This International Women's Day, we hear from Stephanie, Stella and Sara - three women who are embracing life after breast cancer.
Stephanie: Breast cancer made me feel like I had lost control
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2017. I was 26 and had just finished my fourth year of dental school.
I felt completely vulnerable, like I’d gone back to being a child again. I was dependent on people for everything, not least the doctors to save my life.
I’ve always been quite a strong and independent person. Breast cancer made me feel like I had lost control of the direction in which my life was heading.
My outlook is completely different
Since being diagnosed, my outlook is completely different. I embrace every day for what it is and have been welcoming new experiences and memories.
While having chemotherapy, I spent a lot of time recuperating and started to think about what hobby I could take up from my bed. I started teaching myself how to play poker and after some practice, eventually entered an online competition, winning out of 137 people. I proudly announced this to my oncologist when asked what I’d been up to since my last appointment.
I learned to ski last winter. It was a special moment for me, not least because after my double mastectomy I felt incapacitated. It’s hard to believe that just a few months later I was zipping through trees at the top of a mountain.
I’ve travelled around Central and South America, ticking off five more countries from my ‘places to visit’ list.
I’ve also returned to university to complete my final year of dental school. I’ve thrown myself back into it and feel a sense of normality at finishing what I started before I fell ill.
Cancer no longer calls the shots
I think of my breast cancer as a bad chapter of my overall story. When I was at my absolute worst it helped me to imagine that there would come a day when cancer wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
I didn’t have to wait that long. Cancer no longer calls the shots and I feel free to do all the things I ever wanted to do.
Stella: My shock at being diagnosed was replaced with fear
I was completely numb with shock when I found out I had breast cancer.
That shock was soon replaced with fear – fear of dying and of leaving loved ones behind to cope with life without me.
Breast Cancer Care felt like a shock absorber. It helped to cushion the impact of my diagnosis and make sense of what I was going through.
After my treatment, I struggled to move on from my breast cancer and regain my normal life. The Moving Forward course was recommended to me by my oncologist, and was so beneficial to my physical, mental and emotional recovery from breast cancer.
I want to empower young women
Since my diagnosis, I’ve qualified as a personal development coach, and now work as a confidence coach for young women. I’ve become a radio presenter and use my show as a platform to reach out to young women and discuss issues that affect them.
I’m planning to partner with schools and organisations that run projects for young women to deliver programmes to educate them and arm them with skills to become more confident and empowered.
I hope this will help them cope with modern-day pressures that can push young people to self-harming, eating disorders and depression.
Sara: I thought my life was over
Life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt on 19 October 2016, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For a number of weeks following my diagnosis I honestly thought my life was over. But as I embarked upon treatment and normal day-to-day life was turned upside down, I came to realise that my life wasn’t going to end but rather it was going to change.
I took an extended leave of absence from work, so I had more time on my hands and I started writing about what was happening.
Writing was my therapy
I found writing to be a huge help. It was my therapy. My new-found love of writing led me to set up Ticking Off Breast Cancer.
This is a website which provides practical advice and signposts to all sorts of amazing online cancer resources. I also post guest blogs from anyone going through breast cancer themselves, as a way of encouraging people to write about their cancer experience. It’s a place that holds your hand and says, 'It's going to be tough, but you can do it and to help you on your way, here is some advice.'
I’ve also written a book of the same name, which is coming out in September 2019. This book follows my own personal breast cancer experience from diagnosis to the end of treatment and the impact that it had on my life, both physically and emotionally.
It is just my story. And my story isn't special in any way. But that is the point. I want to show someone who is going through breast cancer that they are not alone and that others are going through the same thing.
Life is not just about breast cancer
Through my writing I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people and fantastic charities.
I have written articles, stepped out of my comfort zone by speaking at events and become an active member of the cancer community on social media. Last year I made three short films for Breast Cancer Awareness Month with Breast Cancer Care, the aim of which was to raise awareness of the reality of life with, and after, breast cancer.
But my life is not just about breast cancer now, and I am moving forward. I don't have any big plans. I just want to be a regular mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.
Find information and support on adapting to life after breast cancer treatment.