Jacqueline found she was the only woman of colour at her support group. She talks about why she’ll be sharing photos of her mastectomy scars at the Black Women Rising event.
My breast was tender and hard
I started going through menopausal changes in my early 40s. Then at some point my left breast became really tender and hard and leaking. I couldn’t examine or feel it because it was so hard. After three days I thought I could feel a lump. I went to my GP that afternoon and was referred for further tests and a few weeks later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I didn’t tell my sons at first
I have two sons who have grown up and left home. When I found the lump and went for a mammogram I didn’t tell anyone. It was when they said I needed a biopsy and suggested I bring someone with me that I had to say something.
I asked my eldest son, although I didn’t tell him what it was. As we were walking to the room he asked, ‘Why are we here?’ I explained I had found a lump. He said, ‘You didn’t say anything?’ I said no, I didn’t want to worry people with something that may have been nothing.
From there he came with me to all my appointments. Having people around who are neurotic and hysterical isn’t helpful, but he’s very calm. I didn’t tell many people at all.
It's a very hard thing to tell people. I'm a very private person. Sometimes it’s not something you want to broadcast when you haven’t come to terms with it yourself. Sometimes you want to be as normal as possible around certain people. Some close friends have no idea. I go and get my hair done and we have a cup of tea, and we don’t have to discuss breast cancer. It's quite nice to have a break from it.
I have something foreign in my body for the rest of my life
I was very fortunate that the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, so I had a mastectomy and lost my left breast with immediate reconstruction.
Immediate reconstruction was very strange. I didn’t want to look when they changed the dressings at my follow-up appointments. One day they took off the dressing and I thought, oh my goodness I don’t have a choice, I have to look now. At home I would manoeuvre myself in the bathroom to avoid it. But one day I thought, I'll look. And it didn’t upset me. I thought, I can live with this.
I know I have something foreign in my body, and I don’t have a nipple any more. It took me a while to get used to it and look at it, but now I am.
I found support that works for me
It’s hard to get the help you need sometimes – you need to be proactive but you’re not necessarily in that frame of mind, considering the trauma you’ve been through with your diagnosis and then the medication and side effects.
I've been ill in the past and I thought this will be the same, I dismissed the support leaflet, didn’t think I'd need it. But when I returned to work in October I felt quite lost. I stumbled across the Moving Forward course by chance on the Forum. It was so beneficial in terms of practical advice. That’s where I got information about getting a referral from my GP for my leisure centre, and I spoke to a woman who recommended a Look Good Feel Better workshop.
I started to find things that worked for me
Black Women Rising will give people a platform to express themselves
Moving Forward was very informative and gave me lots of practical tips. But I was the only person of colour in my group.
I felt a natural affiliation with the other women at the Black Women Rising group, who were all women of colour. There was lots of laughter and lots of tears as well. I felt confident and comfortable being in a place where I could share my experience, while everyone’s stories varied too.
The Black Women Rising project is such a great platform for women of colour to express themselves and be themselves. I think the photos will shock people, but that will help to start the conversation around breast cancer in black women. I’m so happy to be a part of it.
Join Jacqueline at the Black Women Rising event in London this March.