Having small children and running a new business was hard to juggle during cancer treatment. But they did provide some momentum and an identity away from cancer.
2017 didn’t get off to a good start for me, or my family. I was planning to return to work in the IT industry after maternity leave, but it was a huge challenge juggling childcare for a toddler and preschooler along with potentially long commutes, so I ended up starting a small interiors-related business to bring in some money. Then in May, my five year old developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease causing paralysis. She was in hospital for several weeks and although it was overwhelming having her return home as she was still severely disabled, we did have hope that normal life would resume soon.
She had been home just a few weeks when I found the lump. I was worried, but I think I honestly expected to be told it was nothing sinister at the breast clinic. However, they knew straight away that it was cancer and I just curled up and shook when they told me. I was already traumatised by my daughter’s potentially fatal illness, and the horror of the cancer diagnosis on top of this pretty much destroyed me.
A week later, I returned to the hospital to find out my full diagnosis and treatment plan: I had a grade 2, oestrogen-positive, invasive ductal carcinoma and I would have chemo first then either a lumpectomy/radiotherapy or a full mastectomy. There was no sign of it having spread to my lymph nodes, which was a huge relief as I already felt guilty about not noticing the lump while we were focused entirely on my daughter in hospital.
I don’t know how I got through the rest of the year – it just kind of unfolded and I got on with it. I started chemo in early September, the same week my daughter started school (by this point she was walking again, thankfully). I decided to continue with my fledgling business for as long as I was able, as it was entirely flexible and home based, plus it gave me a distraction and an identity away from cancer treatment.
On days when my immunity was poor, I would drop the children at the door of nursery and school as the risk of infection was too great. Despite my best efforts, I managed to rack up two week-long hospital stays in isolation with neutropenic sepsis. These admissions weren’t fun, but in some ways they did allow me to totally switch off and rest a bit!
After chemo finished, I had a few short weeks to recover my strength before surgery (I ended up having a mastectomy and reconstruction). During this time, we had a short holiday in the snow-covered Cairngorms and it was absolute bliss walking through pine forests surrounded by snowy mountains.
Fast forward to today, and it’s now just over a year since my diagnosis. I’m fully recovered from surgery and am trying to get my fitness back through running, swimming and cycling. We’ve had a carefree summer spent travelling around in a campervan (a recent spur of the moment purchase) and I try not to sweat the small stuff. My business continues to grow (as does my hair, which is currently dyed rose gold!). Having small children doesn’t leave much time for reflection or self care, but I’m extremely grateful to have made it through the other side with a good prognosis and I just want to live as well and as healthily as possible from now on.