10 things you ought to know
about breast cancer...

There’s a wealth of information on cancer, its treatment and the side effects, but I was genuinely surprised by what I had to learn ‘on the job’. Read this, and you won’t be:

  1. 1

    What happens when you’re diagnosed with cancer? Speaking personally, my brain froze and I didn’t take that much in, so have someone with you who can ask the questions that you don’t. And never feel silly or embarrassed about those questions, it’s important you get the answers. You might want to prepare a list in advance.

  2. 2

    Chemotherapy at home Ask your doctor if it’s possible to be treated at home; I was and felt more relaxed and in control. It was helpful to my kids too; they could see me having the treatment and that it wasn’t remotely scary. (Chemotherapy drugs can be expensive, but if they’re given to you in your home, they’re exempt from VAT, so there’s a financial upside as well.)

  3. 3

    Diarrhoea happens Well, it may not, but it might. It did to me, and it was very embarrassing; after that I never left home without my ‘kit’: Imodium Instants, spare knickers, night-time sanitary towels, wet wipes, tissues, perfumed body spray and nappy sacks. Not only was this practical, it had a very positive psychological effect; I knew I could carry on almost as normal when I was at work or just out and about.

  4. 4

    Insomnia Another downside of the treatment is chronic insomnia. For the first few weeks I was averaging one to two hours’ sleep a night, then going to work feeling (and probably looking) like a zombie. I eventually told my nurse, and sleeping pills were prescribed. Within a week, I felt like a new woman. I don’t advocate sleeping pills, but my body needed to rest and rejuvenate, and this was the only way to do it. When the treatment was over, I stopped taking them.

  5. 5

    Cording This can affect you if lymph nodes have been removed from your underarm during your breast cancer operation. Some lymphatic vessels become too taut, restricting and making arm movements very painful. Don’t worry, it’s not serious and the cording can easily be removed through massage and gentle stretching; see a physiotherapist as soon as you feel any pain.

  6. 6

    Losing your hair For a woman, hair loss is such an emotive subject. My hair started falling out 19 days after my first chemotherapy session; it was so messy, I had to shave my head. But I was prepared for being bald: weeks before reaching this stage I’d already discussed my options with my family: should I wear a wig, a scarf or go commando?

  7. 7

    Choosing a wig As I was going to carry on working, I wanted to look as normal as possible, for me that meant finding a great wig. But not all wig shops are good; so don’t feel you have to buy from the first one you visit. I came out with a wig that made me look better than I’d ever looked with my own hair. Which is just as well, as I had to wear that wig for the best part of a year.

  8. 8

    Reflexology helps A massage-based complementary therapy, it’s excellent for restoring and maintaining the body’s natural equilibrium when it’s getting a pounding from the chemotherapy drugs. Having your toes fiddled with for an hour is undeniably wonderful too. I believe it was a contributory factor in my excellent response to the treatment.

  9. 9

    Weight gain I assumed I’d lose weight, but I put on around two stone. No, I wasn’t comfort eating – I couldn’t enjoy food as my taste buds were affected by the chemo – I believe it had more to do with the menopause that the treatment had brought on. I kept as active as I could, but gradually lost the weight over the next 12-18 months, and kept it off.

  10. 10

    The great outdoors I’m not a fresh air fiend, but I became one. I wanted to give my body a chance to recover and gain strength, so I walked round the block three or four times a week. Nothing strenuous, but I wasn’t ambling either. Post treatment I started jogging. Five years on, I’m still jogging and I still HATE exercise, but it’s made me feel and look better.