Name & pronouns: Bridget (she/her)
Occupation/How do you spend most of your time?: Fertility Nurse/Mum of 3
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 37
Breast cancer type: IDC ER+/PR+
Breast cancer stage: 2
Treatment: lumpectomy – adjunctive TC – endocrine therapy (zoladex and letrozole) 5 years – preventative double mastectomy with diep reconstruction
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer:
I love the great outdoors. Hiking, camping, beach days… I love it all and I try to get out of the city as much as possible with my 3 kids, husband and boarder collie in our caravan.
What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?
Salt n Pepper. Push it.
How did you discover your breast cancer?
I was folding washing and as I stretched I felt a weird pulling sensation in my left breast. I felt a lump and wasn’t too worried. I was breast feeding my 5 month old baby and was used to lumps and bumps. I pulled out all my usual tricks but it didn’t go and it was starting to worry me… but young women with no family history didn’t get breast cancer… did they?
I saw my GP who told me, “Don’t loose any sleep over it” … But I was.
I feel like that was my sliding door moment. I hate to think about my outcomes had I not followed up.
I took myself to a self referring breast clinic.
And it was there, while I was breastfeeding my 5 month old baby I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?
Honestly my first thought was, “How will I be able to feed my baby and care for my children?” I had 3 children under 5 and had an exclusively breastfed 5 month old. I had never even made a bottle before. My next thought was, “Am I going to die?”
What’s the worst/most outrageous thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
It was probably when a close friend was telling me that a friend had asked her advice about how to support a friend who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She said to me her response was, “You’ll get sick of it cause it’s all she’ll ever talk about.” She said it like it was a joke, but this cut me to the core. I have always felt like I’ve had to dull my thoughts and experience of cancer with her as she never asked how I was doing or if I wanted to talk about it. Breast cancer as a young woman is so isolating. The truth is you can never understand what it’s like unless you are going through it, but friends that are empathic and give you space and the opportunity to talk about it if you want to are so refreshing. I don’t like to talk about it much, but just knowing it’s an option says they care.
Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?
Friends who dropped meals at the door without wanting anything in return. The friends and family who folded my washing while they talked to me without asking. The friends and family who reminded me who I was before cancer. They made me laugh with a funny text or just came over an hung out with me. My aunty, who regardless of her own health issues was my safety net in all aspects. My dad who was always here making me a cup of tea.
Most importantly my husband. Who was suddenly thrust into doing all the jobs I used to do and his own jobs and full time, high pressure employment. He is my rock, punching bag and counsellor.
What is/was the most difficult part of being a young person with breast cancer?
The isolation. Being the youngest person in the room by 30 years. The medically-induced menopause driving a wedge my marriage. When people talk in 5 year survival rates and just thinking that is nowhere near enough. When people don’t know what to say or how to be around you so they say nothing and they disappear from your life.
What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?
That I am good at squats and have a new found love of weight training. Getting into the gym and protecting my bones with strength training started as a chore and now I can’t get enough. It is so important to me now. For reducing my chance of reoccurrence, but also making my ongoing therapies bearable. The mental health benefits are next level.
In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young person who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
You’ve got this! Your cancer brain won’t always be this loud. You will settle into a peace with your diagnosis. Cancer is cruel. The treatment grueling. But it can be a gift. It is a heavy gift. Some days the weight of it will take your breath away. But it will also shine light on your life if you let it. Give clarity to the relationships and things that are important. It will give you reasons when you used to have excuses. I thank cancer for that.
Anything else you want to add?
Get yourself a breast cancer buddy if you can. I connected with an amazing woman after I responded to a post she made on social media. We started chatting and haven’t stopped. She has a similar approach to her diagnosis as I do… and life in general really. Our relationship has improved my mental well-being and I no longer feel so isolated. Now we don’t just share cancer, but life with a very special friendship.
If you or someone you know is a young person with breast cancer looking for a community that relates and connects with what you’re going through, The Rethink Network might be right for you.