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Kaye Howarth (Breast Cancer Survivor)

Kaye Howarth (Breast Cancer Survivor)

I became a cancer warrior at the age of 34. I was a single mum with two very young children and had recently gotten remarried when I found a breast lump in my left breast while taking a shower.  First of all, I thought it was a cyst and it was initially treated as a cyst. Then six months later the lump came back again and I thought oh this isn't good, so I went back to have a breast check. Then through a mammogram, I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. 

The Diagnosis

I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I started to get a very sharp stabbing pain in my left breast, in my breastbone. I initially thought it was indigestion. But it was coming from a lump and also I noticed a very slight change in my breast appearance. I was also getting very tired and when I was eating it took me a long time to eat. I thought because I was getting tired. After all, I had started up a new business and I just thought I was tired from doing that. 

It was then I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and from that I went to have a lumpectomy in November 1999. So I'm a long-time warrior, still here 20 years later. 

The Treatment and Support System

I had six months of chemotherapy which I found the hardest of all of the treatments. Physical things I could deal with, but mentally it was exhausting and brutal. If I'm honest so after that was my six months of recuperation writing my journal keeping myself going mentally. it was every lump or bump or anything different I'd run to the doctors and have it checked and even after the treatment. When I came off chemotherapy I found that frightening because I didn't have the support of the doctor and everything you go back and have checks of course every three months and then it moves on and you get a further time between your checkups your breast checks but then that you feel sort of left alone adrift there unless you have family and friends to support you which I did so I was very very lucky some people don't like. I don't know how they manage. Things are different now of course because mental health has got a different outlook now, whereas before it's pushed under the covers, you know don't talk about it, get on with it woman, you know you're a woman get on with it.

I didn't try to fight; it was my trick to get a very comfy cushion for the operation, so I could sleep comfortably. If I was tired I went to bed and slept. My body told me to take plenty of fluid. I drank lots of fluid as much as I could and I got myself out if I could, at least once a day, even if it was just to sit in the back garden. 

My neighbours and my community came together and they helped me by simple things like dropping food for the kids. Because I was single then. Apart from my mum, the neighbours, the doctor was good, he would phone me and see if I was okay. My mum's friends also always kept in touch and the other members of my family who lived in town would phone once a week just to sort of say how are you doing.  

They didn't get all of the margins in one go, so then I had to go back and have a further operation I opted just to go for a mastectomy because I thought I wouldn't keep going back if they missed the margin lines and I was very lucky back then I was offered to have a reconstruction at the same time which was a big operation because they take the muscle from your back and they push it around onto your chest bone so it's quite a big recuperation time.

A message to other cancer patients

Well, when you go into a room somebody's talking to you, then suddenly they say the word cancer, and it's like it goes into slow motion. That's the only way I can put it. It's like slow motion and they're talking at you but you're not taking it in, and you come out of that meeting room just remembering the words breast cancer. As soon as you get to know that you've got breast cancer, you immediately think you're going to die. But it's not a death sentence, not always. If you're very lucky, which I was, it wasn't for me. 

Take one day at a time, if you find any lump or bump, or anything you're just not sure about, go and get it checked. Don't be frightened or embarrassed; you owe it to yourself and your family. So, get checked out and answer yourself. Otherwise, you'll only sit there and worry about it and keep poking it like I did and making matters worse so get to the doctor and get it checked.

If you're feeling weak, then also just try and still partake in your family life. When you're up in your bedroom and you can hear your family below the stairs, you tend to feel very left out. It can be quite isolating so try and spend time down with your family. If you can read and watch or just sit with them, just do things that you can do with the energy. These small things will help you feel better in those moments as well as in your healing journey.

Don't google your symptoms and frighten yourself to death as sometimes too much information can be dangerous at the time. Just take it one day at a time is my advice and do a journal because I found it so helpful and to look back on it now I think oh my gosh I forgot all about it.

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