So once the C Bomb was well and truly detonated I became what felt like a lab rat overnight. Emotionally it was draining. The day before I started work at 5am. We’d done a live fat burning procedure on a very happy viewer on the ITV Lorraine show (i’d been petrified that something might go wrong) and good old Sherrie Hewson was the guest of the day. I’d raced home at 5pm to get dinner on for the kids and do Archie’s spelling practice. It was a normal busy day. The next day I was told I had breast cancer. Overnight I was redefined. I was a patient and everything else had to go on hold. Thinking of what to cook for dinner or which story we should cover on our show was replaced with ‘How am I going to beat this / where has it spread to / how do i tell my kids’. The next two weeks was a blur of tests, tests and more tests.
FIRST STOP – MRI
26.04.18 I was sent two days after my diagnosis for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan which basically takes pictures from all angles of your body and shows up soft tissue very clearly. The purpose for me was to see if the cancer was in my left boob as well.
(Gowned up and ready to dive in)
I had to have a cannula fitted on my right arm so that half way through the scan they could inject me with a contrast dye which helped show up my organs more clearly (it also made my wee blue – non stop fun this). I laid on my front and my boobs dropped into two separate holes in the bed. My arms were put into a superman pose and then I had to lie completely still for half an hour. The bed slid into a tunnel which was quite a tight space but I had headphones with the radio on which helped take my mind off it (except it was Jonathan Ross introducing Steps and ‘TWagedy’ so for the first 5 minutes I kept repeating in my head ‘I have cancer I have cancer’ to try and stop myself from laughing). The noise of the machine was unbelievably loud. It was a bit like a washing machine going full spin with a pair of Timberland boots clunking away inside. After 15 minutes the nurse came in and injected the dye. It was so weird because you can’t move a muscle or speak so you feel utterly helpless. For the entire scan all I could think about was what on earth am I doing in here and what will the MRI show. Thankfully the results a week later came back confirming that the left boob was clear of cancer. Mini high five. In your face Twagedy.
NEXT UP – NUCLEAR MEDICINE SCAN
03.05.18 A week later and the day before my mastectomy I had to go to the Nuclear Medicine department for another scan. Who knew the place existed!? This bad boy would help my consultant prepare for surgery as it showed up the cancerous tumours.
First I had to be injected with a radioactive tracer dye directly into my right boob (not too painful). Then I had to go and walk around the hospital for half an hour whilst the dye hunted down the enemy. Knowing I had to get back for school pick up the nurse suggested I massage of my boob to help the dye along (then the scan should work first time). It was a sunny day so Mark and I sat on a wall in the car park. I was reading a leaflet on ‘Hair loss and Cancer’ and Mark was engrossed in his Tiger Woods biography (incidently he’s finished it semi-despising the guy). After 10 minutes of jibbling my boob my arm was aching so Mark took over the boob massage reigns (whilst still reading his book)…who said romance was dead.
Half an hour later we went into the scan unit and bingo the dye had done it’s job. The cancer was glowing up all around my breast (like some 80s rave) and the pictures were taken. We made it home for school pickup and I cooked a chicken curry for the kids tea and they loved it (for once). Small victories.
MASTECTOMY / LYMPH NODE CLEARANCE
04.05.18 I’ve written about my mastectomy in my post ‘How Would You Like Your Eggs?’. What I will say here though is they took my sentinel lymph nodes (level 1) at the same time. This is quite normal when you have invasive cancer. After the mastectomy they tested all of the tumours (i had 4) in the breast and they all came back Grade 3 positive to cancer. Grade 3 basically means that it’s fast growing (there is no Grade 4 so mine meant the most business). The level 1 lymph nodes were also saturated with the stuff.
So I was told I had to have further surgery and the next level (level 2) of lymph nodes had to be removed and tested (Lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid in your body. They are small bean shaped glands which contain immune cells vital for fighting and destroying infection). This really unnerved me because I knew that the cancer was definitely pretty adventurous and had made it to my next layer of defense. I felt that my body had further let me down. I was also feeling weak after the mastectomy surgery so the thought of going back under the knife two weeks later (and being back in hospital away from my kids) was a bit of a slap in the chops.
21.05.18 After my mastectomy and lymph node surgery I needed a PET scan to see if there were tumours anywhere else in my body. It works by injecting a type of sugar into your body and because cancer cells use the glucose at a much faster rate than normal healthy cells the scan can highlight the imposter. In basic terms, where a mass of this sugary substance collates indicates where the cancer is around your body.
It all sounded very straight forward but it was the maddest experience. I was basically put into quarantine in this purpose built cell-like room because the liquid I was injected with was radioactive. The nurse wore extra protective tabbards (not far off a hazmat suit) when she brought in the syringe (wearing thick gloves) which was kept in a big metal box (like something from the Matrix). She kept very quiet and moved unreassuringly quickly as she put my tourniquet on. Once I was injected she was back through the ‘DO NOT ENTER – RADIOACTIVITY’ door like a gazelle. I had to sit tight for an hour in isolation whilst the toxic substance travelled around my body. I had to drink loads of water so by the time they buzzed me for the scan I was ready for a quick loo break. I was instructed to walk a minimum of 10 paces behind the nurse and I wasn’t to make conversation. I then had an isolated toilet which I could use and was told that I had to flush twice (i don’t know why and I couldn’t ask her). It couldn’t get more random.
Then I had to lie on a bed and go into another tunnel (not as claustrophobic as MRI) and smile for the cameras. It took about 20 minutes. So there. That was my PET scan. As I was radioactive I couldn’t be in contact with pregnant people or small children for a few hours so I took full advantage of my quarantine rules and went for an impromptu sleepover at my friend Sue’s house in Barnes London. She took me out for a cheeky cocktail and dinner – just what the dr ordered.
(Me and my very special friend Sue Walton)
23.05.18 – The PET scan was checking my entire body for cancer cells but the only way to check my brain was with a brain MRI. After all of the testing i’d had so far this one didn’t worry me. Well the results did but not the procedure. It was exactly the same as the body MRI except I didn’t have dye injected and I had to lay on my back. I felt a little more claustrophobic because the ceiling of the tube was right above my nose so they gave me a mirrored contraption which stuck to my forehead and acted like a periscope. It meant I could see outside of the tunnel which definitely helped.
PET SCAN AND BRAIN MRI RESULTS
24.05.18. ALL CLEAR! These are the images from the PET scan and the brain MRI. No further cancerous tumours were detected which was amazing news. Finally something positive to hold on to. I now knew what I was dealing with. Grade 3 breast cancer in my right breast and level 1 lymph nodes. Now that they’ve been removed I am technically cancer free. Due to the aggressive nature of it though I still have to have chemo and radiotherapy because these scans don’t show up micro cancerous cells which may be traveling around my body. Next stop on this fun bus? Chemotherapy…
COMING UP ON THE TITTY GRITTY
*Preparing for chemo including my tops tips and how you can help support someone you know going through cancer treatment.
You are so brave telling your story of your cancer journey. Thank you for sharing you lovely lady xxx 💕
Thanks Debbie x
Loving your blog Helen, it makes a scary experience more bearable. I will be half way through chemo when I go this Friday…. I’ve only got to have 6, just a bit of belt and braces to make sure they’ve got it all…..keep up the good work you are an inspiration indeed
Thank you so much Jo. Good luck for a Friday! I’m in on Friday too having chemo number 10….then just 6 more to go. Best wishes x
Wow! Been following your story since you were on Lorraine last week. So not very long but you have certainly left me curious and in awe of your journey! I can’t quite think of the words to describe my thoughts about you as no words seem enough but very positive and inspiring! I just think you are amazing and ypu have touched my heart. I intend to tell all my friends and family all about your blog as you are a real life super hero! Keep on shining, amazing Lady xxx
Thank you for your lovely kind words of encouragement- means loads! Thank you for spreading the Titty Gritty word x
So informative…and I know that despite what you’re going through, your aim is to create awareness and help anyone else going through this…your honest and funny account should definitely do this! Sending lots of love and strength your way lovely xx
Thank you Lydia xx
As always, great reading, one thinks a book is brewing! X
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Thank you so much for writing these blogs, I have been found out on Friday that I have Breast cancer, my world has been blown apart and am just about going to sit my kids down and tell them which breaks my heart. The cancer I can face am strong and a positive person butt breaking my kids heart is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Thanks for putting it in simple terms of every step and making me smile along the way.
Stay strong gorgeous lady xx
Best of luck and thank you for your message. Hope they take it ok xx
A fabulous blog, good luck to you and of course everyone on a similar journey 🌈
Thank you for you blog,
I m 43 and was diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday, all
I know is the lump mass is measuring 8cm, (they don’t know if it’s all cancer at this stsge) life seems pretty scary at mo but having to tell your sons (23 & 20) and see them cry is heartbreaking
Reading your journey so far gives hope and strength to help me through this dark days.
Best wishes to you and all the ladies fighting, we can do this 💪
Thank you for your message. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve joined the C Club – it’s not fun but we’ll all get through this together. I hope your sons are doing ok. Xx
I just watched you on Lorraine, ur so brave and ur children are a credit to you, I don’t know if I could b so brave, keep goin ur doin amazing, Katrina, Derry Ireland 😘🤗
Thank you so much, that means a lot x