My is Jetta.
I was diagnosed in 2016 with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage III, four months after my second baby was born. We have a beautiful daughter called Estelle who had just turned three when I was diagnosed. We moved to the Netherlands in August 2015 and although we have good friends, we had no family close by as they all reside in the UK and abroad.
I think the fear is something that I have struggled to overcome.
The first symptom I was aware of was when I was hand expressing milk for my daughter’s eye infection. When I was expressing I felt a really hard lump deep in my breast. I was pressing it and it didn’t hurt which I thought was strange but thought it might just be a breast feeding lump as I had experienced that with my first daughter. After three days it didn’t disappear and so I booked an appointment with my GP. She felt the lump and said it felt like it might be something related to breast feeding but that she wanted to be sure. In hindsight I hadn’t felt very well for around two months prior to diagnosis. I had had a nasty virus which gave me a chest infection that I just couldn’t seem to get over. In addition, my heart started beating in a very odd way which I had to have checked by a cardiaologist as my ECG was abnormal. I put all of this down to having recently given birth and sleepless nights. But in hindsight I now know that my body was frantically telling me that something wasn’t right.
The doctors told me that it was probably difficult to have felt the lump when it was smaller because I was pregnant and then breast feeding. It wasn’t until it got to a certain size (5.5cm) that I was able to feel it. It’s taken me a long time to get over the fact that I just didn’t feel anything up until the point when it was very large and pushed me in to the stage 3 staging.
I had 9 rounds of chemotherapy with each cycle every three weeks. At first it didn’t seem as bad as I had envisaged it to be. However as time went on I could see the impact it was having on my body. I lost my hair which to be honest at the time didn’t impact me too much because I was so focused on the end result and getting rid of the cancer that it was just something that was going to happen and that was that. It’s only now that I truly feel the impact of my hair coming out and when I look at photos of me with a bald head I feel heartbroken. I feel heartbroken for my kids, my husband, my family that they also had to witness this.
I had to have a partial mastectomy with reconstruction and so I have a very large scar on my left breast. This doesn’t bother me greatly but my breasts do feel less attractive than they used to. I have also had some problems with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and during chemotherapy the pain was unbearable. They were unable to give me the last round of paclitaxel as they said that the damage would be irreversible and the pain chronic if they did.
The moment I was diagnosed was genuinely the biggest shock of my life. Every doctor who had examined me (including the GP, surgeon and radiologist) were convinced this was a breast feeding lump and so when I left the radiologist’s room after a biopsy everyone had convinced me that this was nothing to be concerned about. So when the surgeon told me they had very bad news for me just one week later, I literally couldn’t breathe. My husband and children were in the waiting room. I had gone in by myself as we did not consider for a moment that this might be something to be worried about and had plans to go and do something nice after my morning appointment.
Those early days when I didn’t not know whether it had spread further that my breast and lymph nodes were truly dark days. I held my children so tight during those days, and indeed every day since. I would wake up after a fitful sleep and it would take a few minutes for the horror of it all to sink in again. With time the anxiety has diminished a little as life becomes more and more normal. But the fear can sometimes hit like a flash of lightning. And I look back on the whole period and sometimes ask whether that actually happened. It’s a very strange experience really.
There have been some positive things though. Now I make the most of every day. I do still need to rest a lot more than I used to but I really love planning nice adventures for my husband and I and the girls. I want to be present for my girls and not get caught up with other things. I want to create beautiful memories for them and give them the very best time. I’d like to say that I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore but unfortunately I still do! Although I probably don’t sweat it for quite as long as I used to J
I’m also very kind to myself and truly listen to my body. If I am hungry, I eat. If I am tired, I rest. If I need to do something nice, I’ll book myself a massage or pedicure. I think that is really important.
Until I found Mummy’s Star I felt so utterly alone.
I would be out with the pram with my little baby in it and my headscarf because all of my hair had fallen out and I would see people stare at me or look to the ground when they saw me. I remember taking both my daughters to the soft play towards the end of my chemotherapy and I looked gaunt and unwell as the chemo had taken it’s toll on my body. I walked in and it was like a hush fell over the place. A lot of people stared, some were having a conversation about it. It was horrendous and I wanted to run away but I couldn’t as my kids were so excited about playing there. In my house no-one cared what I looked like but to the outside world I was a young mum with cancer. And a great many people made me feel like that. But Mummy’s Star was my absolute safe haven, just like my safe home. I felt normal there and not like someone who had cancer. I was me, I was Jetta there, not Jetta with cancer. I can’t tell you how important it was for me, and continues to be. Just being able to share my story, to see that other people were experiencing the same things and the dark thoughts and sheer terror that can prevail when you consider your situation of having cancer and young children and not knowing whether this is something you are going to get through. These are things you can’t share with many people, if anyone really. It’s too much for a lot of people. But on Mummy’s Star you can say these things and no-one judges you or tells you it will all be fine. I needed that and I still do. I’ve made two lovely friends through Mummy’s Star who are just wonderful. We haven’t met each other but we text regularly and I count them as friends.
When you become a mum it is very easy to lose yourself for a few years. I am the one that holds our family together and I have been running around these last few years looking after everyone, except myself. I have seen this with so many of my friends too. So my advice is that if this sounds like you, then stop doing it now. You are so very important. Get extra childcare and if you can’t afford it, find a friend with kids who you trust and take turns looking after each others kids. When it’s your time off, do not iron or clean. Go for a walk, a run, a massage or pedicure. Anything that is something just for you.
The times when I felt genuinely happy and grateful during my cancer journey were those times when it was just the children and I. Every Friday during the summer (when I was well enough after Wednesday’s chemo) we would walk round to the ice cream shop and the three of us would get an ice cream cone and sit down and just enjoy each other.
Those are some of the nicest memories I have of 2017. My children never made me feel like I had cancer. To them I was just mum who cooked them their dinner (when I was well enough), made them laugh and bought them ice cream. And that gave me a purpose and an enormous sense of normality when I was thrust in to a world of chemo, alopecia, scans and people who had cancer and hadn’t made it L
Your support of Mummy’s Star is the true definition of giving something back. Women who are pregnant or who have a young baby should not have to endure a cancer diagnosis during what is the most truly magical time of their lives. Supporting Mummy’s Star ensures that women who receive such devastating news feel supported and normal in a world that they don’t want to be a part of. They just want their normal world back again.