I found a lump. I work in TV so I cover these sorts of stories all the time. I knew the importance of seeing a doctor and arranged that pretty quick. In the time it took for the referral from the doctor to the consultant, I had another four lumps grow. This made me think ‘well it can’t be cancer then’; I thought it must have been hormonal, time of the month or something. I saw the consultant, had the mammogram, the biopsy and my husband didn’t come with me because I really didn’t think it would be anything. When they called me to come and get the results, she said to me ‘don’t come in on your own’ and it was then I started thinking it could be serious. Sure enough, they pulled the rug from beneath us; they said it was breast cancer and I had to have a mastectomy the following week. At this point I was knee deep in three kids and busy job in media. I had to phone my boss and say I’m not coming in tomorrow as I had to have pre-surgery things done. I suppose my new life began then.
I remember having some pre-surgery scans and I was laying on this machine thinking how weird this all was; normally I’d be on a conference call or in a meeting now and here I was in a scanning machine. But then, I went home and cooked a chicken curry for my kids and thought ‘well this is all normal again’. Losing a boob is a whole other story, it’s so much a part of who you are; it’s not just the sexual thing, they fed my kids. The mastectomy and the biopsy happened and confirmed that it had spread to my lymph nodes as well. So, two weeks later I had further surgery to have those removed. After recovering from that I started 16 rounds of chemotherapy. The Spanish nurse was giving me a tour of the Chemo Suite and it reminded me of a gym induction or a tour of a school; she showed us the coffee machine and where the jigsaw puzzles were. She then told me to expect ‘very, very sensible skin’. Of course, she meant ‘sensitive’ but she was getting her words muddled. She then went on to tell me how my vagina will ‘become very sensible!’ It made my day, I was with my brother and just being able to laugh about these random, funny things was so important.
I blogged my way through this and it kept me sane. Half way through my chemo I lost my mum. The timing was unbelievable. She was in a nursing home and although I wasn’t supposed to be visiting these types of places because of my immune system, I did go every Friday. It was part of my routine; I would spend my day off with her. I drove down after my chemo and I just missed her by 20 minutes. It was just awful.
My own children helped me through this; being a mum doesn’t allow you to dwell for 2 seconds because there are nativity costumes to make, birthday parties to go to, soft plays to pick up from, you know, life goes on and you have to get on with it. It was a real aid for me to get through it. I was not going to let this thing stop me from being at the school gates.
Sandwiched in the word ‘chemotherapy’ is the word ‘mother’ and that was really poignant for me. It was significant; I am still a mother in amongst all of this and I wasn’t going to let it beat me or let them suffer. I made sure I was at every school event and carried on with them as much as I could. The other mums helped me without me even asking. I would come home and find a lasagne on my door step! These are mums from the school that I didn’t even know that well, they had just heard what I was going through.
My children all handled it differently. My nine-year-old understood what was happening and he did become insular, he’d been Googling things about breast cancer and he’s been thinking about it a lot. My youngest seem to take it all on board and understands she can only jump on me on one side and she doesn’t think too much about it. My middle child noticed a DIY book my husband had bought and misunderstood it as a ‘die’ book. She was reading it phonetically and I had to explain this to her as it had got her quite upset.
I’ve set a scheme with the local hospital so that any mothers facing the same or similar thing as me can meet up with me and get help. When you’re a mum with young children and you get told you have cancer, the first thing you think is ‘I don’t have time for this!’
I am so passionate about getting people to check themselves. A quick diagnosis is crucial; a matter of weeks would have made my story end differently. It’s so important that people just check and act on it. This was not in my family. I’m healthy, I’m not overweight, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink excessively. I was 39 at the point of diagnosis. I’m working with my colleagues at the Lorraine Show and today we are launching the ‘Change and Check’ campaign. We are supplying stickers to go on the mirrors in changing rooms to remind women to check themselves when trying on clothes. So far Asda, Monsoon, John Lewis and David Lloyd are supporting the campaign.
Helen is on ‘The Lorraine Show’ today to talk more about the campaign. You can read Helen’s blog here: https://thetittygritty.com
You can read more about Helen and her Change and Check Campaign here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6966683/LORRAINE-KELLY-reveals-heartbreak-friends-sudden-breast-cancer-diagnosis.html