One year on, Fran looks back at how she felt after treatment and how far she has come since then.
I learnt so much from asking questions
When I started out on this inevitably challenging road I was prepared for it to be hard. The thing that helped me most of all was the advice I got. My breast care and chemo nurses and Breast Cancer Care's Helpline and booklets answered so many of my questions.
I would ask things like: What are tips for avoiding lymphoedema? What’s the best thing to do if I can't sleep? Should I cat nap? What can I do to help the regrowth of my hair?
It's scary and overwhelming when you're first diagnosed so it's easy to forget the questions you want to ask once you get to the hospital, but if you write them down beforehand it'll make it easier.
A breast cancer diagnosis is so destabilising
I was certainly much more emotional last year than I am now. Sometimes I think this was because I got frustrated, but also because the whole breast cancer thing is pretty destabilising at the start. I must admit that I did sometimes take things out on my husband, because he was there and because our relationship is very strong. I believe it's important not to bottle things up, so I tried hard to discuss how I felt and kept a diary to write down my feelings.
About a year ago I had my last session of radiotherapy. This had followed six doses of chemo, so now I feel it’s the right time to look back and appreciate how far I have come in one year, and the five little things that helped me get here.
1. Managing hair loss
This time last year my hair had fallen out. I took a look at myself in the mirror one morning and thought, 'I look awful'. I smiled back, and suddenly looked so much nicer. Hiding beneath the pale, red-eyed, bald image I saw 'me' again, and instantly felt a little better. From then on I smiled lots.
Occasionally putting on some lovely lipstick and a quick smudge of pink on my cheeks helped too. People would tell me I looked well, and there’s nothing like that to help you feel better.
2. Finding lost energy
I was prepared to feel tired, exhausted even, and it did happen. I had read that walking would be good for increasing my energy levels and for boosting my immunity so I started walking every day. Some days I did not feel at all like going out, but I would make myself take at least a few steps.
The countryside around me is so beautiful that it made me happy to be there, outside and away from thoughts about treatment. Sometimes I would feel rubbish and say to my husband, 'I don't think I can go that far today.' But as I walked I began to feel as though concrete bricks were falling off my shoulders. Even if we didn’t walk far I often felt better.
Walking helped me so much both mentally and physically, and doing something like Breast Cancer Care's Pink Ribbon Walk would have been perfect.
3. Struggling to sleep
Not only was I exhausted but I then couldn't sleep very well after my treatment. I turned to pillow mist and focused on relaxing my body.
I would lie down, close my eyes, and scan my body starting with my toes and working up to my face. This alongside slow, deep breathing and a good blast of pillow mist (lavender is excellent) was much more effective than counting sheep – their bleating gets in the way.
4. Dealing with sad thoughts
I have always tried to be positive in my outlook, but sometimes this was a bit of a challenge. At the end of every day, before my attempts to sleep, I went through everything I had achieved. I wrote a diary and listed how far I had walked, recorded my steps and wrote about how I felt. This way I could go to sleep in a positive frame of mind and sometimes even feeling a little bit proud.
Before I started my treatment I listed places I would like to visit that were nearby and that I could have a gentle walk around in some new and interesting places. The National Trust houses and gardens nearby proved to be interesting and fun and provided a useful distraction on days when I might potentially feel low.
5. Setting myself an achievable goal
Fran and her grandchildren
I didn't want to put pressure on myself to do anything too strenuous, but I wanted something to work towards in the future. I have family abroad, so I made it my goal to visit them once treatment ended. I did get there in the end, and my family – most especially my two gorgeous grandchildren – were the best tonic ever.
I'm focusing on all the small improvements
Looking back on how I felt last year, there are so many ways in which I have moved forward. My confidence is also getting back to where it was. During chemo I didn’t drive because I felt wobbly. Then when I started to drive I felt a little weird and stressed. Now I enjoy driving and feel happy behind the wheel. My passengers haven’t moaned yet.
I am about to perform in the village pantomime, and there is no way I would have done this a year ago.
Who knows how I'll feel next year?
I hope that this time next year I will feel even more energetic and find other little surprises as my body and mind get stronger. Everyone's journey is different, but we find a way through.
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