Breast cancer awareness – Roisin’s story

With Breast Cancer Awareness month drawing to a close we wanted to reinforce the importance of checking your boobs, of understanding your body, and how small checks every day can save your life. 

We’ve had the privilege to share the amazing and inspirational stories of women, mothers just like us, who have battled cancer, who have fought like the superheroes they are, and who have used their journeys to help and educate others.  We close this series of stories with our final Super Mum Roisin a.k.a @fightypants. Roisin was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 weeks pregnant with her first child.  3 years later, a crashing second diagnosis sent her world into a spin, but this lady is not one to sit quietly on the side lines – with her @cancerfightingpantsareon she shares her story with us;

How did you discover you had breast cancer?
I was 32 and heavily pregnant with our first baby and I’d been massaging body butter into my boobs to avoid stretch marks (the irony as I’d later go on to have my breasts removed anyway!)
I felt a large lump on my left breast and honestly, I didn’t worry straight away because everything I had read had told me lumps in breasts were normal in pregnancy and I assumed it was a blocked milk duct. After a couple of weeks, when it hadn’t gone – and seemed to be getting bigger, I went to my GP.
He was a new, young Doctor and clearly reluctant to physically check my breasts. He told me it was normal in pregnancy and not to worry! Knowing everything I know now; I can’t actually believe I simply took his word for it. But like most of us, we just want to be told it’s nothing to worry about and so quite readily accept it.
I took myself back to a female GP within the week who told me it did feel harder than a hormonal lump should feel and she sent me on my way to the one stop shop to have my lump checked. Again, I was told by the breast consultant that he was 100% certain it was down to my pregnancy but given my family history with cancer, he would give me an ultrasound to check.
Off I went happy as Larry that it was nothing, surely this guy knew his stuff, right?! Nope – they pretty much told me there and then that I had breast cancer and took a biopsy. It was confirmed within 3 days.
What was your first thought when you heard the news?
I’m going to die. My baby. My parents. My Michael. Was my baby going to be affected? How could my mum and dad possibly cope with another cancer diagnosis? I’d seen the damage my brother’s cancer had on them when he was just 19 and here I was, about to put them through it again. Would Michael now be a single dad? I even had the conversation with him about him meeting someone new when I was gone.
My second (incurable) diagnosis was without doubt the worst thing that has ever happened to me and my family.
I’d been so close to celebrating my 3-year remission when I found the large lump in my neck. It was just 3 days after I’d seen my specialist about pain and numbness behind my breast and down my arm. They prescribed me something for anxiety and told me it was nothing. On what should have been my 3-year remission date, I was sat back in the chemo chair utterly devastated.
My baby girl, how could I be around her without crying? She was 3 now and she was my little BFF. How could I ever leave her? I could not accept that I wasn’t going to grow old and that she was going to be without me. There isn’t a pain on earth like it.
How did the diagnosis impact your family?  And family life?
My family were absolutely shattered by the news. Both of my grandma’s had had breast cancer when they were young women and eventually died of stage 4 cancer both only in their 60’s. I had seen the brutal trail of destruction cancer had left and here it was again, coming for their kid. I worried so much for them, and they did for me. It’s a horrific thing to see your parents trying so hard to be strong when you can see them so utterly lost.  However, the diagnosis also brought a new appreciation for life and everyday moments. Our family and friends were unbelievable in helping us. They brought food and gifts and helped with Ivy. They helped power me through the darkest days of my entire life and told me not to fu***ng accept my fate.
What treatment did you have? And How did it make you feel?
I’ve had so many treatments now – I think 6 or 7 different types of chemo. I’ve had radiotherapy, double mastectomy and reconstruction, full lymph node removal and neck dissection. Phew!
The chemo was TOUGH. Brutal in fact. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus within a few hours of having it. My whole body ached and was sore to touch or move, even my eyeballs felt painful. I couldn’t do all the things a new mummy should be doing, my maternity leave was spent in the same hospital I worked in and on top of all of that, my mental health took an absolute beating.
What was your recovery like?
It’s easy to forget the physical pain – a bit like having a baby; you know it was horrific but it’s so hard to describe.  I had months of physio to move my arms again after the mastectomy. I had drains for handbags, scars, bruises, massive mum guilt. Appointment after appointment. It was a lot!
Our families and friends were simply incredible. We felt so wrapped up in love and protection. They would literally do anything for us to help lighten the load. My sister who lives in Australia booked a flight after both my diagnoses to be with me. Unbelievably before she flew after my secondary diagnosis, she too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was horrific.
My friends were my angels, they found story after story of hope and made me feel like I could do anything!
What stage are you at in your recovery and how do you feel?
I’m still classed as incurable but when I recurred, they told me to aim for 3 years. I’m now over 4 years out and my most recent scan was clear!!!!!! After initially being told by my oncologist that we could no longer adopt a child we’d just been approved for, we now have a 4-year-old son. I continue to have chemo and will do for the rest of my (hopefully) very long days!
Has your breast cancer diagnosis transformed your life or the way you live it?
I’d always been someone who really appreciated the small things anyway, I could often be heard saying, “ahhh we’re so lucky!” So, when I was diagnosed, I was pissed off! I didn’t need a cancer diagnosis to tell me how good it was to be alive; I already knew! But cancer brought it to a whole new level! It’s kind of like someone flicks the switch on your eyes and mind to HD mode! Everything is more glorious and you so desperately want to actually LIVE more than you’ve ever wanted to before. You take moments in and store them in your heart and you make moments you might not have made time for before.
Tell us about @fightypants?  What inspired this?
I was working at the hospital when I was diagnosed. I actually worked in the oncology department of all places and so the weight of reading about people dying or progressing daily took its toll. My brilliant Michael, who always makes me feel like anything is possible, told me to ‘just leave’. I wanted to but I was scared about the financial burden and so I decided to do something I loved; making stuff! I wrote a few of the quotes down that I’d muttered to myself throughout my treatment, added them to a few cards, prints and pins and voila! Fighty Pants was born – and people loved it! I loved that so many people related to the things I was putting out and it has been incredible to be able to find words for people when they or someone they love are diagnosed with an illness. I absolutely LOVE my job and I honestly don’t think I’d have had the guts to go for it without my diagnosis reminding me that I absolutely CAN do scary things!
What is the latest project you are working on?
Ah I’m so delighted to share my latest work. I’ve designed a leaflet (see below) that is going to be stocked throughout hospitals in the UK to educate new and expectant mummies of their increased risk of being diagnosed in pregnancy; I literally had no idea that it was even a thing and there’s still so little information out there 8 years on. So many of the changes that happen to our breasts during and after pregnancy can be similar to normal changes your boobs go through when growing and feeding a human. And so many women still ignore the changes until after they stop breastfeeding etc. the hormones that we produce a ton of in pregnancy (Oestrogen and Progesterone) can accelerate the growth of undetected cancer cells. Mine was fully fed off my hormones and had I known this, I know I would’ve been so much more vigilant during my pregnancy. I’m so happy the conversation is now being opened up for mums across the country – and hopefully the world!
If you could give a piece of advice to anyone reading this, what would it be?
100% BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE! If I’d have listened to the first GP and took his word for it, what would have happened? If I hadn’t gone for a second opinion after my incurable diagnosis, I truly don’t think I would be here today writing this. Do everything you can to help yourself. Yes, some oncologists are incredible but sadly, some aren’t. No-one wants to live as much as you do so fight for your own care and treatment. And ALWAYS HAVE HOPE!

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