When Lauren’s treatment finished she thought she’d be overjoyed, but instead struggled with anxiety and fear of cancer coming back. She explains why she’s campaigning for better Care After Breast Cancer.
I didn’t think someone my age could have cancer
I found a lump in my left breast when I was 31-years-old. It felt like a skittle – like a small, hard sweet.
I got a referral from my GP then went to Sri Lanka for three weeks the next day, and completely forgot about it. I genuinely had no element of fear. You don’t imagine that people my age get cancer. You see pictures of old people or young children with cancer, but never those in between.
When I got back, I was diagnosed. I had a week of appointments, and they mentioned they thought it was triple negative. I knew nothing about breast cancer, so this all went over my head.
It was a lot to take in, and I probably didn’t absorb half of it. Although had I had time to digest it, I would have freaked out. I just focused on my next appointment and my treatment and started on chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.
I thought I’d be elated once treatment ended
Once treatment finished, I was petrified. I’d become used to being in a hospital, going in and out for 10 months and knowing when the next appointment was. I’m a control freak, so being able to keep track of things really helped me. But once that ended, there was nothing for me to focus on.
I thought I’d feel elated. I thought I’d be jumping around. But I felt quite deflated in a way. This whole time cancer had been my life, then all of a sudden there’s no treatment that’s about to happen. It’s such a strange feeling.
What’s happening next? Where do I go? Who do I speak to about concerns I have?
And the scariest question – will it come back?
I can’t do anything to prevent my cancer from coming back. I’m a healthy person but there’s nothing I can personally do. Controlling that anxiety is really hard.
I needed more support on the emotional side
My team at the hospital were so brilliant at dealing with the physical side. They saved my life. But I’m not sure that the emotional side is dealt with particularly well.
I’ve just started counselling, which I found out through something else, not through my team. I think I would have benefitted from it during treatment, too. Now I’m having to go back through everything that happened.
It’s quite hard to deal with something that’s happened in the past. If I’d been able to speak to someone at the time, as I was going through it, that would have helped me.
I didn’t want to burden the nurses with my mental health
You see an oncologist every three weeks during treatment, they’re focusing on your side effects and physical symptoms. But they never really asked me how I was feeling. I probably would have had a meltdown if they had. I’m an ‘in denial’ sort of person, and pushed all the emotion out of sight the majority of the time.
When it comes to cancer, mental health is so difficult. The focus should be on getting rid of the cancer, but mental health should be considered alongside it. The breast care nurses are so overworked, I didn’t feel I could call them about my mental health. I could call them about losing the feeling in my fingertips, but I didn’t want to put my psychological concerns onto other people.
That’s why I’m supporting the Care After Breast Cancer campaign. It’s so important that people can live life happily once treatment ends.
It’s tiring being positive all the time
I’ve always been super positive, and during treatment I think I dealt with things even better than my husband, Nick, did.
He didn’t need to comfort me that often, which is where he would find himself useful. It’s so hard for the people looking after those going through cancer. He had to watch me go through everything, which I know he found so hard.
Being positive is fine, but it’s also really tiring when you’re like that the whole time. I had a few meltdowns over tiny things, but it was an indicator of some deeper stress.
Since treatment, I think Nick and I have swapped – he feels more positive about the future. We’ve had to figure out how we work as a couple now that the elephant in the room doesn’t exist anymore. Our sole focus for almost a year was getting rid of my cancer and that’s no longer our aim, so now we have to find a focus in our new world of being cancer-free.
I need to find a new identity
I think I became ‘cancer’ during treatment. I had become so tied up in appointments and hospital plans, and it was all everyone around me could talk about.
When I met friends we’d always have 10 minutes of cancer chat, but now I have nothing to report. It’s like I have to find a new identity and figure out who I’m going to be next.
My relationships with people are different in a good way too. I value people more now, and I’m very mindful of those who were amazing throughout my treatment. I’d like to repay the favour, although I doubt I’d ever be able to in some cases.
I feel less isolated
My friends are so supportive but none of them can really understand how I feel, because they haven’t had cancer. I use BECCA, the Breast Cancer Care app, which has tips on dealing with anxiety and so many blogs from wonderful women who’ve been through the same thing. It helps me feel less isolated.
I’m walking in The Show in October. Since surgery I’ve been trying to deal with having these new breasts which are supposed to be mine but don’t necessarily look or feel like they are. On the flip side, now I wear things I never would have, because I don’t care so much about what others think. I’m excited to try on all the different clothes!
I think The Show will be a turning point for me. After treatment, there’s no massive celebration, no fireworks. You feel a bit abandoned. This will be my chance to see how far I’ve come, and walk like I’ve never walked before.