when I discovered a hard lump in my left armpit, that I became concerned and contacted the Breast Cancer Unit at the NNUH.
“My previous consultant saw me within a week after I got in touch, and he scheduled another ultrasound and biopsy in which they discovered that I had developed a tumour in my armpit which was cancerous.”
In May 2020, on her 40th birthday, Katherine had several lymph nodes in her left armpit removed. She then received fifteen radiotherapy sessions in three targeted areas where the lymph nodes had been removed.
She said: “As this was happening during the beginning of lockdown, it was a really scary time. I had to go through treatment by myself as no one could attend my hospital appointments with me.
“Then, in August this year, I had another scare as I had discovered a lump at the top of my left breast. After I spoke to my consultant, he informed me it was an inflamed lymph node and that I should not be concerned. However, this scare has left me anxious and I’m glad Big C has been able to support me during this difficult time.”
Although Katherine had visited our Big C Centre at the NNUH before when her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, it wasn’t until she was diagnosed for a second time this year that she began to use Big C’s services.
She said: “I had been with my mum to the Centre before for a Look Good, Feel Better session, which my mum loved. Other than that, since my first diagnosis and treatment was so short, I think I had only been to the Centre to pop in for a cup of tea and a biscuit before an appointment at the hospital.
“I wish I had reached out to Big C during my first diagnosis though. After my first treatment, I started to experience infertility and wish I had had someone to talk to about this.
“However, this time around, I knew I wanted to access Big C’s support, and it’s been fantastic. Sam (Glee, Senior Cancer Information Clinical Nurse Specialist) has been a godsend – she has helped me with both the medical and emotional side of my cancer and always makes sure to take time to explain things to me and check on how I’m doing.”
Katherine currently has over-the-phone counselling with a Big C counsellor, and she is also participating in the Get Moving with Big C wellbeing programme. Additionally, she also has obtained a free Calm app subscription through Big C, helping her to improve her welling with meditation and mindfulness exercises.
She said: “Throughout lockdown, Big C sent me welfare packs, which were full of treats, hand sanitiser, food, water, colouring books and more. It’s been such a lovely pick me up to receive these, I really appreciated it.”
Katherine is now taking Goserelin, a type of hormone therapy given to premenopausal women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, and Anastrozole, an estrogen steroid hormone which works to reduce the amount of estrogen made in the body as some breast cancers can stimulate the growth of estrogen.
“I can’t thank Big C enough for their support. I’m so grateful that the charity has continued to provide these vital services during the lockdown. It’s been such a difficult time for me with having cancer and the whole situation with Covid-19, so I’m really grateful for the help from the Support and Information team.”
Big C is still here if you need support. Our services are available for those diagnosed with cancer and those close to them, with many of these services now available over the phone and online.
For more information, call us at 0800 092 7640 (free to call Monday to Friday 9am-5pm) or email support.big-c.co.uk