In support of Be Clear On Cancer

Family support and great NHS care have helped Eileen find a new zest for life after breast cancer

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Going to the gym has never been on my radar. In fact, the nearest I’ve ever got to exercising has been pushing my late son Nigel’s wheelchair. So never in a million years did I expect to find myself in training for a 10-mile walk at the age of 77, or becoming a familiar face at the Rugeley Leisure Centre gym in Staffordshire.

But then, a lot of things changed after I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2015.

I first noticed a strange area of thickened skin on my left breast early in the new year. I went to see my GP, who sent me for scans and biopsies at Stafford County Hospital.

The results came back quickly – I had invasive lobular cancer in my left breast. The doctor explained this type of breast cancer is often difficult to diagnose because the cancer spreads in lines rather than forming a lump. So I was lucky it was found before it had a chance to spread.

A mastectomy was recommended as the best treatment for me, but even so I was fortunate not to need any radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

I was never alone at any of these appointments. My wonderful daughter Jan travelled up from her home in Kent to be with me at every step. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for her love and unstinting support.

In March, I went into Royal Stoke University Hospital for the operation. It went well, and I had fantastic care. Back home, a nurse called daily to check on me. My grandson Tim sent me a neat little cushion with ‘Grandma’ on it, which was perfect for tucking under my arm to relieve the pressure. I love it.

At my six-week check, I was fitted for an NHS prosthetic bra. Jan came too. We made a day of it and went shopping – I treated myself to some pretty new bras and a mastectomy swimsuit, which look great.
Chatting to women at my Tai Chi group, I found four out of 28 had had breast cancer.

I decided to think big – and started training for a 10-mile Breast Cancer Care Pink Ribbon walk in London. Jan, her husband Mark, their boys Tim and Tom and our cousin Pat all agreed to join me. My over-50s Phoenix Club friends were a brilliant support, too.

I had a doctor’s referral to the gym and the staff were so friendly. Before I knew it, I had become a regular.

Just before the walk I was knocked over by a dog – but even that couldn’t put me off. With Jan and the family, I was thrilled to complete the walk on 10 July, 2016. We saw all the sights by day and the city lit up as night fell. It was magical.

People don’t realise breast cancer can strike when you’re over 70. If you notice any changes to your breasts, do tell your doctor. I’m glad I did – it saved my life.

KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER

One in three women who get breast cancer are over 70, so don’t assume you’re past it. Finding breast cancer early makes it more treatable, so it’s important to be breast aware and to know what’s normal for you. For more information, visit nhs.uk/breastcancer70

A lump is not the only sign of cancer. Other possible signs include:

• A lump or thickening in your breast or armpit.
• Changes to the skin of your breast, such as puckering or dimpling.
• Changes in the shape, size or feel of your breast.
• Nipple changes, including a change in the position of a nipple, or rash on or around your nipple.
•  Nipple discharge.
•  Pain in the breast.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

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