After 2 guided core biopsies (one in each breast) and an MRI, it was confirmed as left breast Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage T2, grade 2, lymph node involvement, ERPR+ (oestrogen and progesterone receptors were positive) and Her2 negative (according to FSH test).
What does this mean in layman’s terms?
Invasive meant it had spread from the primary tumour. Stage T2 meant that the primary tumour was between 2-5cm (mine was 4cm). Grade 2 means that the cancer cells are moderately fast growing and likely to spread (grade 3 is most aggressive). ERPR+ means that hormones were feeding the cancer, so hormones were bad.
I am so very grateful for having had a child, which had been my only ambition in life for as long as I could remember, for now the hormones would need to be blocked for good, to improve the chances of preventing a recurrence.
Luckily, the lumps in my right breast were confirmed to be benign, meaning I had not advanced to stage 3 or 4. The final test before I could start chemo was the PET full body scan, to ensure there were no cancer cells present in any other organs.
You are injected with a radioactive dye, which is absorbed by your organs and tissues to detect the presence of disease. Unfortunately, I had to go through this twice, as the first time the machine wasn’t working properly. Not what you need after having fasted for 12 hours before, but you really need to be prepared for such bumps in the road in this journey.
I keep reminding myself how lucky I have been, to have access to such incredibly advanced medical care, and with robust insurance that covered the majority of costs.”
The worst test for me by far was the MRI…you have to lie on your front, perfectly still, for up to an hour (ooh the aches and pains in my aging joints after that!), tightly encased in a metal tube, accompanied by the most disconcerting banging noise, like a sledgehammer, with the odd squeal. But it’s incredible what the body and mind can endure when it’s necessary.
I was finally booked in for my first chemo on 23 December. I was scared, I don’t mind admitting it.
I had spent some time with a colleague who had been through breast cancer a few years earlier and is as strong as they come (in fact she has since had a healthy baby which is amazing as chemo usually catapults you into menopause) and she made me feel a lot better about it. But nothing can stop you from fearing the unknown I suppose.
A friend of mine had introduced me to a woman who had founded an emotional support group called PINK Ladies 247, who operate chat groups on WhatsApp, to help and support women at various stages of diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The 247 comes from the fact that someone is always there to chat at all time of the day or night – the steroids you take to mitigate side effects often cause you to have sleepless nights, and it’s usually at 3am that depression or anxiety can take over. So having someone to chat to – albeit virtually – is such a comfort.
Joining PINK Ladies was one of the best things that happened to me, and I’m still a member 2 ½ years later, as I want to be able to give other newly diagnosed women in the initial stages of fear and shock the same comfort and support that made my own experience less lonely and nightmarish.
In fact, I now sit on the committee and organise monthly coffee mornings so we can meet each other in the real world. The support I got from PINK Ladies was priceless and I’ve made some lifelong friends in the group. It’s so important to have people you can rant/joke/cry with that totally get you, and which frees you up to avoid the cancer talk with your family and friends.
Have a question for Emma? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a weekly blog, by Emma Rymer. Emma is a long-time UAE resident, employed in a private sector firm. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and was cleared by the doctors as completely cancer-free in early 2018. She writes this weekly blog in the hope that other women or men going through the same process can find strength and resilience from her journey. Emma lives in Dubai with her family.