Living after treatment for breast cancer

Caroline Appleby

2017 saw the stage three breast cancer diagnosis of BBC news editor Carly Appleby. She was unaware of how torturous the treatment would be at the time. She now considers how it has affected her life while looking back and ahead.

I wouldn't have believed you if you had told me six years ago that my cancer treatment would still not be over by this point. .

When I was diagnosed at age 37, I was a young mother and my main concern was surviving for my husband and my daughter, who was three at the time.

I no longer appear ill now, but this does not mean that everything is fine and has returned to "normal" after years of hospital visits and treatments. .

My body still perceives me as much older than I am at the age of 43.

I still have terrible memory, aches and pains that wake me up at night, and fatigue. .

After years of treatment, it is a painful struggle to insert a cannula into my veins because my arm's veins will never fully recover from chemotherapy. .

However, I'm proud of everything I've accomplished with the help of my family and friends, and it's made me appreciate how amazing our bodies can be.

Carly and her young daughter
Carly and her daughter, who was three years old when she was given the cancer news.

Now that my daughter is almost 10 years old, I want to be around to watch her mature. .

I will never take for granted my current state of health and consider each year that goes by as a privilege. .

When I received my diagnosis, it had been a gorgeous day in the Cotswolds, and my husband and I were shocked. We had no idea what would happen.

I took a long time to recover from cancer.

It involved multiple breast operations, reconstructions, surgery to remove my ovaries, six rounds of chemotherapy, fifteen daily radiotherapy sessions, a year of targeted therapy with the miracle drug Herceptin, and 18 months of Zoladex injections into my stomach.

All of this caused me to lose my hair for two years and enter surgical menopause. .

Carly Appleby
Carly wants more people to be aware of the disease.

In addition, I take one Tamoxifen tablet every day and will continue to do so for the next four years. The risk of early breast cancer returning is decreased by using it.

I had no idea when I was first diagnosed with cancer that the illness would prevent me from having more children.

Having that option removed from me still makes me feel incredibly sad. Our family would have been complete with another child, but that is not possible.

I was unable to freeze my eggs because my cancer treatment needed to begin right away, and the fertility specialist we were referred to claimed that the procedure would have caused my cancer to worsen.

When people inquire as to my family size, it still hurts. But I'm so appreciative of having my daughter and being able to be a mother. .

Carly ringing a bell
The treatment's end bell was rung by Carly.

She no longer asks me, as she is older, why she doesn't have a sibling. I feel bad that I couldn't give this to my husband and daughter.

But since I am still alive and in remission, or "no evidence of disease," as oncologists prefer to say, I no longer have cancer.

I am very fortunate, I know that. It no longer occupies my thoughts first thing in the morning or just before I turn in for the night.

The worry about getting cancer again, having it become incurable, and needing to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy once more never goes away, though.

It is challenging not to draw comparisons because I have lost many young friends to the illness. So what have I discovered?

Despite being the most prevalent cancer in the world, breast cancer is not the "easy cancer" to diagnose or pink and fluffy. Better awareness is required.

In the UK, there are more than 150 new cases of breast cancer every day, or about 56,000 new cases annually.

Each year, breast cancer claims the lives of more than 11,000 women. Although the prevalence is much lower, men can also develop breast cancer.

  • Unwind and check your breasts once a month. Know what's normal for you.
  • With soapy hands in the shower is the ideal time to check.
  • Prior to the procedure, take a good look at yourself in the mirror and check for any obvious lumps, skin changes, nipple changes, or discharge.
  • Don't forget to check your underarms.
  • Be aware that lumpy breasts, especially in young women, can occur and are completely normal.
  • However, if a lump lasts for more than one cycle, see your doctor. Breasts can change depending on the menstrual cycle.

Only annual mammograms on my healthy breast are my only appointments these days.

Some kind people would share their stories of coworkers or friends who had breast cancer in the past and survived with me. .

These stories are interesting to hear, but they have no real meaning because no two diagnoses are ever exactly the same. .

I've occasionally been too worn out to explain.

Carly Appleby
Last year, Carly had her eyebrows tattooed, which, according to her, helped boost her confidence.

Cancer survivorship is difficult and carries unique difficulties. Numerous people endure chronic pain and treatment side effects. .

All of these things I experienced, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, self-doubt, and sleep problems.

A major contributing factor is lack of confidence, and many patients do not recognize their own bodies after treatment. This may be especially difficult for some women. .

My breast cancer nurse was brilliant at tattooing a fake but incredibly lifelike 3D nipple because my eyebrows never grew back. I felt better after both of these. .

The bottles of pinks, creams, and brown inks made me remember feeling both bewildered and amused at the same time.

I began to feel the needles on my numb chest about halfway through the procedure. I was prompted to continue by the nurse.

I chuckled and replied, "Yes please, you can't leave me with a circle that is only partially colored in.". .

The other thing I realized right away was how lonely cancer can be.

Even though my friends and family gave me unwavering support, I still felt uncomfortable being the young mother with cancer in the playground. When you are bald and appear ill, you stand out.

Despite the numerous acts of kindness we frequently received from others, it can be difficult to understand how frightening and stressful treatment is if you are not going through it yourself. You constantly wonder if you will survive.

Additionally, you believe that your physical and mental limitations prevent you from doing the things you enjoy.

In an effort to keep me from getting sick, our world shrank dramatically. Long before the pandemic began, I was shielding at home.

Carly with other women with breast cancer at a retreat in Saddleworth
Carly traveled to Saddleworth for Jo Taylor's breast cancer retreat.

It can be difficult to know what is typical after cancer, so I participated in a fantastic Where Now? course offered by the cancer charity Maggie's to discuss life after treatment. .

Meeting people with various cancer types who were all struggling with the same problems was incredibly helpful. .

We also engaged in some Nordic walking, which is particularly advantageous for breast cancer survivors.

Although your loved ones may anticipate that you will be able to resume your pre-treatment activities, for some people, the thought of developing cancer and passing away can be too terrifying. .

Since I did not know many women diagnosed under 40, I looked for those who could relate.

Carly doing yoga at a breast cancer retreat in Saddleworth
The ABCDiagnosis breast cancer retreat promotes complementary treatments and group support.

Additionally, I went to an ABCDiagnosis cancer retreat. The amazing Jo Taylor, who has been battling secondary breast cancer that is incurable, runs the website and campaigns to raise awareness.

I'm still in touch with a lot of the women I met at the retreat, which promotes physical activity, complementary therapies, and peer support. .

Being a part of the Younger Breast Cancer Network on Facebook also helps me feel supported.

My cancer diagnosis has strengthened me, as I consider everything I have gone through. I have the capacity to handle almost anything.

Realizing how precious and brief life is while dealing with a serious life-limiting illness.

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