On her 44th birthday, Debbie discovered a lump in her right breast and initially thought she had little to be concerned about, assuming it was just a cyst. She finally decided to visit her local doctor and in 2011, after being examined, was informed the lump was nothing more than fatty tissue – much to her relief.
However, two months later Debbie started experiencing shooting pains from the lump. She knew then that something wasn’t right and needed to revisit her doctor who referred her to the Linda McCartney Centre. Until her first appointment there, she was still convinced that it wasn’t anything serious.
“Surely, I am too young to have breast cancer”, she thought to herself.
One mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy later, Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer which had begun to spread to her lymph nodes. She confessed, “after hearing the word “cancer”, I broke down and was unable to think of anything but leaving behind my dear husband and four children“.
Her treatment plan was immediately constructed by her doctors and due to start in just a few weeks, following a bone scan and MRI to see if the cancer had spread. After a long week of waiting under what felt like a big black cloud, the scans came back clear and Debbie was given the strength to begin fighting her way to recovery. When chemotherapy began, some days she felt too sick to get out of bed but Debbie continued to go to work on her “good” days, determined to maintain some normality in her life.
After a long year of waiting for her body to heal came a tough dose of radiotherapy. Debbie was now finally due for her skin-sparing mastectomy that she decided she was going to have at the beginning of her treatment, even counselling beforehand couldn’t change her mind.
But after a 10-hour operation, she was completely unable to move or perform the simplest of tasks without help. For days to follow, she took countless painkillers every day to manage the pain.
Despite the many procedures, the long waiting periods, and the painful outcomes, Debbie is now eternally grateful to be able to tell her story and live every day to the fullest with her husband as she watches her four children grow.
The question she has asked herself many times since is, “why, why, why should there be so much trauma involved in life after breast cancer. Surely it doesn’t have to be this way?”
The Life After Breast Cancer campaign is working to make sure that women like Debbie never have to go through the same trauma again. Their life-changing medical research is paving the way for improved breast reconstructive surgery.