In January 2010 I experienced a sharp pain in my left breast. The first time I felt the pain it took my breath away. I tried to brush it off hoping it would just pass. However, the pain became more excruciating so I decided to go to my doctor. My doctor listened and acted on my concerns and referred me to the breast clinic. I wasn’t worried, I was still thinking “it’s probably nothing”.
My initial appointment was for an ultrasound and mammogram. I was not sure what to expect but the radiographer ensured I understood what was about to happen and talked me through the process. Following this, I received a further appointment for a biopsy examination.
Two weeks later, I was invited back to get the results from the biopsy. I was still thinking that it would be nothing. It wasn’t until the Consultant said “Isola, it’s not good news”. He continued to explain that I had breast cancer which was a blow to the stomach. He then went on to say that my left breast would have to be removed. I couldn’t respond at first, I thought he was talking about someone else, not me. The news shook my world. My eyes instantly filled with tears and I cried like I have never cried before. All I could think about was how am I going to tell my children?
From this point on everything moved very quickly. I was offered the opportunity to meet with a breast care nurse who talked through my results and options again. Even then, it still felt unreal. I couldn’t take in much of what she was saying. Fortunately for me my daughter was with me and was taking notes and asking questions.
The Surgeon took time to explain the best procedure for me; stage by stage. In my case this was a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. I feel truly blessed that I had an excellent surgeon who listened, answered all my questions and helped to put my mind at ease.
My experience has made me realise how little some people know about cancer and how much still needs to be done to improve awareness, and I know I have a role to play in helping to spreading this awareness. I wouldn’t deny, that my journey and experience which began in May 2010 hasn’t changed my life forever. It has. However, I am proud to stand tall and say “I am a breast cancer survivor”.
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Why breast screening is important to me
My story started at a crossroads in my life when in June 2010, my dearest friend received the all clear following her treatment for breast cancer (detected through her attendance at the breast screening programme) and the arrival of my 50th birthday breast screening invite.
It felt like a cruel twist of fate for my family and friends, when I was also diagnosed with breast cancer. I was sure that they had got it wrong; not me as well and in the same breast. After the initial shock, I realised how lucky I had been. Attending my appointment meant that my breast cancer was detected at an early stage, where changes in my breast would not have been felt by me through self examination. This meant that my surgery was less aggressive, therefore making my recovery journey a much easier one.
It still surprises me when I speak to women who say that they have received an invite letter to attend breast screening but have not attended their appointment. The usual reasons range from no time, not having a reason and fear. I am not going to pretend that going for any check isn’t worrying, but I was reassured by the dedicated and supportive staff who talked me through every stage.
My journey has been a difficult one for me, my family and friends to walk and whilst I wish I was not diagnosed with cancer, I am stronger today because of the great deal of support I have had and if by sharing my story it raises awareness and encourages one person to take up their breast screening invite, then I am happy.
(Rosemary Stapleton's daughter)
My Family's Journey
I want to share with you my thoughts about my Mum and Grandad’s journey with cancer. The journey began In July 2007, when my Mum broke the news that my Grandad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I remember feeling numb and not knowing what to say to her. The first thought that entered my mind was ‘Is my Grandad going to die?’. Mum reassured me that his cancer had been diagnosed at a very early stage and could be treated. I felt very optimistic, knowing my Grandad’s personality and his positive outlook when encountering adversities. My Grandad’s determination to combat his condition was very evident to us all.
However, in 2009 my Mum informed me that Grandad had taken a turn for the worst and advised me go and see him in the hospital. The doctor’s had assessed that he only had a couple of months to live!! It was shocking news. He was always happy to see my family and was such a funny character. He would initiate conversations mainly about his past that would fill the room with laughter and have us close to tears. Grandad made a miraculous recovery that year, which astounded the doctors.
Then in August 2010 my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was quite positive about her condition and told me that she “only needs an operation and the cancer would be taken away”. I wasn’t worried because of her positive attitude and the fact that I had seen my Grandad fight his cancer all the way. I thank God his determined spirit was a trait my mum inherited. When my Mum came out of hospital, Grandad would make his way by bus to visit her at home. It was a very encouraging time for the whole family and I felt quite positive about how both my Mum and Grandad continued their fight with cancer.
My name is Clifford, I’m 50 years old, and I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer on 3 July 2013 with no symptoms at all. Let’s go back to the beginning of this journey. Initially it was my wife Sharon who was insistent that I made an appointment with my doctor to check my prostate. Her concerns had come from losing two uncles to prostate cancer. Deep down I knew her concerns were genuine, but as a man I thought I knew better and would make an appointment when I could find some time between my work and social calendar. I didn’t feel it was an urgent issue as I was a fit 50 year old, who attended the gym . Eventually, I made an appointment to see my doctor, just to get Sharon off my case!
My doctor asked me why I wanted my prostate checking and I explained my wife’s concerns. He then asked if I had the following symptoms; needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night, difficulty starting to pass urine and feeling that my bladder has not emptied properly etc. Obviously my answers to all these questions was no. He then mentioned that there are two ways of checking the prostate gland:
Firstly, a digital rectal examination. This involves the doctor examining the prostate gland through the wall of the back passage (rectum).
Secondly, a PSA test. This s a blood test that measures the amount of a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA) which is produced by the prostate.
After hearing the about the examinations, I said to my doctor, “look I don’t often visit the doctors, as you can see from my medical records, therefore, while I’m here we might as well carry out both tests” the reason why I insisted on both was that I wanted closure and peace of mind that nothing was wrong with me and to report back to Sharon to tell her I told you so I was ok!!
A few weeks later I received a letter requesting that I make an appointment to see my GP to discuss my blood test results. My GP, informed me that my PSA test results was 5.7. For a man of my age the blood test result should be no higher than 3. I then went on to have further tests and scans and then met with the Consultant to discuss the findings of the test. The Consultant said “I’ve got some bad news, your results have identified that you have prostate cancer. The good news is that cancer hadn’t spread outside the prostate gland.” My eyes glazed over. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’ve got cancer, no not me, I’m fit I look over myself. I looked across at my wife, for her reaction to confirm that she had heard the same news. We both stared at the Consultant in shock. We left the clinic in a daze or trance whatever you want to call it, but we made the decision that we are going to fight this cancer together, stay positive and deal with this card we have been dealt.
My Consultant explained the type of surgery I had agreed on; the removal of my prostate gland (Radical Prostatectomy Operation). I had a lot of questions to ask him regarding the operation, and he was able to answer all my concerns and put my mind at ease. On 22 August 2013 I successfully underwent surgery. I know it’s not easy for men to talk about their health, especially in our community, but African and Caribbean men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer. With this statistic, I feel it is my duty to advise and encourage all black men over the age of 40 to make an appointment with their GP and take the PSA blood test.