Leg 3, Day 59 – Aunty Jane and her Pacific Ocean

Meg Dyos By

Day 59 – Aunty Jane and her Pacific Ocean

Pressure points on the bum cheeks causing shooting pains when in a seated position – but there is no other position, it is the rowing position and to get to Cairns we need to sit like this. Whilst getting constantly splashed, and whilst watching the miles dissolve painfully slowly, out here, whilst sitting on the oars, it is sometimes difficult to remember why we are actually putting ourselves through this. But then you remember, that it is our choice to do this. We are choosing to cross the Pacific, and yet many people don’t choose to cross their own Pacific. In fact they are forced to face it, and then cross it. My Aunty Jane is someone who remains at the forefront of my mind in this challenge. Her strength, determination and positivity is mind blowing and she has continued to inspire me throughout my life. I asked her to write a bit about her experience of cancer, and I can’t thank her enough for sharing her story, sharing her Pacific Ocean that she has been forced to cross. Every day we receive emails from people who share stories like Janes, it is these that keep us going to remain resilient until we reach Cairns and then after, in raising 250k for Breast Cancer Care and Walking for the Wounded.

my pacific3

My Aunty Wendy (janes sister) has worked as a cancer nurse for the majority of her career, I also asked her to write a small bit on her experience of cancer:

‘For many a diagnosis of cancer, or the big C as many call it, is their worst fear. It is like standing on the shore facing a challenge and you cannot predict how the journey will go, exactly how long it will last or whether you will even survive it. Your body will change, through surgery and treatment. You wont look the same, or feel the same about how you look. You will have days where no-one really understands what you are going through. There are days where you cannot bear the thought of getting up and going for your next treatment, you are too tired. Days where you have to push yourself to do anything. Days where you feel like you can conquer the disease. Days when you think the disease is winning. Then, once all the treatment is over, what do I do now, my life has been all about beating cancer… now what? How do I get back to normal, what is normal any more?’

Janes story

‘I was young, energetic, and in my twenties when I discovered several lumpy areas in my very ample breasts, I felt invincible, I liked running, and was physically fit, I had also recently become vegetarian. I had a job I loved and lived a full, busy life. I had a few emotional ups and downs related to failed relationships but didn’t think for a moment I may be unwell. I went to the doctors and got referred to a general surgeon who decided that the largest lump should be removed, this happened a couple of times and the lumps were described as calcifications. my surgeon stated that I just had unusually lumpy breasts, I was left with scars but was never offended by them nor got bogged down by their appearance.

It was a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday when I found a smartie sized disc of a lump in my upper right breast, it was entirely different to the previous calcifications so back to the usual routine of doctor, surgeon, hospital, and operation, I naively never considered that this lump may be cancer, that surely happened to other people…not me! The surgery went well and my charming surgeon went to great lengths to “preserve my beauty”(his words) making an incision around the areola of my nipple and channelling under the skin to reach the lump, the result was impressive and I went home. Within hours I received a phone call to return to the hospital without delay, when you take a call like that you know it can only mean one thing.

My sister Sally came with me and it’s probably just as well as I don’t think I took in a great amount of the content of the ensuing conversation once the word cancer was mentioned, my surgeon said he always had concerns about me and my breast “makeup”. From then I was swept along with a multi treatment approach, first about a third of my breast was taken away to ascertain if there was any evidence of spread, to back this up about eight lymph nodes were taken from under my arm for the same reason, no choice now regarding “preserving my beauty”. Thankfully the results confirmed that there was no indication that the cancer had spread, I was thirty years old and considered very young to be diagnosed with such a disease, I felt immensely fortunate to have had the condition caught so early on, I have always been aware that for some people the cancer has spread to a far greater extent before they are even aware that they have cancer leaving them often with less favourable outcomes.

Instead of thinking “Why me?” I just focused on “Why not me?” and prepared myself for chemotherapy, radiation with iridium wires, and radiotherapy all of which were being done to hopefully clear my body and the immediate site of any stray cancer cells that may have been lurking about. The chemotherapy which I had, did not cause me to lose my hair but the process and associated drugs did make me put weight on, cause me to get mouth ulcers and leave me with the taste of rusty metal in my mouth. I used to drink camomile tea when the chemotherapy was being administered and to this day (over twenty years on) can not bear the smell or taste of camomile.

The iridium wire treatment involved five radio active iridium wires being inserted into my remaining two thirds of breast and left in place for three days in a controlled situation. I was in a small room at the hospital and visitors were restricted to a twenty minute visit and were not allowed beyond a protective lead screen. The room which was the last in a corridor, at the end of a block actually had yellow and black radioactive tape and signs both on the door and externally in the grounds. After three days the iridium wires were removed, I had ten holes which were entry and exit points for the wires, I don’t think this treatment is actually used any more. Finally I had twelve lots of radiotherapy focused specifically on my breast. I have two black dot tattoos which were used each week to align the treatment to exactly the same area. Of all the treatments this was the least invasive yet this was what I disliked the most as it involved being left completely alone in a room for thirty minutes with some music playing, I recall it being a little too soul searching and tears rolling from my eyes whilst I lay there strictly motionless.

Upon reflection I think that perhaps I suffered from transference in that I expanded a huge amount of energy grieving failed relationships but never really got upset about having cancer. I had some counselling sessions but did not find the process particularly helpful, I was blessed by having fantastic support from family and friends and found work the constant in my life that provided a welcome distraction to bury myself in. I really do think the experience made me a far better person and none of us know what we are capable of until we are tested. I was left with vastly different sized breasts but didn’t dwell on it, I had been through enough and it was the least of my worries. I was just glad to be alive. Most of my friends were settling down, getting married and having children, in that regard I still had hopes and dreams but had been warned that getting pregnant would be a very risky business. What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger resonated with me ….I was not unscarred by the experience in more ways than one and acknowledged only in the last five years how unhappy I was with my uneven breast appearance. An operation that should have probably been done fifteen years earlier sorted the imbalance.

But it was not to last …..

Just over two years ago, twenty years plus on from my first diagnosis and age fifty, I got recalled after a routine annual mammogram and went back to Kent and Canterbury Hospital to undergo fine needle aspiration to extract a sample from a chain of “white dots ” which had shown up on the mammogram and were cause for concern. I had to wait a week for the results and upon my return seven days later it was confirmed to be cancer for a second time in the same breast as before. I had prepared myself for this news and naively thought that it would just be cut out. What I had not prepared myself for was the statement “You will need a mastectomy” I just had not considered this and left the hospital in a bit of a daze to the extent that I had a small collision with a minibus at the end of the road. I called work and explained that I needed the rest of the day off.

What followed were appointments with a plastic surgeon to look at options for a mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction. As I had plenty of belly fat it was decided that this would be used to create a new breast, quite amazing in fact! I had a rather bad experience with morphine post op and had to wear a support bra and tummy support 24 hours a day for several weeks. Given that this breast had already been subjected to quite a lot first time around may have contributed to some major healing issues that required negative vacuum wound therapy to
assist with the healing process. The result is not perfect and efforts are being made to improve the outcome but once again I feel so very fortunate to have received an early diagnosis, I find the NHS quite marvellous. As I am surrounded by female family I was able to be tested to look at the genetics to see if my family were at greater risk, I am pleased to say that the results revealed that they are not affected genetically with what is known so far by the experts, however I have been advised that I remain high risk and can elect for risk reducing surgery by having my remaining real breast removed which I am seriously considering as I do not wish to wait to see if I will get breast cancer for a third time. When I came to discuss this I was a little overwhelmed by the various options available following mastectomy; implants, back fat, thigh fat or a combination!

My experience of breast cancer second time around is one that I feel should be spoken about to raise awareness. I work with a team of some young people, and many men and I want people to know what has happened to me because unfortunately, some of their girlfriends, sisters and mothers will be affected by this disease. Being older this time around I am less sensitive and have the support of my friends, family and my then fiancé who is now my husband. I know that I am high risk so for that reason I try to value the time I have and take a few more risks in how I live my life. I do have wobbles of confidence but generally am very happy with who I am and treasure my life.

It is not what happens in life, it is how you deal with it and I have taught myself to be positive. I think that positivity is hugely powerful.

I am immensely touched that my experience of cancer has played a small part in motivating Meg, my beautiful brave niece to row the Pacific Ocean as part of the all female Coxless Crew who along with the team have made Breast Cancer Care one of their chosen charities, girls I salute you.

All my love Jane x

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5 Comments

  1. JG says:

    Thank you for sharing that with us. Very thought provoking and it sent cold shivers down my spine. My wife has been through a similar process although not so often as you. We have the typical British syndrome of keeping our Pacifics to ourselves so it helps to read something like your story to remind us that we are not alone in this. I won’t show this to my wife because it will frighten her by rekindling memories and I would rather shield her from that but it reminds me to keep an eye on her so thank you again. Meanwhile still worrying about the Crew and wishing them well. Take care and keep safe.

  2. Jim Andrews says:

    That was an emotional read Jane, I am so sorry that you or any woman has to endure that awful disease. I think it is fair to say that everyone has someone that has been touched by the big “C”. Even that term sounds despicable. I hope that you are, and remain clear of it. The Coxless Crew have chosen their charities well, and I hope our donations and their superhuman efforts go a long way in helping those effected and eventually it can be prevented, or eradicated. Good luck brave lady and with our other brave ladies, stay safe. XX

  3. Thank you so much Wendy and Jane for sharing your stories. I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been through Jane, especially twice, and it can’t be easy to share something so personal. Your story will give hope and strength to many others and I’m sure the girls in Doris will gain so much from this to keep them going through the tough times. You are truly inspiring, courageous and wonderful.

    If you or anyone you know ever want or need any information or support, or to speak to someone who’s been in a similar situation, Breast Cancer Care is here for anyone affected by breast cancer. http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk. 0808 800 6000. All our services are provided free of charge thanks to our supporters including the incredible Coxless Crew and all of you sponsoring them so generously. Thank you.

  4. Babs says:

    Very heart wrenching ordeal Jane that you have gone through, and more than once! It just shows your strength and positivity and courage to share your story. This story epitomises what the girls are trying to raise awareness for. We are hoping that the winds will get behind you girls for the final push to shore, you have given your all and more, now time for you girls to get some rest very soon. Stay safe xx

  5. Wow, reading this personal story really bring it home just how fragile we as a species are, I cannot contemplate the emotional journey this has been, but equally the grit and determination you have had to find to handle all of this being so young yes I realise this is not seen as a young persons disease, but C has no discrimination.

    I’ve lost a cousin to C her sister is still taking it badly hearing how each day you take it one at a time is hard.

    You read this and it’s like reading a chapter from a book, but it’s not fiction, it’s real it’s a real story and it’s told by a brave human being

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