PUBLISHED ON: 6 June 2018

While recovering from her breast cancer treatment, Harjit realised she was limited in what she was able to do. Here she talks about role reversal and relying on her children for help. 

Harjit in her garden

I was in denial

I noticed my right nipple changing in early January. At first, I thought it was just me.

Two weeks passed, and I started to feel pins and needles at night. Then, the thoughts crept in. What if? It doesn’t look quite right...

Time passes. Please, no. I'm going to Australia in six weeks.

Then it started tingling all the time.

I looked it up online and I lied to myself. No, it doesn't look like that. It's OK.

It had to get sorted. I did the sensible thing and booked an appointment with a private GP. He tried his utmost not to panic me and got things moving.

The first appointment with the consultant was the following day. After several tests he confirmed I'd had a tumour growing behind my nipple for about the last 18 months, and that I would need to have a mastectomy.

My first concern was my children

Harjit's children

As soon as I realised it was breast cancer, my initial concern was how I was going to tell my children.

I couldn't do it face-to-face and reassure them, as they were both abroad. They were the only ones that mattered to me at that moment.

It wasn’t until after I had told them that I realised for the first time in my life I had to focus on myself. I had to be completely selfish.

What mattered was how my body reacted to treatment

The tests and the treatment did not shock me. I realised early on that treatment depended on the type of tumour, its makeup and the outcome of mammograms, ultrasounds and CT scans.

Most importantly, I learned that it didn’t matter what treatment was going to be administered. What mattered was how my body was going to react to the treatment.

I had to go through another operation some six weeks after the mastectomy and reconstruction to have all my axillary lymph nodes removed, as three out of the five that were removed during the mastectomy were cancerous. The second operation was more demanding and restrictive and that is when I began to realise that I was limited in what I was able to do.

My arm and breast area hurt, and I was unable to lift, carry, pull, or turn things. After a week the right arm felt extremely weak and heavy to move around. It also ached all the time.

It has been difficult for my children to see the roles reversed

For the first time I have had to rely on my children to do things for me.

We were three adults who had all lived on our own for some time. Once I started asking them for help the dynamic changed. They were not used to the fact that while I may have compromised when they were children, they were now adults and I no longer had to humour their lack of common sense!

From washing some clothes to making me a cup of tea, I had to accept that they would do things differently to how I might. I'd lived on my own and become used to my ways, so it was a challenge. My kids now tell me that I am a diva just because I like my tea made a particular way!

I have to remind myself that they are young adults and are still learning. I also think that it has been difficult for the children to see their mother incapacitated and the roles reversed.

Harjit's three tips for accepting help

1. Know your limits – While it is incredibly frustrating and infuriating asking for help from loved ones, know what your limits are and understand where they can help.

2. Be clear about what you can and can't do – Tell your family and friends. They are not mind readers and unless you spell it out they will not know what you want.

3. Be patient – With them and yourself, because the last thing you all need, as my daughter puts it, is to 'turn on each other'.

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