Thursday, 18 October 2012
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. Here, three very different women share their experiences
By Fiona Hicks
Linda Nolan, 53Patron of the Pink Ribbon Ball for Breast Cancer Campaign
When I was 22 I had a mammogram because I’d found a lump in my left breast, but it turned out to be a blocked milk duct. It had always been there, but in 2005 it got considerably bigger.
I went to see a doctor and he told me it needed investigation, but I ignored him. I was working in Blood Brothers at the time, and had a pantomime coming up in Belfast, which was a massive contract for great money. In our business, if you’re not working you’re not being paid. My husband Brian, who was my manager, had not been well himself, and I thought that if I could do the contract in Belfast, then we’d be financially OK to take time out to get it sorted.
Finally, I went to see a doctor in Belfast in January 2006, and collected my results between shows. The consultant told me that I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer – stage three.
I never thought I would die. My first question was, ‘Will I lose my hair?’ I felt really vain asking that, but apparently women always do. I had always been the naughty Nolan, the one with the blonde hair and the big boobs, and all of a sudden I was going to lose both.
I had a left breast mastectomy in February 2006, two days before my 47th birthday. It was very surreal. I had huge support from my family, the people in the show and of course Brian – I couldn’t have done it without him.
At the end of May I went back to Blood Brothers and did my chemo while I was on the tour. It was hard, but when I was on stage for those couple of hours, it was easy to think of something other than breast cancer.
In 2007, while I was still having Herceptin, my husband passed away. Two days after he died I had to go into hospital and have my treatment. It was all a terrible time, and I do look back and wonder how I got through it.
I’ve had amazing support. I do a lot of work for Breast Cancer Campaign and I was the patron of their Pink Ribbon Ball for the second time this year. It was such a great night. There are a lot of people there who have been touched by the disease so the atmosphere is just wonderful – we’re all celebrating the fact that we’re here.
This year I was able to stand up and say, ‘I have been given my fiveyear all clear.’ It gives other women hope.
There will always be a huge gap in my life because Brian isn’t here. But I did get through cancer and although it sounds like a cliché, I’ve learnt to appreciate each day. I have scars from my surgery but I look on them as war wounds. I survived.
Diana Green, 78Lives in Northamptonshire
It was 18 April 2002. A date I shall remember forever. I had felt a lump in my right breast the week before, but as I’d already detected a benign one some years previously, I went along to the doctor thinking, should I bother? This time they referred me straight away and, much to my surprise, they told me I had breast cancer.
I didn’t burst into tears. My first thought was that I was terribly embarrassed for the doctor and nurse who had to tell me the bad news.
I decided I needed something to take my mind off it, so the next morning I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to run the London Marathon. That’s going to be my challenge.’ I had been quite a runner in my school days but when I left school there was no athletic club in Northampton and besides, it wasn’t really the done thing for a young woman.
I started training, first on my 90-year-old bicycle, and then jogging. The first time I went for a jog I took a letter with me so people would suspect I was going to post a letter. I was having treatment at the same time; surgery, followed by a course of radiotherapy. Both of my breasts were entirely diminished. Had I been much younger I might have minded, but as it is, I’ve always been skinny so would never have missed large breasts.
One year, almost to the day, I ran down The Mall, having completed my first marathon. It was an absolutely wonderful feeling. I suppose I’m always thinking I can do better, and somehow I’ve ended up running the marathon every year for the past decade. I’ve managed to raise around £45,000 for Breast Cancer Campaign. Everyone has been fantastic, especially my local community, who ask for a sponsorship form year after year. It all adds up.
I was initially told that I would have five years to live following my surgery. The running has been great for me. I think you get a lot of things in life that are debit and it’s all about looking for the credit at the end of it. Often you look back and realise that something did you a good turn and brought the best out in you. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had breast cancer.
Barbara Bofkin, 64Lives in London
One night in June 2006 I woke up at around four in the morning convinced that there was a light shining on me. Although my husband assured me no lights were on, I was certain there was a light on my breast.
We were heading off on holiday a few days later, and I had a doctor’s appointment before we left for an unrelated matter. Just as I was leaving, a voice in my head told me, ‘Say something!’ I told my doctor about my funny dream and asked her to check my breasts. She said that although there was something a bit unusual, I shouldn’t worry and that we would readdress it if it were still there after I returned. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I arranged an appointment in Harley Street. I had a mammogram and an ultrasound, and found out on that afternoon that I had a small but very aggressive form of cancer.
I still get shivers up my back, knowing my mother had pointed me in this direction, or some guardian angel, making me wake up in the middle of the night, directing me to the doctor, making me forceful.
I had a good two-and-a-half years of treatment. The hardest part was knowing you’ve got to go for another round of chemotherapy. You can go gung-ho into the first session, but after that you know just how your body is going to react. One night we went out for dinner and I passed out flat on the table. It must have been the poisons in my body taking effect. My husband, Brian, was the greatest, strongest person. I am so fortunate to know him – he got me through it.
I’m not being sanctimonious, but I think I got breast cancer so I could help others. Nobody realises what you have to go through unless you go through it yourself. It’s so important that people are aware of their bodies. Don’t let anyone make you think you’re a hypochondriac. Listen to your instincts and have the strength to go and do something about it.
More about Breast Cancer Campaign at www.breastcancercampaign.org
Daily tip from the lady archive
"It is not always she who appears most kindly in her interest who is the safe sharer of sacred (maybe sorrowful) secrets! Charming manners do not always connote sincerity of heart!”The Lady. In Confidence. 4th April, 1918
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