Helen’s Story

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Helen’s Story

When you work so closely with your team, you become like family – and that’s something that’s always been encouraged at our firm. We’ve always cheered on our colleagues and celebrated their successes and we’ve had their backs when things get tough. However, nothing could have prepared us for the devastating diagnosis that our Conveyancer Helen Schofield received earlier this year.

At just 31 years old, Helen was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and is about to start the next stage of her treatment. Our team were deeply moved by her story and her resilience, not to mention her dedication to raising awareness of breast cancer through her blog.

At a time when there is so much disruption across the world, we believe that Helen can give us all a bit of hope and so we thought it was only right to share her journey. She’s dedicated to shining a light on this truly awful disease and dispelling the myths that surround it – and in particular, she wants to encourage everyone to seek the proper medical attention in a time when Covid has had implications on our health service. We appreciate that it’s harder to get face-to-face appointments with a GP at the moment, and some people may not want to go for a check-up out of fear that they’re taking up valuable NHS resources but personal health is just as important as ever.
Helen, you continue to inspire us every day. #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth

Betrayed By My Breast Friend

I’m 31 years old and I have breast cancer. I work out, I don’t eat meat or dairy, I’m a life-long non-smoker and there is no family history on either side. I have never won anything in my life save for the raffle at a girls’ night which turned out to be a dance from the oldest male stripper to ever hobble around a dancefloor and yet, I have a disease which I have a 0.4% chance of developing in my thirties.

The symptoms started out subtly and presented themselves as night sweats and fatigue and then, one night as a lay in bed, I felt a pea-sized lump in my breast. They say that you know your own body and I can attest to that. The moment I ran my fingers across my skin I knew in my gut that it was something sinister. I went to the doctors the next day and saw a nurse who said that it would be due to hormonal changes. She didn’t seem at all concerned and said that although she would have to refer me to the breast clinic, the lump would probably be gone by the time my appointment came around. I waited two weeks for the appointment and on the day, they did an ultrasound, confirmed there was a lump and took a biopsy there and then. Ladies, do not fear! The biopsy was no more painful than pulling that one rogue eyebrow hair that insists on growing thicker and faster than the rest. The painful part was the waiting.  I waited seven days for the biopsy results. Seven days of sleepless nights, half-formed thoughts, and daydreams about the worst-case scenario. I didn’t tell anyone about the lump except for my husband. I didn’t want to worry anyone else about something they had no control over or ability to change.

I’ll never forget the feeling of hearing the words, “the biopsy results have confirmed that it is breast cancer”. It was akin to the feeling you get when you almost fall down the stairs and your stomach flips and you pull that face that only a mother could love, and every day between my diagnosis and the surgery, I had that gutting feeling that you get when you’re going through a bad breakup, but instead of being betrayed by a partner, I felt like I had been betrayed by my own body.

My consultant was calm, informative and reassuring about his plan of attack on the unwanted squatter in my chest, and I adopted his positive attitude about the news. He explained that he would perform a lumpectomy which is where they move the cancerous tumour and the area around it under general anaesthetic. Whilst I was in the clinic, they carried out a mammogram as a precaution. Now, for those of you who have yet to experience the pleasure of a mammogram, imagine if you will how it might feel to trap your breast in a vice, or slam it in the fridge door when you’re sneaking a mid-night snack and you’re about to be rumbled by your husband. I won’t lie to you, its no walk in Harvey Nichols, but it’s necessary and can literally save your life. If you can handle the pain of snapping an acrylic nail, then you can survive a mammogram. The minute its over the pain disappears and you’re just left with the mental scars of seeing your boob spread out like a slab of dough. It takes seconds for them to take images of your breast between two plates and when it’s over you all have a good laugh about it. It’s a right of passage for women, like finishing a whole bottle of wine to yourself or cutting your own fringe. We’ve all done it at some point. In the UK, 1 in 25 women who have a mammogram will be called back for further screening and then about 1 in 4 of those women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Now ladies, please remember that the majority of those women are aged between 50 and 71 (the age you are eligible for breast screening) so there is no need to start panic buying wigs and convincing yourself that you will be one of the unlucky ones if you find a lump in your breast or armpit. Many lumps are non-cancerous and are firm breast tissue or cysts, but unless you have x-ray vision and the ability to sniff out cancer, you need to get it checked.

My mammogram showed that there was an area that spread over 11 cm from the tumour which appeared white on the images, so they took further biopsies of that area to determine whether this was clarifications (calcium despots in the breast) or something more troublesome. When I attended the clinic again a week later for the results, the consultant advised that biopsy results confirmed that this area was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) which is the presence of early cancer in the milk ducts. Now, as you may have gathered from the size of the cancer, I was definitely not at the back of the queue when the Big Guy was handing out boobs. That being said, the size of the cancerous area meant that instead of performing the lumpectomy, the surgeon would have to carry out a mastectomy of my breast. A mastectomy is where all of your breast tissue is removed and, unfortunately, your beloved nipple, in the hope that the cancer can’t return if there is no breast tissue there. That was a hard pill to swallow, especially as my right breast was my favourite (be honest with yourself, we all have one!). As I said, I’m only 31 and I like to think that I have many years of bikini wearing left in me and I was so worried about how I would look post-surgery. However, I’m not sure whether my surgeon is related to Houdini or is some kind of wizard, but the magic he worked during surgery was incredible. I opted to have a temporary implant put in place at the same time as the mastectomy and have been added to a wait list for a plastic surgeon but to be honest, I can’t see them improving on this masterpiece!

When I attended at Halton CMTC for my surgery, I was in and out and back in my own bed within 24 hours. I’ve been longer on an errand! After the surgery, I was feeling tender and tired, but the support I received from the NHS staff was amazing. I was given pain relief and exercises to do every day and I had weekly check-ups. At home, you best believe I grabbed at the opportunity to be treated like Victorian royalty.  I lay around being waiting on like the sick boy from the Secret Garden (you know, that creepy kid with the complexion of a piece of cod). I made sure to get plenty of rest and allow my body to heal in its own time. There were days that were harder than others but overall, the pain could be managed with codeine, careful pillow placement and a bra that even my nan would have been embarrassed to hang on her washing line.

During the surgery, three lymph nodes were removed for testing and it transpired that they found cancer cells in two of them. For that reason, I was referred to an oncologist and radiologist for twenty weeks of chemotherapy and then three weeks of radiotherapy thereafter. At the time of writing, I am one week from the start date of my chemotherapy. I’ll be honest, the idea of losing my hair and looking like the long lost third Mitchell brother doesn’t thrill me, but my will to overcome this and survive another 10 years is far greater than any fears or concerns I have. I have been assured that the actual administering of the chemotherapy drugs is painless, and I am pleased to report that the CANtreat treatment centre at Halton Hospital was bright, comfortable and full of friendly and supportive staff when I visited for my pre-assessment. If all goes well, I will be finished will all treatment by April 2021 and looking forward to my graduation in August and taking my new rack for a spin in a bikini in October. I will have to take hormone blockers for many years to come given that my cancer was oestrogen fed, and the chemotherapy can have long-term side effects like infertility, but I have undergone IVF to freeze eggs and embryos should my husband and I decide we want to have children in the future and we remain positive and optimistic as ever that we are destined to spend a long and happy life together.

I have been truly humbled by the love and support that I have received from family, friends and colleagues throughout this experience, and I know that I am lucky to have caught this early on and been treated so promptly by the NHS. Unfortunately, so many women have not been as lucky. It has been reported that due to Covid19, ONE MILLION women have not had their routine breast screening appointments this year and it is estimated that there will be an increase of 9.6% in the number of breast cancer deaths in the next five years as a result, and due to a drop of almost 50% of GP referrals for cancer patients this year. If you have a lump or any other symptoms set out here please insist on seeing your GP immediately. I cannot stress enough how important early detection is. If my DCIS had developed into invasive tumours then I could be writing about a very different experience now, with a very different outcome. Your GP is there to listen to your concerns, take them seriously and potentially be the first step in saving your life. If you are embarrassed about being examined then you can request that a female doctor or nurse examines you and trust me, once you have shown your goodies to one healthcare professional, you’ll whip them out without a second thought to the next doctor or nurse who needs to get their hands on them.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and feelings about my experience so far. I’m not usually big on sharing and tend keep to myself, but if this urges one woman to take action and potentially avoid them from becoming a statistic and indirect casualty of Covid19, then my experience hasn’t been an entirely negative one. Breast cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about your age, race, sexuality or whether you agree with biscuit dipping or not. It can happen to anyone at any time so go forth and check your boobs. Run a bath, light a candle and make a night of it. Nip into the stock cupboard at work and have a rummage. Pop into a changing room and go nuts. Just remember to lock the door.

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