PUBLISHED ON: 23 May 2019

After treatment finished, Rosemarie struggled to return to her normal life. She shares how the Black Women Rising project has helped her appreciate where she is now.

Rosemarie

Nobody mentioned cancer

I first noticed a lump in July 2017. I’m a primary school teacher and it was just before the summer holidays were about to start.

I ignored it, but then in September I found another lump underneath my armpit. I went to my GP and two days later I was at the hospital having a mammogram and biopsy.

I didn’t hear anything afterwards. I had to contact them to find out what was happening.

Three weeks after I was seen, the cancer centre at London Bridge invited me to come in for an appointment. It seemed strange – nobody had mentioned cancer to me when I had the mammogram and biopsy.

When I arrived, there were three people waiting for me in the room. I knew something was up. The oncologist explained to me that I had triple negative breast cancer.

A lot of information came at me that day. I felt very numb.

I wanted to get on with my life

I was told I would need chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.

I lost my hair just before my second three-week cycle of chemotherapy. When the cycles turned to weekly, they started to take their toll. I found it hard to recover before starting each new week.

I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction in May 2018. The chemotherapy had worked well and reduced the size of the tumour, but I was diagnosed with the altered BRCA2 gene which increases my risk of breast cancer, so I had the healthy breast removed too.

My radiotherapy started in July and ended in August. In September, I had my ovaries removed as a precautionary measure because of my BRCA2 diagnosis.

By December, I developed a seroma in my left breast, and I needed my implant changed. Because of the effects of radiotherapy on my skin, the surgeons were unable to achieve symmetry this time around.

It’s been relentless – at each stage of treatment, I just wanted to get onto the next thing so I could get on with my life again.

I play down how I feel

During treatment, I always had a plan and knew when everything was likely to happen. My end point was getting back to teaching.

I returned to work in November last year, but after four days I was advised that I had returned too soon.

Because of the fatigue I’ve experienced as a side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy I was signed off again and told to come back in four months. I understood that I would soon start half-pay sick leave with no clear idea of when I’d get back to work. It’s all the little things that pile up that you must deal with.

Sometimes I didn’t know what kind of support I needed. I found myself putting effort into dealing with other people’s reactions, reassuring them that I would be okay. A lot of people asked why I didn’t tell them about my diagnosis sooner. It took a lot of energy out of me.

Even now I play down how I feel to avoid getting sympathetic looks from other people.

I still don’t always feel like myself, but I don’t want to keep talking to my friends and family about it. They were so supportive during my treatment and beyond. I always felt loved and I feel our family is closer because of the time we had together.

Rosemarie and her child

Black Women Rising makes me feel at ease

Being a part of Black Women Rising is amazing. It’s a unique support group, and in March 2019 we put on an exhibition with photos of our mastectomy and surgery scars.

I don’t feel embarrassed about talking about anything in front of the other women in the discussion group – it's all about sharing our experience as women from the BAME community.

For me, the way that black women share their stories is very different. We’re used to going somewhere and being the only black person in the room. This is reflected in how we talk to each other, and I feel at ease speaking to the other women as they get it without me over-explaining or choosing my words for fear of offending.

Taking part in the photoshoot for the Black Women Rising exhibition made me feel special again. The exhibition not only showed our physical scars from cancer but allowed us an opportunity to share the mental scars that having cancer leaves behind.

Our hope for the exhibition is to open a conversation about how the experience of BAME patients can be very different.

I appreciate a lot more after my breast cancer

I’ve realised that there’s so much that I didn’t appreciate or notice from before I had breast cancer. Simple things like energy levels and the desire to get out and go and do something. Now, I really appreciate it if I can build up the energy to leave the house.

It’s reminded me to stop and be grateful of what I have now. I feel so much closer with my family and friends because of what we’ve gone through. It’s easy to see what you don’t have any more when you have cancer, but now I’m learning to stop and see what it’s given me too.

Our support services can help you feel more in control after your breast cancer diagnosis.

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