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Personal Insights into a Breast Cancer Journey

Jackie Cooper talks about her breast cancer journey
March 2021

Jackie started the Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy diploma course at the beginning of 2020, not knowing what was ahead of her. Here is her story.

When did you receive your breast cancer diagnosis and at what age?

I was diagnosed last year with invasive breast cancer in the middle of May 2020, not long after we went into lockdown at the young age of 54

How was the cancer initially detected?

I discovered a lump and although I had previously had lumps(as we ladies do) I felt a bit different about this one so called the doctor the next morning expecting him to say that there were no face to face appointments, but to his credit he asked me to come straight down to the surgery. He then put me at ease as he felt it was not sinister and probably hormonal but he said he would send me to the hospital on a 2 week priority list for a mammogram and ultrasound. With the doctors words ringing in my head I was a bit blasé and relaxed when I attended the hospital appointment which was only reinforced by sailing through the mammogram (my cancer is invisible to a mammogram). I was very shocked when they discovered a sinister image on the ultrasound and I was immediately pinned down to receive 3 biopsies and a metal clip inserted into the tumour (that they now named it).

Then started a very strange wait for the biopsy results which was a tough one as your mind automatically thinks the worst and so I felt a bit lost and out of control. But I decided to tell my teenage boys that same evening as I felt that they should walk this path with me and by giving them the facts this will empower them so I sat them down on my return to say this has a 50/50 chance of going either way! (actually I had already been told to expect the worst but felt that getting them used to the idea gradually was a healthier way to deal with their emotions).

How did you feel when you first received the news?

After another 2 weeks (full month of waiting) I was called to the consultant’s office to see what the full diagnosis was and after waiting a 2 hour delay for my appointment  (Covid delays were huge at that time) I had worked through my stress and was pretty calm as he sat me down and told me of the type and the treatment ahead. It felt like a dream to be honest, like it was happening to someone else, but the team were amazing and I was ushered into the office of the Breast Cancer Nurse and given lots of reading as well as plenty of appointments for more scans and tests.

It felt that once I had started my journey and had a plan this gave me something to focus on, step by step I was going to get rid of this cancer and get my fitness back.

How did you cope with telling friends and family about your diagnosis?

I think telling others has been the hardest for me (even writing this today). Telling the boys that night was ok though as I think they had got used to the idea, especially as I was very positive about the outcome. To start I wasn’t going to tell anyone but soon decided that that wouldn’t have been fair on them if they found out later and as I was facing a mastectomy and other procedures I also looked forward to the support of friends and family. I still haven’t told my Mother though as she is in her 90’s and I didn’t think it would be something that would be good for her – so that has been fun trying to avoid conversations – especially the day I came out of hospital after a 5 ½ hour operation and she called to ask me what I had been doing today!😊

Did you have an organised support network outside of friends and family? And how easy were these services to access?

Once you join this family no one wants to join it is amazing how supported and comforted you feel with the cancer team. The NHS were completely slammed with Covid but always answered my calls and were so lovely on the many hospital stays. I have the most amazing consultant who is an Oncoplastic consultant Miss Jennifer Rusby, Royal Marsden Chelsea and she and her team of lady surgeons have a holistic view of breast cancer where they look at the long-term result with a very inclusive attitude asking my opinion at every step of the way.

Tell me about your treatment process and how you kept a positive mindset throughout?

My journey which has taken a few twists and turns (having to repeat the mastectomy in Dec as apparently I was doing too much 😊) has been carefully thought out and planned to give me the best results. I have had several surgeries and more planned in the future and I am on a hormone reducing therapy drug daily which I will continue for the next five years. Keeping a positive mindset is key for me, every behaviour has a positive intention so I know by thinking myself well and healthy will improve both my mental and physical health. A quote from Deepak Chopra has been my screensaver this year and that is “Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts.” By thinking more positively about my health I will give my body the very best chance to heal and gain the strength it needs and I feel with this attitude and my new diet I am probably healthier than before the cancer diagnosis.

How did you find the side effects of your treatment? And do you have any top tips for others who may be going through the same journey?

Everyone on this journey has an individual relationship with the treatments and the way they affect you. For me I found ways around the pain and tiredness that I had due to the drugs and operations by firstly allowing myself time to heal and then building up my strength by gradually walking further as I believe exercise is key to both physical and mental health. My tumour was hormone fed so I gave up all animal protein in May and  have been on a predominantly plant based diet since. This was a shock at the beginning as I was advised that sugar, alcohol, dairy and meat as well as processed foods are all not good for me and I was put on a long term hormone inhibitor drug to stop the tumour or others growing. I did feel a bit sorry for myself at the beginning but then I embraced the change and love the new foods that I am learning to cook and although my family’s diet didn’t change totally they have all become much healthier because of my diagnosis.

My advice to others would be to live in the moment, you do feel bad sometimes and sometimes you feel this is only happening to you but equally there is a huge connection between positive mental attitude and the ability to heal, I kept imagining myself getting stronger and by opening up to family this also empowered them to support me in those times when you feel a bit weak. There are many Facebook support groups for breast cancer and I found these particularly helpful as you can speak to others going through a similar journey and there is a lot of advice and tips that can help as well as a place you can vent when you don’t wish to burden your family.

Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?

My first Consultant didn’t have the same mindset as me and felt that reconstruction was not on the table for a long time, even years. I am a driven person and felt that I owed it to myself to look for the best options for me and by working with my GP I was able to be referred to the best of the best in the Royal Marsden where they spent a lot of time talking to me about the long term plan. My lesson here is that you don’t have to accept the first thing and it is important to ask for a second opinion my heart aches for all the ladies who are being refused reconstruction at the moment and having to face a body morphology problem as well as dealing with the cancer.

So tell us a little more about your recent interest and qualification in Positive Psychology?

Over the years I have used the services of a Cognitive Hypnotherapist for myself and other family members and loved the approach that ‘we have all the resources needed to create our own solutions’. I have found that having a positive mental attitude has helped me overcome many challenges so when it was suggested to me that I should do the diploma and qualify I was keen to sign up. Never did I realise just how important these skills would be until 3 days after starting my course I had the breast cancer diagnosis. Understanding how I deal with my own stress and learning skills to manage it has been truly amazing, in conjunction with my journey, and now having these skills to help others is very empowering.

How has this helped you deal with your diagnosis?

One of the key ways this has helped me is to learn to live in the moment and to have a positive attitude to cancer, I believe everything is meant for a reason and although I couldn’t see it at the beginning I do feel that having cancer has been such a positive experience for me, teaching me to focus on the important things and not worrying about the little things that are less important. I have a much better relationship with my kids and partner who have been so supportive and I believe they too fear things less and embrace life’s challenges with a bit more positivity.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given during your cancer journey?

Be kind to yourself – We often have busy lives and especially as a working mum with teenagers we live in autopilot feeling we have to be the strong one… One key lesson I have learned, is by showing your vulnerable side it gives others the strength and opportunity to step up and be there for you.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to as we emerge from the Pandemic and lockdown restrictions are lifted? And what message would you like to leave our Team Schein community with?

Like everyone I am looking forward to meeting family and friends and travelling further than the supermarket or school and back! As the evenings get lighter and the weather warmer I am keen to build back my fitness and get out on my bike as I am planning a 300 mile bike ride with some HS friends from London to Paris in August for breast cancer.

I have learnt through this experience to let go of my inhibitions and live my life to the full – If you ask me for a message based on my experience I would say, don’t hold back on dreams or plans that you haven’t acted upon, now is the time to focus on what you want and go and make it happen!