Speak Up Against Cancer: Caroline’s story
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Albion in the Community’s (AITC) Speak Up Against Cancer team has been talking to some people from Brighton and Hove who have experienced breast cancer to share their stories.
Caroline, from Hove, regularly checked her breasts in the bath or shower after following advice given to her by a friend who is a nurse. It is just as well she did.
She explained: “While in the bath, I felt what seemed like a small lump in my left breast. It didn’t hurt and there wasn’t any skin puckering. I’d always had lumpy breasts, so I wasn’t too worried.
“I saw my GP, who sent me for a mammogram. Within a fortnight I was at the breast clinic. The staff were great and made me feel very at ease. The mammogram wasn’t painful, just a bit uncomfortable. While there I had an ultrasound and a biopsy.
“The following Friday I went back to the breast clinic with a friend and was told I had cancer cells in my left breast. It was like being hit by a truck. I was in total shock. The doctor was wonderful and the breast care nurse was so amazingly kind, reassuring me that it was all going to be ok.”
Having told her friends and family, Caroline had a series of appointments, starting with an MRI, to see exactly where the cancer was. She was supported by the breast clinic throughout. She then saw a surgeon who explained her treatment plan.
A fitness professional, Caroline was keen to keep active – for the mental wellbeing as much as the physical benefits. She said: “With my head in a constant fuzz, running helped me massively to cope with everything. I knew the importance of exercise for the mind, and once I’d been for a run it helped me cope with the day.”
Further investigation found that, thankfully, Caroline’s cancer hadn’t spread throughout her body. Her surgeon did, however, find two small cancerous lumps in her breast. They recommended surgery and Caroline opted for a double mastectomy. She recovered well and subsequent tests resulted in her receiving the welcome news that she would not require either radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
“I was all clear,” Caroline continued, “but I need to take medication for up to five years and this has some side effects, including fatigue, achy joints and dehydration.
“I was desperate to get back to exercise at my full capacity, but had to adapt my activity to where it was making me feel good and not totally wearing me out.
“I cycle everywhere, I’m back in the gym lifting weights and I’ve taken up Pilates. In fact, I’m aiming to become a Pilates instructor.”
The importance of staying active during and after treatment is something AITC’s health team is quick to recommend. Angie Steel works on the charity’s Brighter Outlook physical activity project which provides free support to people who have, or have had, cancer.
She said: “Finding the right level of exercise during or after cancer is important and our coaches work with clients on a one to one level to achieve this.
“Research shows that being physically active during and after a cancer diagnosis is safe in most cases and can be beneficial. It can help to offset some of the side effects of treatment, including fatigue and weight gain. It can also help mentally by giving people back a sense of control.”
Emerging evidence shows that achieving sufficient activity levels can reduce the risk of dying from breast, bowel or prostate cancer – and also reduce the risk of recurrence for breast and bowel cancer.
Caroline, who continues to make great progress, added: “All I can say is make sure you check your breasts, and if you have any doubts at all, go to your GP!
“Always take someone with you to your appointments, try and lead as normal a life as possible and exercise helps massively dealing with it all.”
For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, visit: https://www.speakupagainstcancer.org/breast-cancer.
Or, for more information on Brighter Outlook, visit: https://www.albioninthecommunity.org.uk/brighter-outlook/ or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.