Today’s Reader’s Story is from Jane Horner. Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2017. She shares with us her treatment story and how she’s doing now, along with the vital message that you will find your inner strength through your cancer journey.
Your name, age and where you’re from
Jane Horner, 39, Dublin.
Your diagnosis story
In January 2017 I found a lump on my right breast. I had never found anything suspicious before but honestly I hadn’t been very good at checking regularly. As I was living abroad at the time and couldn’t access healthcare there, I came home to get it checked. After a GP referral I was sent for a triple assessment and biopsy. On the 10th of February, I was diagnosed with an invasive mucinous carcinoma, oestrogen + and Her2 + with one tumour measuring 2.6cm.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
It was such an intense time. Everyone around me was devastated. I found that aspect of it really challenging as not only was I dealing with my own shock and grief but that of my family and friends. A very personal thing, my health, all of a sudden became something that affected everyone around me. Once I had the biopsy I knew there was a 50/50 chance of it being cancer. I spent half of that week waiting for the results thinking, “maybe I can get away with this and it won’t be me” and the second half being realistic, thinking, “why not me? This really could be me”. By allowing myself to consider this possibility, I feel in some way it might have helped me to deal with the diagnosis. Nothing can really prepare you for that moment, it was still a horrendous shock, but immediately my surgeon gave me a very positive prognosis and despite my fear I tried to focus on that.
Your treatment plan
6 rounds of Carboplatin and Taxotere Chemo, 17 rounds of Herceptin. A lumpectomy and sentinel node dissection, followed up a few weeks later by a full axillary clearance. Then 4 weeks of radiotherapy in St Luke’s Hospital.
How did treatment go for you?
I was very lucky throughout my chemo. I had no adverse reactions to the drugs. There were many unpleasant side effects and bed-bound days but my body tolerated the chemotherapy quite well, considering. I managed to get out for a walk most days which really helped me to stay sane. Within two rounds I couldn’t find my lump on self-examination, it was astonishing and really helped to keep me motivated over the next few months.
The only setback was after the first surgery, when a tiny amount of cancer was detected in one node. I had to have a more invasive axillary clearance. My recovery from this was very slow and frustrating. I had physiotherapy for 9 months as I lost a lot of mobility in my arm.
I was very upset about the risk of developing lymphedema in my arm post-surgery. After all I had been through I was not prepared to develop a life-changing condition. I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of information and instruction I received from the hospital about how I could reduce the risk, so I persisted, asked a lot of questions and spoke to a lymphedema specialist I trusted.
Radiotherapy in St Luke’s Hospital went smoothly. Initially I got a bit freaked out by the radiotherapy machine, but the staff were wonderful and really looked after me. In order to help me relax they played music during the treatment. I remember lying on the table topless and Barry Manilow’s “Pina Colada” playing as I lay there laughing, getting zapped and thinking “oh god, my life is so weird!”
Worst/best part of treatment
Looking back on treatment, it’s a jumble of emotions and memories – I think I’m still a bit shell-shocked. The psychological effects of the experience have had the most impact on me. The time frame from diagnosis to treatment was disconcertingly fast, within a few weeks I had to process my fear and diagnosis and somehow come to a place of acceptance and positivity. From early on I decided I would not waste whatever energy I had on fear and stress, I had an excellent prognosis and knew I had to be thankful for that.
As for the best part, I believe it was the care I received from my medical team. I feel privileged to live in a country where such value was placed upon my life. I was admitted into a highly efficient health system without question and groups of strangers worked together with great expertise to save my life. Instead of fighting cancer I had a team of experts fighting it for me. Although gruelling at times, I also found treatment to be a humbling experience and was touched by the kindness I encountered.
What got you through treatment?
The love and kindness I received from my family and friends. Although it was the darkest of times, it was also a time of exceptional kindness and generosity.
Single best advice that helped you
Take it day by day. Although it’s hard to believe when you are looking at a year’s worth of treatment ahead of you, it does end and you do get through it.
You are stronger than you could have ever imagined. You will amaze yourself with your resilience. You adapt, you pull yourself together and you get on with it.
Where are you now/how are you now?
I finished treatment in March 2018. I’m slowly getting back to normal life and my energy is gradually improving. I’ve started to set myself little goals and in September I travelled alone to Portugal and walked part of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. It was a big challenge for me on many levels but it was the best decision I have ever made. To find myself walking through beautiful vineyards and tranquil forest paths with new friends, happy, safe and at peace after a traumatic year made all the walking and sore feet worthwhile.
How do you feel about your cancer experience now?
I’m still working through it, I think it’s going to take a long time to process. It has been a very difficult time in so many ways. I am continuing to see a wonderful doctor in the Psych Oncology Department in St Vincent’s Hospital. They have been a lifeline for me.
Has cancer changed you, if yes, how?
Yes, in many ways. I’m definitely more assertive now. It’s a change for the better and has developed from having to be my own advocate throughout treatment. I have had to represent myself in many challenging situations and I’m really proud of how I’ve done that. I know I can trust myself and hold my nerve.
I also care less what people think and I am more open to new experiences. If I can get through cancer, why shouldn’t I be able to travel alone and challenge myself? After cancer, normal life seems less daunting. I look back on my life before cancer and wonder, why did I hold myself back so much when I am more than capable of doing whatever I set my mind to?
Have you changed anything in your life as a result of cancer, if yes, what and how?
Everything in my life has changed unfortunately – my home, my job, my personal life… I’m starting from scratch, rebuilding my life.
What helps you now if you have a difficult day?
Knowing that it’s temporary and that tomorrow holds the potential to be a brighter day.
Single best purchase that helped you through cancer
I borrowed a friend’s iPad which was indispensable. Thanks Joanna! Also sour sweets during chemo to take away that disgusting taste in my mouth.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone recently diagnosed, what would it be?
Do cancer on your own terms. Everyone’s experience of cancer is vastly different and there is no one way of getting through it. Politely discourage unsolicited advice and learn how to say no if necessary. Once you get over the shock of diagnosis, you will find your way through treatment. Do what feels right for you, trust your body and how well you know it and try to continue doing the things you love, the things that make you feel like you.
Thank you so much Jane for sharing your story with us.