In June 2012, I found a pea size lump under my right arm, but I wasn't too concerned about it as I couldn't feel any lumps in my breast.
Soon after, I was at my voluntary job as a carer at St Kentigern Hospice, and I started to feel unwell. One of the nurses took my blood pressure, which was sky high! That's not unusual for me, but when I told her about the lump she made me make an appointment with my GP, and I went along to see him that night. He felt the lump, diagnosed it as a cyst under my arm and prescribed antibiotics.
Two months later I noticed my breast was red, warm and had the look of orange peel. I went back to see another GP, who said I might have a touch of mastitis (a condition which causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed). She recommended me to the breast clinic where I saw the surgeon first, then went for a mammogram, then an ultrasound followed by a biopsy. But not for one minute did I think I had breast cancer!
I was told there and then that they were 99% sure I had breast cancer and it had spread to my lymph nodes. I can remember lying there thinking, ‘they can't be talking about me’.
We had to go and sit in the waiting room to wait for the surgeon and breast cancer nurse. I remember starting to shake uncontrollably. We went back and the surgeon told me I would have to have chemo first as the tumour was too big.
I went back the next week for the results of the ultrasound – I had stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer HER2 Positive, with a 4cm tumour. I was sent for a bone scan and MRI, which fortunately both came back clear.
I saw the oncologist very quickly and was having my first chemotherapy session four weeks from the day of diagnosis.
The chemo was not as bad as I had expected it to be. Yes, there were days when I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, but all in all I didn’t feel or look ill at all, and wasn’t sick. I remember each time the nurses weighed me, I'd look down at the scales and say, ‘how can this be happening? I'm ill and the only perk to having chemo was that I thought I would lose weight’. But no, they were looking after me too well with those steroids!
I had my double mastectomy on 9 February, which unfortunately left me with a lymphoedema under my right arm.
I also had the usual 15 rounds of radiotherapy and 18 rounds of Herceptin.
The only problem I've been left with is severe tightness and pain across the whole chest area. I've had two lots of intercostal injections, the first ones worked for about six weeks but the last ones didn't work at all.
But I say to myself ‘I am alive’.
My amazing support network
I would like to say, throughout this long road of treatment, what wonderful care I've received. My oncologist, Dr Julie Jones, has been so caring with both myself and my husband. So have the nurses administering the chemo and the breast care nurses during and after my operation.
I couldn't have got through this without my husband, Pete. He came to every appointment – chemo, radiotherapy, Herceptin. He even shaved my head 20 days after my first chemo; I think he was more upset than I was. I really think it's harder for the carer as they are watching all this happening to you, and I admire him so much for standing by my side.
But it's all behind us now, thanks to the wonderful NHS staff at Ysbty Gwynedd and The North Wales Cancer Treatment Centre at Ysbty Glan Clwyd.
My advice to others
To other ladies being diagnosed with breast cancer, I would say – yes it's absolutely devastating news, but treatment has come on in leaps and bounds. It's very hard at times, particularly depending on the type of breast cancer you have (for me it was an 18 month long haul) but there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
This year, Shani will wear pink for the thousands of women who will hear the words, ‘it’s breast cancer’. Will you?