As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gef is profiling the models for the Fashion for Life fashion show, in aid of Isle of Man Breast Care and Breast Cancer Now Volunteering in the IOM. The show, which takes place on Friday 22nd October, will feature 80s-inspired fashion, modeled by local survivors of breast cancer. You can book tickets at: villagaiety.com/whats-on/fashion-for-life/
What is your name?
Tell us about you and your life pre-diagnosis.
Life was good. I had a happy family life with my husband and children living on the prom in Peel doing a job I loved in Community Mental Health.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed in 2010.
How were you diagnosed?
I was in the shower one morning when I found a lump on my breast. It honestly felt surreal, and I didn’t want to believe it was there. I did, however, ring the GP and was seen later that day. The doctors initially believed that it was a very early stage of DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) that had not spread, but we found out that the DCIS was hiding a tumour and the cancer cells had spread.
Tell us about your treatment
Because the initial diagnosis was thought to be in such an early stage, the doctors thought I could have surgery after a few months and carry on with my work and rehearsals for Peel Panto. After they realised the cancer spread, however, the planned surgery and radiotherapy was moved as it needed to happen as soon as possible. My treatment involved trips back and forth to Liverpool, followed by a six hour operation at Royal Liverpool Hospital in December 2010.
On Christmas Eve, I was given the results of my surgery. The cancer had spread through my lymph glands. I was given a treatment package as soon as possible to give me the best chance.
A year and a half into treatment, I had a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) fitted, chemotherapy sessions commenced. This had to halt after I needed emergency surgery, after I became dangerously ill with an abscess. It was a grueling recovery, with my deep wound having to be cleaned and packed regularly. Once it had healed enough, I underwent further chemotherapy, with severe side effects.
I was then sent for a month of radiotherapy at Clatterbridge hospital, where I was an inpatient due to my poor mobility. I had weekend trips home, which were exhausting but necessary to see my children.
On return to the island, I started my next phase of treatment- a year of three weekly infusions at the chemo suite, which thankfully did not make me ill.
Tell us about your life now and the impacts it has had on you
Towards the end of my treatment, my life began gradually disintegrating. My younger sister passed away after a long treatment, my Dad became very poorly with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body dementia, my phased return to work was disastrous, despite my best efforts my marriage fell apart. I lost my home, career, and my two special friends, Kate and Cath. The three of us had christened ourselves the Three Musketeers while we were attending the Hospice Day Unit. We shared a lot of good times.
At times it really felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but the reason I kept going was for my two children, Jack and Kirsty. When everything felt helpless,
Gradually in the years since then I have picked up the pieces and made a new life and learnt to live with the long term effects of my treatment. Everyone is different, I was left with hearing damage, peripheral neuropathy, depressive episodes and anxiety and chronic pain caused by scar tissue, all of which I manage the best I can.
Over the last four years I have worked hard to lose weight and get fitter – being overweight was the one risk factor of concern to my Consultant in Liverpool at each annual checkup. A big motivator which got me started was being asked to be a model in the IOM Breast Care Fashion Show in 2017 and 2019. The first time I struggled to find clothes to fit my large body, but the second time I had lost six stone. Choosing clothes became fun and I was much more confident
I have also had some adventures at home and abroad which have helped my confidence and wellbeing. People often comment on my smile: only those close to me know the smile is often hiding a lot. I am now able to work part time and I am continuing to build my fitness and am loving learning to kayak.
Best advice you received
My lovely GP likened the cancer experience to being a soldier who’s been to war, you can never totally leave it behind you but you can move on and make a life despite it and even thrive beyond it.
Advice you would give
You are stronger than you can possibly know. We can let challenging experiences define us or refine us. Here’s to making the most of what we have and enjoying life to the full, whatever our limitations or challenges may be.
How were you supported by Breast Cancer Now Volunteering in the IOM, Isle of Man Breast Care and other Manx BC Charities?
I had fantastic support from Sharon and the team at IOM Breastcare, as well as the Hospice Day Unit and Respite Service, and Manx Cancer Help – both practically and financially they really kept me afloat at different times. Treatment from the Hyperbaric Chamber helped heal the nerve damage in my feet, and I had fantastic care at Nobles and the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
Thank you to Judith Clague for sharing her story.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are selling Mystic Chest t-shirts and jumpers at: https://www.gefthemongoose.net/shop/collections/mystic-chest
Learn more about the collection and the story behind it at: https://gef.im/2021/10/13/check-your-mystic-chest/