PUBLISHED ON: 16 May 2017

When Joanna was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, she thought her life would change forever. She talks about side effects, cold caps and how she’s moving forward.

Joanna holding her pug at a Pink Ribbonwalk

I always knew it was a good idea to check your breasts, but I'd never really managed to do it on a regular basis. I was in my early thirties so I never thought it would happen to me. One of my friends posted a video on Facebook about how to check yourself. That was when I found the lump.

It was a total shock when I received my breast cancer diagnosis

I was scared that my life would be changed forever.

I had surgery to remove the lump, followed by chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment, radiotherapy and Tamoxifen.

Chemotherapy wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I experienced the full range of symptoms you'd expect – nausea, fatigue, aches and pains. I had episodes of mania due to the high doses of steroids you have to take. One night I struggled to sleep and found myself sat on the floor surrounded by the entire contents of the bathroom cupboards!

I used a cold cap during chemo to prevent hair loss 

I was the first patient in my hospital to try a cold cap model called Dignitana DigniCap, so I was the guinea pig. I had to wear the cap for an hour or so before and after the chemo was given, so it lengthened my treatment time.

I managed to keep around half of my hair, but I lost all my eyelashes and eyebrows. Even now, they haven't properly regrown.

Cancer and its effects are still very present in my life

During my treatment I experienced menopausal symptoms – hot flushes, mood swings, and a lot of gynecological symptoms that were pretty hellish. I still have some of these symptoms now, as well as dealing with the risk of lymphoedema. I have to be careful not to lift heavy items on that side and to try not to injure that arm, or do any sort of repetitive activities like mowing the lawn.

Sometimes it can be frustrating. I'm used to being an independent and active person.

Cancer doesn't discriminate

Two weeks after I'd finished chemo I attended one of Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together sessions in London.

It was so good to have the opportunity to meet other younger women going through very similar treatments and issues. I met people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, jobs, shapes and sizes – each have had their own unique journey since receiving the diagnosis of breast cancer.

My eyes were watering throughout as I listened to their stories. It was sad to see so many other young women in their 20s, 30s and 40s affected by this horrible disease.

Pink Ribbonwalks have helped me move forward

There’s something I really love about the Pink Ribbonwalks. They are always held by some of the most idyllic country houses, castles and palaces, and give you glimpses of some of our country's stunning scenery while you tackle your walk. I’ve done four in total and will be walking at Blenheim Palace this year.

I take part in Pink Ribbonwalks each year to show others who are also faced with this diagnosis that there is life afterward. And it can be better.

My first walk was quite a challenge as I had only just finished radiotherapy a few weeks beforehand. I did it with a good friend who had lost her mum a few years before to secondary breast cancer, so Breast Cancer Care was close to both our hearts. It was an emotional experience and a real bonding moment as we crossed the finish line hugging one another.

Joanna and her pug Sherlock, who joined her for a 2016 Pink Ribbonwalk.

Cancer is part of my life but now I’m in control

Since my diagnosis I feel I have grown as a person. My attitude towards life has changed: I've become braver than I ever thought I could be and have started to do things I never imagined before having cancer. I’ve travelled to places like America and Australia on my own, snorkeling with whale sharks and scuba diving deep into coral reefs.

There’s a quote I try to live by: 'Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.’

If Joanna’s story has inspired you, why not follow in her footsteps and take part in a Pink Ribbonwalk this year?

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