My Life After Breast Cancer
Aross the world, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 24 seconds, and one women dies of the disease every 68 seconds. Despite increased awareness and a push for early detection, it remains the most common form of cancer in the UAE, and according to the Dubai Health Authority, breast cancer cases have increased 20 per cent since 2009. But the good news is that survival rates are also on the up. It's estimated that eight out of ten women now survive the disease, compared to just five in ten in the 1970s. This Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are celebrating the survivors. Here, three brave women talk about taking back control of their lives after breast cancer.
Throughout her battle with breast cancer, personal trainer Tessa Guy, 50, used the power of positive thinking to get her through her darkest days. Since her recovery, she's founded In Mind In Body, a business aimed at harnessing the power of the human mind in the fight against cancer.
"In May 2010, I was out running and I noticed that one breast felt slightly heavier. At first, I didn't think too much of it, but a girlfriend bullied me into making a doctor's appointment. The agonising pain of a mammogram left me in no doubt that something was seriously wrong. A biopsy a few days later confirmed breast cancer.
"Facing breast cancer was excruciatingly stressful. In June 2010, I had a right mastectomy and a day later, the breast cancer nurses informed me that chemotherapy was necessary too. I dissolved into tears on the spot. I'd heard about all the hideous side effects of chemotherapy - the sickness, hair loss, exhaustion – this on top of what I was already facing.
"The chemo was relentless and exhausting, and I read a lot of books on self-healing while I was recuperating. I discovered that every thought we have has a physical and chemical reaction in our body, so if we constantly have stressful or negative thoughts then our bodies can be thrown off course, physically and mentally, including affecting our immune system. I came to realise that in order to heal that my attitude to life needed to change. My immune system was already heavily compromised by stress, including that of my failing marriage. I needed to make changes in my life in order to fully recover. Into my fourth chemotherapy treatment, with no hair, minus a breast, lacking a number of my toe and finger nails, a boil on my head, and aching from limb to limb, I chose to believe I could create a brighter future, not only for myself but for others too."
"At the end of my treatment in February 2011, I realised that whilst changing the way we think combined with some gentle physical activity can make all the difference to those living with cancer, there are times during treatment when people are too tired and debilitated to even contemplate exercise."
"I began to think about the power of the human mind and how, in relaxing the mind and body, stressful everyday thoughts can be circumvented, to improve quality of life, boost the immune system and activate our own innate healing powers. So I decided to set up my business, In Mind In Body, which provides visualisations of all sorts to ease and support the lives of people living with cancer. Cancer gave me the opportunity to address my life. My sincere hope is that In Mind In Body illustrates to people how powerful our minds can be and by visualising, you are activating the power to heal in conjunction with light exercise and conventional cancer treatments. We also offer hope, support and information for sufferers. If you had told me in June 2010 that I would start up a company and foundation, create and trademark a logo, design a website, engage accountants, social media, marketing/PR and business support, I would have said you'd got the wrong person!"
Sonal Patel, 37, an osteopath, was pregnant with her second child when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to do everything in her power to save her life and the life of her unborn child, she underwent a mastectomy and chemo, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
"In February 2012, while 16 weeks pregnant with my second child, I found a small lump in my right breast. At first, I put it down to pregnancy hormones, but my husband Vijay insisted I get it checked out.
"A biopsy revealed I had breast cancer. I was in utter shock. With my world falling apart, my first thought was who was going to look after my son, Rohan, who was 20 months? And what would happen to my unborn baby? At home, Vijay and I sat together and cried as the news sank in.
"At my next appointment, doctors explained that breast cancer during pregnancy is an extremely complex scenario, and they even asked whether I wanted to abort the baby. But I was determined to do everything I could to ensure my precious baby survived.
"I had an MRI scan with a lead apron over my stomach to protect the baby, and the results revealed an aggressive stage three tumour. I needed an immediate lumpectomy and chemotherapy. I was terrified the effect chemo would have on my unborn baby, but doctors explained that studies had only shown a minimal decrease in birth weight, and no other long-term effects.
"Two weeks after my diagnosis, I underwent a four-hour operation to remove the lump, and two weeks later, I started chemotherapy. Throughout the twelve weeks of treatment, I felt constantly nauseous, couldn't sleep, I had mouth ulcers, my skin was dry and my hair fell out, but every time I felt my baby kick, it spurred me on. On each hospital visit, I forced myself to think of something positive, like baby names, so I wouldn't think the worst.
"At 38 weeks, I was induced so I could begin radiotherapy. And my perfect baby boy Rahul was born naturally within three hours, weighing just under 8lbs. The hardest part was that I couldn't hold him straight away, as doctors were concerned about me bleeding.
"We were home less than a week, when I found two more lumps on my right breast. An MRI and CT scan showed that one of the lumps was malignant. I was angry as I just wanted to be at home with my babies, but I wasn't as scared this time. I knew Rahul was safe and I just wanted to do whatever it took to get rid of the cancer for good."
Four weeks after Rahul was born, I had a full mastectomy and was kept in hospital for a week. The most painful part was being away from my new baby, and Rohan. I then began a gruelling three months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy. I wanted my treatment complete by Christmas, so I could start the New Year afresh.
"Just over two years on, it feels like a bad dream. I've moved on so much, and I'm stronger than ever. I've completely changed my diet and my lifestyle. I've started keep fit, yoga and spinning and I've lost almost two stone. I've ditched white bread and pasta in favour of lean proteins and lentils and I've started juicing.
"It feels amazing to be back in control of my life. My boys wake me up at 6.30am and it's the best alarm clock in the world. There is no such thing as a special day for me anymore because every day is special. I've had cancer twice, but there's no way I'm giving it a third chance."
Lawyer Emma Taylor, 28, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 25, after finding a lump in one breast. Concerned she might pass the breast cancer gene onto her future kids, she and husband Stewart are in the process of adopting a child.
"Four years ago, I found a lump in my breast and a biopsy revealed that I had cancer."
"I was advised to have a double mastectomy to limit any future risk, so I opted to have my healthy breast removed as well to give myself the highest possible chance of survival."
"In September 2010, I underwent surgery, which was hugely invasive, then a course of chemotherapy."
"I had temporary breast implants for a year during my chemotherapy and had my permanent implants put in the following September. Now, with clothes on, people would never tell the difference."
"Having the surgery made me feel sad, but ultimately I felt a great sense of relief that the cancer was out of my body."
"I got through with the help of my husband, Stewart. He repeatedly told me he loved me unequivocally and the surgery made no difference to him."
"Four years after I was first diagnosed, Stewart and I are in the process of adopting our first child. We don't know that we have fertility issues, but we assume I may be carrying the breast cancer gene. And, as my cancer was oestrogen-driven, getting pregnant is a bit of a risk. Besides, I’m adopted myself, so making the decision to adopt wasn't too difficult."
"That way, we can avoid any risk altogether. It seemed the most sensible option."
"When I was first diagnosed, I did see a fertility expert about freezing my eggs because chemotherapy can damage them. But the doctor warned that the fertility drugs could help the cancer grow."
"Now, we are four months away from adopting a child, which is both exciting and terrifying. I’m not going to let breast cancer hold me back."
"I did worry that I’d have to be five years clear of cancer in order to adopt a child, but after a medical consultation, I was assured that the chances of my cancer returning are just four per cent."
"Since having cancer, my work/life balance has completely changed. Up until then, I spent my whole life, through university and in my career, chasing things I thought I wanted. Now I know it’s not about the chase. You should just be enjoying life as you go along."
"I’m definitely far more relaxed which is a great way to go into motherhood."
"Breast cancer taught me a life lesson I will never forget."