When life throws you a C-shaped curve – part 2 of Lorraine’s story

by Lorraine

outfits to wear to radio therapy to treat breast cancer

This is the continuation of Lorraine’s powerful story of how she coped with the discovery of breast cancer and its subsequent treatment. You can read part 1 here.

Thursday June 6

I was told this would not be a painful operation but it is uncomfortable and I can only lie on my back so quickly get back ache. My urine is bright blue from the dye.

Friday June 7

Day11

I ring the consultant’s secretary to ask when I will be able to see her. She says the 17th as they need to wait for the lab to send back the results from the tumour and second lymph node. I freak out. I can’t wait that long and demand an earlier appointment, knowing there will be nothing to report.

Monday June 10

I see the consultant and she removes the dressing from my breast. She is pleased with the result and says it will ‘drop’. She can’t tell me anything except that she has seen an x-ray of the lump and is happy that she got a clear margin around the tumour. She tells me that there were ‘micro’ amounts of cancer in the sentinel node. We have to wait to find out if it had spread to the next node. Further surgery and chemotherapy are still a possibility.

Monday June 17

Day12

Waiting is messing with my head. The receptionists tell me I look pretty and have everything crossed for me. The consultant confirms she achieved a clear margin around the tumour and the second node is clear – no more surgery for me! The tumour is Grade 2. She has run my data through a database and I am marginal for chemotherapy. She is passing me on to the oncologist but wants me to have another test – a sophisticated and expensive gene test done in California which will give us more information on which to base the decision to have chemotherapy or not. She tells me not to Google and not to read The Daily Mail!

Tuesday June 18

I receive a letter from the consultant stating my results. By now I understand the group of letters and numbers without referring to the internet. According to the letter I am node negative. I am so happy. I speak to her secretary, who is becoming a friend. It seems my notes have “This lady likes to Google” written on them. We laugh about it and then imagine my tumour flying first class to California.

Wednesday 19

I see the oncologist. I feel he is sizing me up. I tell him I am node negative. “Not to me,” he says. “The cancer is in your first node which shows it is capable of travelling and setting up home elsewhere. This makes it dangerous.” He has run my details through another database and the results he gets are more inclined towards chemotherapy than the first one. I refuse to discuss it.

We do talk about the radiotherapy but it is futile as it takes place after chemo and could be a long way off. We discuss the tablets I will take. I produce a spread-sheet of comparative side-effects of the different tablets that I have Googled. I think he is impressed!

He will see me in a week with the results of the American test. A score of under 18 means no chemo, 31 and over means chemo, in between is deemed ‘patient’s choice’.

Wednesday July 3

Day13

I see my doctor first thing. She quizzes me about why I don’t want chemo. I don’t want to look ill, feel ill, have everybody know I’m ill, I tell her.
I see my oncologist in the afternoon. I feel sick. After a long preamble he tells me my score is 28. It’s under 31 – just! Even so my eyes fill with tears at such a high score but I choke them back.

He explains all the statistics and scores but all I can focus on is the number 28. He explains that this score means chemotherapy will increase my survival chances by an extra three per cent. It’s up to me whether I go ahead – he will support me either way. I ask him what he would advise his wife. “To make up her own mind,” he says, unhelpfully.

Three per cent is not enough for me. The oncologist has already second guessed my decision and booked me in for radiotherapy set up in two days’ time. “If you change your mind tomorrow we can cancel it and start chemotherapy. Six sessions, once every three weeks, followed by the radiotherapy,” he says. It will be Christmas when it’s over and I will be bald and sick.

That evening I try to explain the results to my husband. I don’t understand them.

Thursday July 4

Day14

I feel ecstatic that I have avoided chemotherapy but then have a meltdown and cry. Have I made the right decision? It all seems so rushed. I speak to one of the nurses and she tells me I must understand the results before making a decision. I ask the consultant’s secretary for a copy of the Californian test report. It seems they don’t usually give them to patients but she will check.

Friday July 5

The report arrives in the post and I pore over it with a highlighter pen. I meet my husband and we go to the (fourth) hospital for the radiotherapy set up. It is the same hospital where we had (unsuccessful) IVF more than 10 years ago.

The oncologist is waiting for us and takes us into a consulting room where he patiently goes through the results again for my husband. He understands and asks questions. We are happy with my decision.

I am whisked upstairs for a CT scan of my upper body. I have to lie on a board with my arms above my head and I start to lose sensation in my hands. The nurses do three pinprick tattoos on my body as reference points for the radiotherapy. They also draw on me in indelible pen. It will take a week to plan the treatment but the equipment is state of the art. I will have to travel to the hospital every day (except weekends) for three weeks.

I have been putting a lot of thought into my outfits recently and have felt a real need to look feminine since the operation. I decide to wear a different outfit every day as a challenge to myself.

w/e Friday 15 July

Day15

The weather has turned hot and I have a spectacular rash on my breasts! As I strip off for the first day of radiotherapy I warn the nurses not to be shocked by it – forgetting that I have a huge scar and no nipple!

The nurses are wonderful and the whole thing is painless and quick, once I am in position on the board, arms in stirrups above my head. There is no dignity in being ill.

My oncologist is on holiday for the week and I tell the nurses I feel neglected, like a petulant child. I apologise the following day and explain that they don’t realise how dependant you become on the specialists.

I collect the tablets I have to take daily for the next five years, possibly 10. They are from a family called aromatase inhibitors and stop oestrogen being produced in your body. The side effects are all the things that oestrogen stops – bone and joint pain, hot flushes, headaches, etc.

w/e Friday July 26

I see the oncologist at the end of the week and he refers me to a dermatologist as the ‘rash’ is on my face as well. It’s my old friend psoriasis.

w/e Friday August 2

Radiotherapy comes to an end and I am sorry to say goodbye to the nurses and the daily routine. They say they will miss seeing my outfits. I am warned by the oncologist that the side effects will peak after the treatment but I am already a bit ‘pink’ where the radiotherapy beam has been. I have to apply creams and keep out of the sun.

w/e Friday August 9

copingwithbreastcancer4

I see my doctor for more tablets. I am feeling very low but she says it’s only natural. My husband and I book a holiday in the south of France, flying out on the 29th.

Saturday August 24

My left breast is still lumpy and sensitive as the radiotherapy has stalled the healing process. I check my right breast and am horrified to find a lump. I don’t tell anybody, including my husband, as I think I am becoming paranoid.

Wednesday August 28

I have a check-up with my oncologist. The soreness, which peaked 10 days after the radiotherapy is now better, and the stabbing pains in my chest, are all normal. The circle of skin standing in for a nipple is grey. It’s not dead – it’s the blue dye! He tells me I can wear an underwired bra again.
I ask him to check my right breast and he can feel a lump as well. He wants me to see the surgeon for an ultrasound but I am on holiday in France for a week. I tell my husband.

Monday September 9

After a lovely week in France, where we try not to worry, I see the surgeon. She examines me. The lump is a cyst.

A note from Sylvia: A big thank you to Lorraine for sharing this moving story. I truly hope that you will make a full recovery and that you can put this behind you real soon. For everyone else, please make sure that you do your personal checks in addition to your mammograms. As you all know it’s crucial that you discover breast cancer early. If you want to share your own experience or have additional information, feel free to share your comments below.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea

Lorraine, my heart goes out to you. Such an arduous process, which you’ve handled and written about with grace. Thank you for sharing your story. Best wishes in your recovery.

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2 Lorraine

Thank you so much for your comments, Andrea.

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3 Lynn

I just read part I, and now have read part II. I am pulling for you big time! I want you to stay well! Thanks for sharing it. None of us knows what we will face from one day to the next. And good for you for staying so on top of things, journaling, and keeping yourself beautiful!!

XOXO
Lynn

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4 Lorraine

Thank you Lynn! I was always telling my husband that we should make the most of the time we are healthy, little realising what lay around the corner.

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5 Liz

Hi Lorraine,
I am just about to start my radiotherapy for a grade 2 cancer in my breast also. I had my ct scan and tit tats as I call them yesterday. I totally relate to the frustrations of the endless waiting for this result and then that result, it feels like forever. I like the challenge of wearing a different outfit each day. It might be a challenge for me, I have 6 weeks of ray treatment starting on 30th of Sept. wish me luck!
Thanks for sharing your story, it was wonderful reading the thoughts and feelings of someone who has felt the same as me but who could express it so eloquently!

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6 Lorraine

Hello Liz
I am sorry you are having to go through this too. The waiting really messed with my head and the anxiety drew me to Google like a magnet. Of course, once on Google I read everything there was to read and things nobody should ever read and am now a world expert on all things breast cancer related!
Hopefully, like me, you managed to avoid chemo. Radiotherapy is a breeze but be kind to yourself and take it easy. The side effects creep up on you and be prepared for that: “What just happened to me” feeling afterwards.
Six weeks is a long time for an outfit challenge and while I could have kept going with my outfits for a little while (I did three weeks) I’m not sure I could have made it to six weeks! Do give it a go though – anything to keep up your spirits.
I hope you have a lot of support from friends and family. Please keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on.

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7 Lorraine

PS Liz
I found that the gym was my best friend through radiotherapy – exercise helps combat fatigue.

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8 Tangobabe

Wow, Lorraine, how terrible to have to go through all this!!! (And what a fantastic writer you are.)

I really hope that the worst is behind you and that it’s all uphill from now on.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and thank you, Sylvia as well, for giving you this platform to share your experience with this horrible disease!

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9 Lorraine

Thanks Anya. I hope that by Sylvia allowing me to share my story I have helped other women.

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10 Aileen

I think the staff at the hospital must have been amazed at you turning up looking so good in all your lovely outfits every day. You must have inspired them as well as the other patients.
I wish you all the very best for the future and look forward to seeing more of your beautiful wardrobe combinations.

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11 Lorraine

I’m not sure they were amazed, Aileen – probably amused! Although I don’t have to wear a uniform like the nurses, I don’t have a job where I get to dress up much so this was light relief for me!

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12 Suzanne

What a story and difficult journey. I hope that they cyst was benign and that is the final chapter in your cancer story.

bisous
Suzanne

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13 Lorraine

Hi Suzanne. The cyst was just drained and was harmless, thanks. I hope you are on the road to recovery after your health problems, too.

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14 Annette

Again thank you for sharing, Lorraine. I can’t even image how you must have felt. You managed to go through all those treatments and I wish you a full recovery.
Also all my best wishes for Liz!

Annette

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15 Lorraine

Thanks for your best wishes Annette. Unfortunately the stats for breast cancer are not good and it’s something that is only too real for many women.

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16 Marie S

I’m so sorry this has happened to you Lorraine but thank you so much for sharing your story and your lovely photos. You look fabulous. No wonder the nurses commented. Take care of yourself and I wish you a speedy recovery and good health.

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17 Lorraine

Thanks for your lovely comments Marie.

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18 Lorraine

Thanks to everybody who read the article and for your lovely comments. I left a lot of things out of the article – frantic emails, phone calls, meltdowns and more Googling (!), as well as liaising with my private health insurance providers and medical professionals, who have all been great.

The consultant/surgeon was able to drain the cyst with a syringe and removed 20ml of fluid. She said if I am ever concerned about anything I have to go straight to her rather than through my doctor which was comforting. I did see her in the supermarket on Wednesday but resisted running over to her!!! LOL!
Seriously, don’t just rely on mammograms to pick up lumps. We only have them every 3 years in the UK from age 50 and I found my lump within a year of having one. Also, don’t just feel for lumps – LOOK for changes!
I am going to have to live with the possibility of the cancer coming back but will be closely monitored for the next 5 years at least with annual mammograms and checks on the effects of the tablets. Since finding the cyst I have had an MRI and will have a bone density scan next week as the tablets cause osteoporosis. I have never taken good health for granted as my parents were both 64 when they died after long illnesses, so would urge you all to take care of yourselves and enjoy life!

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19 Glenda Harrison

Lorraine, you are a perfect example of what it means to fight cancer beautifully. I am the founder of A Daughter’s Heart-Cancer Support Service http://www.adaughtersheart.org
When I hear about lovely women, like yourself, and how they cope while on that journey, I am moved. I hope the very best for you.

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20 Lorraine

Hi Glenda
What a fantastic job you are doing supporting those with cancer. Well done and thanks for your comments.

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21 Greetje

As I said Lorraine, you are such a good writer. I was really drawn into the story, even though it is terrible and especially because it happened to someone as nice and witty as you. I will light a candle again for a well ending.
In The Netherlands we have mammograms for women over 50 every year. But you are right, checking your own body is something you should do. Also looking at strange or changing moles. Another enemy.
Love you
Greetje

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22 Lorraine

Hi Greetje. Sadly humour and wit is no protection from any form of cancer but it does help when dealing with it! Thanks for your kind comments.

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23 Allison Cains

Hi Lorraine,

A truly inspirational story of your life, take my hat off to you.

My mother had breast cancer, I get myself checked out every year, still get very anxious and stressed prior to the test and while waiting for the results.

All the best to you.

Keep smiling and your outfits were beautiful.

Thanks
Ally C.

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24 Lorraine

Hi Ally. The waiting is the worst thing and you would not be normal if you didn’t get stressed after losing your mother. I am sorry to hear that. Thankfully research and trials are being carried out all the time for breast cancer and survival rates are increasing all the time.

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25 Vickie

Thank you for sharing. I have gone through somewhat similar. I have stage IV breast cancer that has spread to my bones. I am doing well though. I’m on the same estrogen inhibitor that you are plus a lot of pain meds for the bone pain and a bone strengthener once a month. I am always glad to read of someone else with a very positive attitude in dealing with this.

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26 Sylvia

sorry to read that you were unlucky to get this awful disease too Vickie. Wishing you lots of strength and health and hope that you will be able to beat it!

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27 Lorraine

Thank YOU for sharing your story, Vickie. My heart goes out to you and I feel humbled when I realise what I could have been facing. I avoided chemo, as you have read, and my recent MRI scan, carried out as a result of pains in my hip/leg, were clear of cancer. I have tried to be positive but it’s not easy at times. I hope you can stay strong and have lots of support around you.

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28 Marianne

It took me a while to be able to give a comment on your story, because it brought back a lot of memories. That is because of my mother who had breast cancer too, so we went through the whole process, thought she was clean but in the end the cancer spread to her bones and after she had 4 different kinds of cancer in her life she ended her life with euthanasia. Therefore I want to praise you about the way you handled it, you gave us some tools to cope with any disease. First to write it down, that is the way to release yourself for a part of the tension and then to dress yourself every day in another outfit, that is the way to focus on something else and it points out your femininity while losing a part of it in real life. So Lorraine giving you a compliment for being a model is in fact a compliment for being o role model.

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29 Lorraine

I was touched by your comments Marianne. I lost my mother to cancer – Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – and it was very upsetting for me when my oncologist told me that she should not have died from it.
I don’t consider myself a role model but thank-you. I am just a frightened woman and just coped the way I knew – by learning as much as I could about the disease, by finding humour where I could, by writing about it, trying to look good, using clothes as ‘armour’, going to the gym. I also did what my mother didn’t and ASKED for help and support. I had friends with me at every step of the way and in nearly every appointment. At one stage the oncologist joked that he had met the whole village! Emails and phone calls meant a lot. Going for a simple walk with a friend and their dog was lovely. So if anybody knows somebody who is going through an illness like this, please take it from me that being there for them is the best thing you can do.

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30 Heather

Hello Lorraine,
I am only now reading your articles, since I have been away. I am so glad everything has turned out so positive for you, and I am struck by the wit and grace with which you have dealt with it. You write so well and used such empowering coping mechanisms. I am thinking about you, and hope everything continues to get better.

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31 Lorraine

Hi Heather
Thanks for your lovely comments. I am feeling very positive now and can only hope that it doesn’t come back. For me the best thing that could come out of this is that everybody checks themselves regularly.

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32 Sue

Hi Lorraine

Your story is exactly what I went through in October last year. In New Zealand we have
mammograms every second year but if there is a history in your family you can have them every year and just pay for the second one. I was extremely lucky as the radiologist notice more calcification than the year before and I was recalled. Lucky for me the Breast Care Clinic had just installed a 3D machine and it picked up two lumps(in different places on the same breast), but they werent near the calcification. My surgeon was confident that she could remove them and save my breast. My cancer was rapid. In a period of 2 weeks the lumps had grown from 2mm to 10mm. I started radiation on the 5th January this year and today I am fit and healthy. Appreciating every minute. Next month is my next mammogram and I am sure I will be a bit nervous but I am ALIVE and that is the main thing. My mother has had both breasts removed when cancer entered her life at 60 and 66. Today she is 83 and a picture of health. There definitely is life after cancer, you just realise how precious it is and dont take anything for granted. My thoughts are with you. Sue

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33 Hadizadeh

I hope the best for you.

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34 Renee L

I just “happened” upon your blog/website and so glad I did!!! Initially I was looking for fashion ideas, etc. and then I saw Lorraine’s story. I, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer October 2018 and am currently going through chemotherapy and am scheduled to have radiation after. Thank you for sharing your story Lorraine, we are similar in diagnosis and treatment in many ways. God bless you.

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35 Sylvia

Wishing you lots of strength Renee in this difficult time. Look after yourself, stay strong and conquer this!

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