A mum woke up on Christmas morning to find her hair had fallen out – after dreading the moment would come.
Janine Vickery, 37, from Birmingham, cried in the shower after discovering her locks strewn across her pillow before facing the day – she told her story about how she survived Stage 3 breast cancer to Birmingham Live.
This is her story, in her words:
On November 5 2017, my life changed in a split second.
I was diagnosed with grade 3 invasive aggressive breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes.
I had lost a grandparent to cancer.
This may sound very naive, but to me cancer was usually what older people get, not young women, especially not breast cancer.
I was not aware that there was history of it in our family until I was diagnosed. I suppose it’s just something that isn’t really spoken about but really it should be.
My nanna’s sister died from breast cancer years back. Maybe if I had known I would have been more cautious, who knows?
Before I was diagnosed my life was pretty hectic. I am a single mother to my 13-year-old daughter Abigail.
I was studying an access course to hopefully continue on to university to become a nurse.
I was very active at the gym and had a busy social life. During the weeks before I found out I was feeling fit and well, in fact the best I had felt in a long time.
I needed some asthma inhalers so I booked an appointment with my GP.
I mentioned the cysts in my breasts and asked if I could get them removed. He said I seemed very anxious and asked why I was worrying but said if it made me feel better he would book an appointment at a breast clinic.
So a week later I attended the clinic and after waiting two-and-half hours I was seen and had a scan and a mammogram.
A doctor said it was cysts and nothing to worry about and I was told I could go.
Later I received a phone call to say they hadn’t finished what they had to do and they should never have discharged me and asked me to go back a week later.
When I returned I was told they were to do a biopsy on my left breast. They did the needle biopsy on me which was an extremely horrifying and painful procedure.
The doctor told me he was 95 per cent sure that it was nothing and not to worry.
So a week later I go to my appointment for my results. To be told you have a tumour that is breast cancer was devastating, my world fell apart.
I was utterly terrified. The first thing I said was “Am I going to die?”
The doctor replied “We all die Janine.” I was shocked at his response.
It felt like it wasn’t happening. I just cried and started shaking, from that moment on everything was a blur. Everything that was said I can’t remember – I went into completely shock. It’s something you never think will ever happen to you.
The hardest part was telling my love ones, especially my daughter, it broke my heart.
The thought of not seeing my daughter getting married or see her grow up into the wonderful lady I know she is becoming was tearing me up inside but I had to try my hardest to not think about it and put it to the back of my head.
I had two weeks to wait until I had the results from my MRI to tell me if the cancer had spread into my body.
It was the worst two weeks of my life – I even started planning my funeral and what I would do if I was told I only had so long to live.
During the period leading up to finding out my results my back was so painful, so painful I could hardly walk so I was convinced the cancer had spread. Even though I’m usually a very positive person – I just couldn’t help it.
When the news came that it hadn’t spread I cried with relief. It’s amazing how much stress can effect your body. My body was in complete shock from being told and waiting for results because after that my back was better.
I started my chemotherapy four weeks later. It was a very daunting time and my anxiety was terrible worrying about how I would be able to cope looking after my daughter and how ill I was going to be.
I couldn’t sleep too – there were many thoughts and emotions going round and round my head.
Somehow I found the strength to get through thanks to my amazing family and friends.
My hair fell out within two weeks of having treatment which was very hard to take, even worse as it started to fall out on Christmas Day.
As it fell out it was very painful, more fell out each day until I was left with strands so decided to cut it off.
I have got used to wearing my wigs now but I still can’t wait for the day my hair starts growing back. Luckily I have the most amazing wig made by the lovely Natalie Perez – it’s felt amazing and shocked everyone with how natural it looks.
As my immune system was low whilst on treatment I kept catching infections, I caught CD (clostridium difficile) an infection in the stomach.
I don’t think I ever felt so bad in my life – I really thought I was dying.
Slowly I started improving and after two weeks I was allowed to go home.
I had a scan and unfortunately my tumour had grown from 2cm to 7cm in a few months. The chemotherapy wasn’t shrinking the tumour.
They decided to stop my chemo and operate straight away and remove my left breast because the cancer had spread into my milk ducts.
The whole breast had to be removed including 15 lymph nodes, of which half were infected.
The day came when I had to have the operation. Strangely I wasn’t scared. In my head I just wanted the tumour gone.
The doctors and surgeons at Burton Hospital were all amazing and put me at ease.
My surgeon was the most compassionate, caring, lovely woman I have ever met. She made sure my scar wasn’t straight across my breast, but did it round so when I have my new boobs hopefully the scar will be underneath. When I woke up apparently I was laughing about having one boob, I made them all laugh and they said after a five-hour operation that was a first.
The first time I saw my naked body it really didn’t faze me at all, I thought I might cry but I didn’t. I just felt relieved that horrible tumour was out of my body.
After two months I was back on a different chemotherapy, every week through a line that was in my arm.
Everything was going well until I went and caught another bad infection where I was rushed in an ambulance to Burton Hospital as my temperature was very high.
I was put straight back on antibiotics through a drip to kill the infection.
Again I started improving and was allowed home.
I had nine weeks of chemo through my line, and couldn’t wait to finish as it made me so weak.
I finally got there and finished my chemo. I had to dig very deep at times and keep mentally strong and I really believe that is half the battle, I am very lucky as I have amazing friends and family who picked me up when they could see I was getting low.
I still can’t believe I’m here and come out the other end and hopefully I’m going to be okay.
The last ten months have been horrific. The feelings, thoughts and pain I have felt no one should ever go through.
But I want to get something positive out of this and try to help people who are going through this awful journey feel better about themselves.
Even though you have cancer you can still get your eyebrows tattooed before you start chemotherapy. That’s what I did and I’m so glad, eyebrows make such a difference to the face.
I have my lips and eyebrows tattooed, I have individual lashes that I now get done every three weeks. If you do have to suffer this awful journey then why not hold your head up high and still be the old you and stay glamorous. Do not let it win!
My life is finally going in the direction I want.
I am proof that you can turn your life around after cancer.
It doesn’t mean it’s the end. You can still reach your goals and dreams.
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