Jenny, one of our Show Scotland models, struggled with fatigue and body confidence after breast cancer treatment. She shares how embracing new challenges and opportunities has helped her move forward.
I had no family history of breast cancer
I don’t think I was really aware that younger women could get breast cancer. I was aware enough to check my breasts, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I was more concerned about heart disease as that’s in my family history.
I had a lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy and further surgery to get clear margins. I had six lots of chemotherapy and 19 sessions of radiotherapy. I’ve been on a yo-yo of hormone treatment since then.
I felt numb for a long time
I was numb for a long time after my diagnosis. I don’t think it properly sunk in until after my treatment finished.
I remember telling people about my diagnosis and they would cry, but I wasn’t crying. It’s a very strange sensation to be comforting somebody when it’s you who got the bad news. You look back and think, ‘Really, did I just give them a hug because they were crying about me?’
I fell apart after my treatment finished
After my final radiotherapy appointment, I walked to my local park and fell apart. I just sat on the bench and sobbed my heart out. I was exhausted and drained.
I realised my emotions were all over the place and I ended up seeing a psychologist at a Maggie’s Centre for about six months to talk through everything that was affecting me. Talking through the issues that were bothering me – like fertility – helped me understand how I was feeling, and why I was struggling.
I never wanted kids but struggled when my choice was taken away
I knew I didn’t want kids prior to my diagnosis, but I struggled when I no longer had control over that decision. Talking things through helped me realise I was struggling, not because my feelings about having children had changed, but because of a loss of control. That loss of control was a hard thing to get my head around.
It’s very unsettling to find yourself doubting something you’ve always been adamant about, and it was a relief when I realised that the loss of control was really what was upsetting me.
Fatigue has impacted all aspects of my life
Due to fatigue, I had a very prolonged phased return to work and I’ve not worked full time since going back four years ago. My day off on a Wednesday allows me to regain energy and relax for the second half of the week.
I always have to think through plans I make, like meeting with friends and holidays, to accommodate my fatigue. My husband always says our holidays are ‘one day of doing something and one day of not doing anything’.
Relaxation techniques help me manage my fatigue
I find that doing relaxation techniques, like yoga nidra classes, and going outside and getting fresh air, help me manage my fatigue.
I have an allotment and sometimes I like to go and just sit in my deckchair. At times when you feel fatigued you can feel really down because it’s limiting you. Being outside surrounded by nature can help lift your mood.
I’ve also found some good tips in the BECCA app, like gentle exercises and yoga, which really help.
I felt really self-conscious about my scars
When I returned to swimming after treatment, I felt really self-conscious about my scars. I kept taking myself into a private changing room instead of the communal changing room, which I’d always used before.
Probably on the third or fourth week of going into a private changing room, I ended up giving myself a stiff talking to. I thought, ‘If someone’s going to see my scars, at least it might spread awareness that younger women can get breast cancer and encourage somebody else to check their breasts.'
I’m determined to use a public Japanese bath
My husband and I are looking forward to going to Japan on holiday next year. The Japanese bathing pools, which you hear a lot about in Japanese guidebooks, are normally used naked. When my husband told me about this, I was slightly stunned and thought ‘Oh, I’m not keen about that!’
Hopefully I’ll manage to overcome any feelings of self-consciousness and enjoy the baths. I’m determined that I will try them, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to experience in Japan.
Peer support is so important
I heard about Breast Cancer Care’s services when I was given a leaflet on the day I was diagnosed. I went straight home and onto the website and ordered the publications for younger women. I also joined the Forum. Any time I’ve received new information about my treatment, the first place I’ve gone is the Breast Cancer Care website.
Through the Forum, I found the Younger Breast Cancer Network and it became my main source of peer support. Talking to other young women who’ve been affected by breast cancer helped me realise I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I was. That peer support is so crucial, and a lot of these women have become good friends.
Walking the catwalk is so out of my comfort zone
I’m really looking forward to modelling in The Show Scotland. It’s something so out of my comfort zone and walking the catwalk in front of 500 people is going to be such a challenge, but I’ve been embracing new experiences since my treatment ended – it’s one of the positives that has come out of my diagnosis.
Find more hints and tips on moving forward after treatment in BECCA, our free app.