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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Turning 50, Single Mum With Metastatic Breast Cancer On Top

Written by Sarah Marshall on 
12th December, 2022
Updated: 29th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2017.

I turned 50 that year and was determined that now that my kids were older and I'd survived single-parenting two young children this was going to be MY decade. As part of that I went to get a few health "niggles" checked out - just in case. One of those was slightly leaky nipples, which I'd had since breastfeeding both children (youngest was now 12). I wasn't sure if this was normal but it had never seemed a priority to get checked as nothing had got worse, or painful or lumpy. When I went to the breast unit where my GP referred me they did a mammogram - as I was just in the catchment for regular ones anyhow. Straight away they whizzed me through for a biopsy "of that" - of what I thought! Then into see a consultant surgeon, who I could tell was fairly definite that I had a Ductal Carcinoma. I was in shock but the surgeon reassured me it was small and early stage and most likely to be totally sorted by a lumpectomy. I asked about having both my breasts removed, my mum and grandma had both had breast cancer (no identifiable genetic risk though) and I just didn't want them any more. The surgeon refused to do this saying it was unnecessary and I'd be fine. 

So I had the lump taken out - it was a little bigger than originally thought but not spread outside the breast - and started on Tamoxifen to suppress oestrogen which my type of cancer fed off. I was told that there had been some Lobular Carcinoma in Situ in the sample taken, but that this was nothing to worry about. 

Turning 50, Single Mum With Metastatic Breast Cancer On Top

Well around  six months later I was getting pain and discomfort in the same breast.

I kept going back to the Breast Cancer Nurses, and sometimes the surgeon, to ask about this. They said it was probably still settling down from the surgery and radiotherapy but I felt something was wrong. After about six months of back and to, including a clear mammogram, my breast became so painful and also swollen and mishaped that I insisted something was done. The surgeon finally took a biopsy, which came back positive for a fast-growing lobular cancer. Lobular cancer behaves differently from ductal and is often not seen on mammograms and scans. There was a swift move to mastectomy, clear and of all the lymph nodes and chemotherapy. After this I was scanned and it showed some spread to my spine, so I now have incurable metastatic breast cancer. Since then it has also spread into my skin. 

My message from my experience would be trust your instincts.

If you want a mastectomy then push for it - this might be difficult as the medical profession are still biased towards the aesthetics of retaining or reconstructing a breast. If you feel something is wrong then insist on full investigations.

I don't know if having a mastectomy when I first asked would have prevented the spread of my second cancer, but at least I would have tried. If you don't feel confident in your clinician ask for a second opinion, it's your right. 

Breast Cancer Now

As me and my kids say though - there are some perks!

I got medical retirement from work, paid off my mortgage and studied a MSc in Sustainability and Behaviour Change. I now sit on my local Town Council. I've continued to remain well with minimal side effects from my treatment. I'm very active, mountain biking, walking, yoga and wild swimming. I am much less stressed than when I was juggling being a working mum, which means I've had a lot of time for my kids, especially through all the COVID shenanigans. I've definitely found out who my good friends are, and I've discovered some really supportive communities in the cancer world where we can interact on a level that instantly has a shared understanding because of our experience. 

If you have a cancer diagnosis I would say do your research on treatment options, usually nothing is very urgent to decide. Find your community of support and build a team around you that might include your clinicians, alternative therapies, chat groups, etc. And look after your wellbeing in whatever way suits you best - make the time for yourself to get your needs met. 

Further reading

How to Respond To a Friend With Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Communities

Breast Cancer Freebies

Breast Cancer Tips: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Had Breast Cancer

Personal experiences

I’m Too Healthy To Have Cancer : How Could This Happen To Me?

People's Experiences Of Breast Cancer Can Help After A Diagnosis

I Am A Male Breast Cancer Survivor And This Is My Story

Support for mastectomy patients

Knitted Knockers

Rediscovering Yourself After Breast Cancer: Ms Pomelo Mastectomy Bras

Mastectomy Directory

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