Continuing with our focus on breast cancer this month, we have another inspiring reader’s story for you today.
Dee Doherty is a young woman living with her husband and two little boys in Wicklow. Dee talks about the struggle she had to get attention for the symptoms she began to feel in 2017 as a young woman who was deemed to be ‘not in the risk category’ for breast cancer. Unfortunately breast cancer is now the most common cancer in women in Ireland, with more than 3,500 cases diagnosed every year. We love Dee’s message of taking charge of your health and fighting to be heard if you feel something is not right. Here is Dee’s story.
Your name, age and where you’re from
I feel like I’m on a game show, haha! I’m Dee, I’m 32 and I live in Wicklow.
Your diagnosis story
I first knew something was wrong in June 2017 but it wouldn’t be until December that I actually got diagnosed. I had chest pain that had become constant, along with pain in my right arm and shoulder. These are, of course, symptoms of a heart attack so this is what doctors looked for when I was referred to A&E. Over the following days I had a number of tests done, and although I knew it was not my heart, when they found nothing I just learned to live with the pain. Later that year, in October, by complete accident I found some lumps. One of which was in my armpit. I knew what it was. I had also had extreme night sweats every single night (as in, changing my clothes several times a night) for that whole month. The night sweats had kind of just crept up on me, I’d initially thought it was hormonal – early menopause due to my pituitary tumour. When I saw my GP she put through an urgent referral to the breast clinic. I struggled for a long time to be seen, as I was 31 years of age which, according to their guidelines, is not considered urgent. My GP tried everything she could to get me seen, and has been my absolute rock. I eventually got an appointment in December. I was examined by hand in the breast clinic and told it was benign. Once again, I had to fight to be heard. They said they wouldn’t be able to scan me until early 2018. I was told if I went privately I could get an ultrasound, which I did. Thus, my extensive and invasive breast cancer was discovered! I had stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with 2 large tumours (6.5cm) and Ductal Carcinoma In Situ spanning over 10cm throughout the breast.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
I felt relief to be honest. I already knew what it was and I just needed someone to listen to me. Even though I say ‘I knew it’, there will always be an element of disbelief. I remember thinking that perhaps they had made a mistake and any moment I’d get a phone call apologising for the mix up. I was also terrified, Cancer was so scary back then – all the people I had known with cancer had died, I didn’t know anyone like me! I was scared for my two children. I was sad that I wouldn’t have any more babies. It was a whirlwind really!
Your treatment plan
I had dose dense AC-T chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and axillary node clearance in June 2018 and Radiotherapy which ended October 2018.
How did treatment go for you?
Honestly, my first four chemo infusions were horrific. When I look at what my body endured, I am shocked I survived it! I am so glad that, as with childbirth, I’ve forgotten the horrors of it all. Taxol gave me a lot of pain, neuropathy and some other side effects – but it was a welcome break after the ‘red devil’.
The mastectomy recovery was slow for me. I lost a considerable amount of movement in my arm due to nerve damage and cording after the node clearance. As well as this, the pectoralis major had been cut and I am still recovering from that. For instance, I can no longer carry my 2 year old (I know, I know he doesn’t need to be carried but he’s my baby!) I struggle to reach into my trolley when I’m doing the grocery shopping or carry the bags in from the car – it’s a pretty traumatic surgery!
Radiotherapy went fabulously well! I honestly was so grateful to finish active treatment on a positive note, after so many hiccups along the way. The side effects aren’t great – the injuries from the mastectomy have flared up and my skin is burned, but again this is mild in comparison to what went on previously.
Worst/best part of treatment
The worst part was the side effects of AC chemo! The best part was hands down the staff during radiotherapy! I mean, the radiation therapists, receptionists, the nurses, the doctors – all of them. I was let down by so many people up to that point and had become so anxious. They were a breath of fresh air! My pharmacy and GP were my light in the darkness throughout – I’ll be forever grateful for their amazing care.
What got you through treatment?
There are so, so many people who have helped me get through this. But I have to say first and foremost, my family. Had it not been for my two little boys, I think it would have been so easy to give up at so many points. As we know, little people don’t stop just because you’re sick, which is handy sometimes! You have no time to feel sorry for yourself! You have to get up and get them fed and dressed – they quite literally keep you going!
I am so fortunate to have such a supportive and loving family – I mean all of them! Even my extended family came together for me. My Mom and Dad have been my absolute heroes. No words can even begin to describe what they have done for us. The kids are absolutely in love with them – they loved their sleepovers at Nana and Grandad’s during my treatment. My poor husband has put up with absolute hell – for instance, I’m in medically induced menopause, so I went from zero to psycho in about two weeks! Suffice to say I have not been easy to live with. Throughout it all, he’s been my rock.
I’ve been blessed to have the most wonderful woman in my life, she has cared for my kids since before Devin was 2 years old! She came back into my life this year and saved us once again!
There are actually so, so many people – my beautiful cancer support group, my friends. It takes a village, you know? I’m blessed.
Single best advice that helped you
When you can’t sleep and you are stressed, anxious or depressed – go see your GP. I waited and waited for the darkness to go, and I just made myself worse. Stress, lack of sleep and everything we are going through will deplete the levels of Serotonin in our bodies. When you actually see it like that you realise there is actually a biological reason why you feel this way. Mental Health issues are so taboo and I am so grateful that a friend reached out to me about it.
Where are you now/how are you now?
I’ve just finished active treatment last week. I will continue with Aromasin and Zoladex now. I haven’t met my oncologist again yet – I actually haven’t been given the all clear yet!
How do you feel about your cancer experience now?
To be frank, I have not yet processed it. If I said anything now, it just wouldn’t be honest. The coming weeks will bring appointments and scans and reflection. I’ll get back to you on that one 😉
Has cancer changed you, if yes, how?
Yes, absolutely! My thinking and view on the world is completely different. It’s almost impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it and I know it sounds crazy but I am so grateful to cancer and what it has taught me and given me. I feel enlightened and I will absolutely never be the same person again.
Chemo brain though, I’m very stupid these days – it drives me nuts!
Have you changed anything in your life as a result of cancer, if yes, what and how?
I am more conscious of what goes into my own and my children’s bodies – so my shopping bill is higher! I got my husband to quit smoking – he now sees smokers and thinks the same way I do, that they are totally mad!
What helps you now if you have a difficult day?
Talking to people. Whether it’s calling my Dad or my Mom, my support group or going on to Instagram or YouTube for an aul rant… talking saves me.
Single best purchase that helped you through cancer
Wow, just one? Well, my sister bought me my first one but my Benefit ‘Precisely My Brow’ eyebrow pencil! You can draw them on hair by hair, it’s fab!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone recently diagnosed, what would it be?
Visit your local cancer support group! Don’t be afraid, you are not alone and you will absolutely make it through this.
Thank you so much Dee for sharing your story with us.
Dee vlogs about her life and also her survival through breast cancer over on her Instagram Stories and also on her YouTube Channel, so make sure to follow her if you found this helpful. Her YouTube channel has lots of videos all about her cancer experience, from diagnosis through to each stage of treatment, including chemo, losing her hair, choosing a wig, her surgery, radiotherapy, side effects of treatment, etc.