When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was 41 years old and had four sons under the age of 13.
It was 35 years ago, and I was utterly shattered, as was my darling husband Dennis.
How do you tell four boys you might not be here when they grow up? They needed me. They were so beautiful but they were holy terrors. I didn’t feel like anyone could mother them like I could.
I couldn’t bring myself to speak to them about it directly. Dennis and I faced the surgery together while our sons were looked after by friends. We were both very frightened I would die, and we just had to do everything we could to stop that happening.
Thankfully we had some remarkable friends. People did a lot for us – for example an envelope with $5000 in it was given by one four special friends with the instruction to get my surgery done privately, and immediately. That generosity was one of the reasons I’m here to tell the tale. But people did things for our sons too. Cared for them and helped them understand that we loved them deeply even though they felt very distant.
We also lost some friends, and were wounded by words of many health professionals who treated me carelessly. I think people forget how vulnerable a person with cancer is emotionally, and can say things that really hurt – like a doctor who told me after discovering secondary cancers in my liver there was nothing that could be done to help me, and he wished me well for what was left of my life. Well, I did find a doctor who would help me, and the cancer was treated.
We’re not an island. Everybody needs somebody, which is why Bloomhill is so wonderful. I’ve never met a warmer group of people in my life.
After going through several diagnoses (I’ve now survived cancer in my liver twice and kidneys, and in my breast a second time), Dennis and I know open communication is crucial! So is getting yourself specialist help to live comfortably – for example the acupuncture I have at Bloomhill, and lymphoedema treatments which are hugely relieving.
We laugh about things a lot. We come together and share our feelings. My husband and I have cried over my scars together. My kids joke that nothing will ever kill me.
I don’t want you to underestimate the power of laughter and togetherness, it’s truly magical.
The second time I was diagnosed with breast cancer was more than 10 years after my mastectomy. I told my family and I opened a bottle of wine.
One of my boys said, Mum, you’re so open now, last time you didn’t tell us anything. I said, “Darling, I prayed I’d be here with you in 10 years, and I am. I’m happy.”
My health took a serious turn for the worse this year, after tumours began pressing on my vocal chords. I couldn’t breathe, and after a drawn-out ordeal in hospital they discovered that my vocal chords were paralysed and I was given a tracheotomy which meant I could breathe again.
I now speak in a whisper, relying on Dennis to convey my message or by amplifying my voice with an electronic device.
I feel that my time on earth is now limited, and I joke about it and talk openly with my family about my passing. I want everyone to feel prepared for my death. We’ve been in touch with palliative care nurses who will be able to help me, and I’ve even planned my own funeral!
I heard about a great celebrant and I bounced up to this woman and said, ‘you’re going to do my funeral!’ She was a little surprised, as you can imagine! It’s not the usual order of things.
I love Bloomhill, and use several therapies and classes. Debbie has magic fingers, and the lymphatic drainage she does with me every week relieve the pain in my neck hugely. I always feel energised after my acupuncture sessions with Jo.
I also wanted to talk about the wonderful volunteers at Bloomhill. You are greeted with a warm welcome, they know your name. There is special soup made for those of us who have trouble swallowing. I have been very grateful for that.
I’m glad to be able to share my story as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 2022. I wish I’d accessed Bloomhill sooner!
By Lynette Taylor, October 2022
Published: Nicky Moffat October 2022 Images: Patrick Woods Photography