By Jane Hoggar
My mum and granny had breast cancer in their more mature years so I wasn’t completely shocked when, at 48, the consultant told me I had a grade 2 ductal carcinoma in my boob. It had to be removed immediately because it was moderately fast-growing and an evil little bastard that would kill me if we left it there.
This was the start of a tricky summer. With cancer, you have no time to mull over your plans and decisions. You just leap into action, learning as you go. I frantically searched for a book that cheered me up, supported, and encouraged me during these early weeks, but all I could find were case histories of lovely people and their experiences, but not really much information and advice. So I decided to write one.
The NHS is brilliant when you have a ‘proper illness’ but they are busy too. So questions like,‘When will my pubic hair fall out?’ are not high priorities for the oncologist. Especially when you have a two-minute appointment slot with them and there is a waiting room heaving with other breast cancer patients waiting outside for their turn. So the book I have written is useful for information like this.
I was staggered at the number of women attending my local hospital with breast cancer. There was a lift up to the breast unit at my hospital and I remember about 10 of us squashing into a lift and someone pressed the button and you could hear everyone’s heart beating fearfully when a cockney woman rasped, “Like lambs to the slaughter innit.”
I think many women keep the ghastly news to themselves because if you don’t have chemotherapy that brings hair loss and exhaustion with it, no one will know you have it. And that’s so much easier than having to drag your friends and family through the whole nightmare, which was the worst bit for me.
Chemo Summer is a great practical present for anyone looking for something to take to a friend who has just been diagnosed. Flowers and candles are funereal and chocolates seem useless at the time because you have just been told to eat healthily and are petrified to let anything pass your lips that aren’t organic, and sugar-free.
I decided to write a book of my own whilst keeping the diary I used to remind myself what to do on which day, and when to take tablets and get to appointments at different hospitals. This diary became quite therapeutic and I started adding funny little stories about the situations I was dealing with, and the characters I was meeting along the way. One of those was, for example, the wig fitting morning with Glenda, the wig lady, who was determined to find the perfect new look for me.
I also recount certain less funny moments, like when the ultrasound nurse told me she could see a tumor on the screen. Writing those moments down helped me accept what was happening to me and even now, I occasionally read it back to myself and still digest the facts.
Having a hopeful prognosis has given me the strength to write the book that I hope will encourage other people to go to the doctor with any worries early enough to achieve a successful treatment. My consultant said that if people speak up early, it is much easier to help them.
I also want to reassure people that you won’t necessarily lose your breast. I had a lumpectomy because I was ‘early’ and there is just a fine line under my nipple now so you would never know. I remember whipping my jumper up to show a friend my perfect little boob, post-surgery, who was about to also undergo lumpectomy, and she was so thrilled that she burst into tears.
My best friend Hannah died of a brain tumor two years ago and sometimes I really can’t believe I won’t see her again. We used to get together every few months, so sometimes I have to remind myself that she really is gone. Hannah was a passionate fundraiser and marathon runner so I am donating any proceeds from my book to cancer-related charities in her memory.
This helps me a lot. She would have told me to write this book and now I treasure every day I have been given that Hannah will not be able to enjoy. Every day is a gift. The strange thing too, I’m not so scared of dying now that Hannah has done it. It must be the schoolgirl camaraderie that we shared.
Here’s a link to Jane’s book.