In an inspiring and deeply personal narrative, Debbie shares her rollercoaster journey of battling breast cancer, from the shocking discovery of a lump in her breast to the challenging path of treatment and beyond.
At 39, a mother of three and Melksham's Carnival Queen, life seemed almost too good. Yet, her diagnosis in June 2022 marked the beginning of a tumultuous chapter, filled with worry, pain, but also immense courage and resilience.
This story is not just about the physical battles against cancer but also about the emotional and mental challenges, and the small victories along the way.
Debbie's experience sheds light on the importance of self-care, support systems, and finding joy amidst adversity, offering invaluable insights for anyone navigating their own or a loved one's cancer journey.
"On a random Tuesday morning in June 2022, I found a lump in my right breast. This was the moment my world was turned upside down."
Our Journey Begins: A Family's Fight Against Cancer
Hey beautiful people, my name is Debbie, I’m 39 and married with 3 boys. Identical twins and a younger feral one. 18 months ago I was the fittest I’d been. Life was going really well, oh and I was crowned Melksham’s Carnival Queen! What more could a girl want right? I got a dress and crown!
Life was perky, (insert boob joke, tho the next bit was no joke)
"Was" being the important word there on a random Tuesday morning in June 2022 I found a lump in my right breast. This was the moment my world was turned upside down. In turn so was my families.
This was the start of the chaos, worry and tears.
Looking after yourself during cancer treatment is tricky and I know I didn't get it right all the time. Balancing your own needs and a young family is super-tricky, but here are a few things that worked for me and a few things I wished I did.
The Day Our World Changed: Facing the Diagnosis
Here's a shortened version of events.
Tuesday 22nd June 2022 lump found, 29th July I had a right side mastectomy. 10 days later I had the results of my surgery, they removed some lymph nodes they were clear (insert happy tears).
Doctors and surgeons were all happy (YAY) but they wanted to give me chemotherapy and herceptin. (this was a surprise and honestly not a fun one). After a shitty summer with post op exercises I was scheduled to start chemo in September 2022
I finished in January 2023. I would give chemotherapy a 0 out of 10. It was not fun. I was very poorly at points but I dug deep and somehow completed it. Anyway, after chemo I still had 15 herceptin injections to go, which I'm still on now. They'll continue till Christmas. I started tamoxifen in march which I'll be on for 5/10 years.
Yeah cancer really does suck and takes over a lot of your life.
So how do you take care in all this chaos?
Well I'm no expert but it was/is my life (I’m still learning to cope as it is about learning a new you)
First off, cancer is a lot, no matter what level of treatment you have, being told you have cancer is massive. You deserve to be kind to yourself. All feelings are valid and allowed.
"Chemotherapy absolutely sucks, that's my PG version..."
At various points in my treatment I felt very lost and low. I cannot stress enough, reach out, if you're like me this does not come naturally.
Asking for help is tricky but charities like Macmillan and we hear you (WHY) really are there to help.
Something else I did when everything felt a little too much and I couldn't switch my brain off was to journal my thoughts, not for anyone just to try and get them out of my head. I think it helped. Journaling was one of the first things I did.
I was once told you can't leave somewhere before you've arrived. To me this meant feeling my feelings and not boxing them up and ignoring them. It may mean something different to you. These words helped me.
If you have breast surgery, do the exercises, they are a bit tricky to start but they really do speed up recovery, also take the pain meds if you need to, now is not the time to be a hero.
If someone offers help, encourage them to cook for you / your family. I was really lucky some of my friends did this without being asked.
One friend delivered a whole roast dinner after my mastectomy surgery.
Another friend came every Tuesday after chemo with a meal for the whole family and sometimes brought puddings too. (if you have a friend in treatment take note this was honestly the best gift!).
Navigating the Storm: The Treatment Journey
Chemotherapy absolutely sucks, that's my PG version. I was really anxious about starting chemo and I know I probably could have looked after myself better.
Chemo almost made me feel like two people, part of me wanted to still be me, A capable person who could do it all, the other part of me wanted to just hide away from the world.
Chemotherapy affects your body inside and out. I struggled with my appetite, first from stress then chemotherapy. It's a really personal thing but just trying to eat little and often is probably the best thing I can suggest. I did not do very well at this.
Eat all the things you like tho, life is short.
"Get to know your breasts, it might just save your life."
Finding Strength in Community and Care
Looking after your body on the outside is another thing. My skin was very sensitive at points.
I was very lucky during chemotherapy to attend a spa day, for people affected by cancer.
Thank you to the lovely people at Made For Life Organics. Honestly it was the best day, filled with such kindness.
It doesn't always need to be a spa day. Sometimes just taking a daytime bubble bath can really make you feel better, though bathing with a pic line means keeping your arm out of the water. It's tricky but doable.
Taking time out for yourself is probably one of the biggest things you can do to look after yourself. I found going for walks in my local area useful just to get some headspace and not be looking at the same four walls.
Sometimes having a friend over just to sit and talk absolute nonsense with is also really good medicine. And friends that are willing to do that are the best ever.
The Road to Recovery: Lessons and Gratitude
Fatigue is one of the things that took me by surprise. I'm used to just getting on and doing stuff and suddenly I don't have that capability anymore. The only thing I can really suggest is rest and try to be kind to yourself.
If you wanna spend the days in your pjs watching telly, it's not a waste of a day taking care of you and that's important, housework isn't going anywhere.
Before cancer I had found some joy in fitness classes. With surgery and then chemotherapy this was tricky. But I did start a yoga class during chemotherapy, I didn't go every week but when I did it really made a difference to my mental health without being really hard on my body physically. I still love going now.
I think the biggest bit of advice I would give someone going through cancer and treatment would be to do things that bring you joy.
Cancer can make the world seem a hard and sad place. So grab all the small bits of joy that you can.
I now realise I need to take life at a slower pace, I'm allowed to say no and currently I really don't have the energy levels I used to.
This is a massive adjustment to get used to and I'm not sure I'm there but here I am trying.
Recovery after cancer isn’t linear, it’s a road not with bumps but with potholes big enough to swallow you but, you can’t stay in the pothole forever (you are allowed to grumble there for a bit tho). It’s about learning to live again in a new way.
For every 10 steps forward you might slip a few back and that is ok. It’s an unknown journey and you get to write it, your way.
All that's left to say is get to know your breasts, it might just save your life.
Comments from Amanda Winwood,
We extend our heartfelt thanks to Debbie for sharing her intimate and personal story with such bravery and transparency.
Her journey underscores the importance of self-care, the impact of a strong support system, and the pursuit of joy in the face of adversity.
Debbie's experience with Made for Life Organics' head and hair treatment oil, illustrates how small acts of self-kindness can be profoundly uplifting.
Debbie's story is a beacon of hope and strength, reminding us all to nurture ourselves and each other, especially during the toughest of times.