My Fierce, Fighting Friday
Helen King, 41
Massey, AUCKLAND, New Zealand
“My biggest challenge has been dealing with the emotional / mental impact of my cancer diagnosis. Everything changed – my body, the way I feel in the world, relationships, my ability to work. It has forced me to face a lot of things because you realize how precious life is.”
Provide a brief biography to describe your life pre-diagnosis.
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had been through a period of change. My marriage ended in 2016, I’d left a toxic work environment, and had to find my feet quickly to support myself. I went through a few years where I’d get to the end of the year and think ‘wow how did I get through that! Next year will be better. Dear reader, the next year was not better and in June 2018 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer two weeks after starting a new job.
Did you have any symptoms leading up to your diagnosis? What led you to see a doctor?
Yes, I found a lump on my right breast when I was in the shower. There was also a strange ropey thing on the top part, I don’t know how else to describe it but there was something going on in there. I saw a doctor because I wanted to get it checked, I had a feeling I needed to get it checked and not wait around.
How did hearing the words “you have cancer” make you feel?
Like the world had stopped and a bomb went off in my head. When my doctor said the ultrasound results were back and it was looking like I had cancer I burst into tears. The diagnosis was confirmed after a biopsy.
What is/was the treatment protocol (Western, Eastern, Integrated, or otherwise)?
I had a full right-side mastectomy and sentinel node clearance, no reconstruction, fertility preservation treatment, I had 8 rounds of chemo – first was AC then docetaxel, Herceptin, and perjeta. I was on Herceptin for 12 months. I also had radiation. I was also put into a chemical menopause.
What do you know now that you wish you had known back then?
That there’s no right or wrong way to respond to cancer and get through treatment.
How has life changed? What has been your biggest challenge since your diagnosis?
I’ve often said there’s life before cancer and life after, you can’t return to what life was like before cancer. My biggest challenge has been dealing with the emotional/ mental impact of my cancer diagnosis. Everything changed – my body, the way I feel in the world, relationships, my ability to work. It has forced me to face a lot of things because you realize how precious life is.
What is some advice you can pass on to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
Find your cancer friends, accept any help that’s offered, and know you don’t have to be positive all the time.
What do you wish people knew more about when supporting a loved one with cancer? Were there any specific things that helped you?
That you can’t always talk about your diagnosis or treatment when it’s happening. We’re often in survival mode and are desperate for moments of normality. What helped me were the friends who took me out on my good days and kept showing up.
What have been the most helpful ways that friends and family have supported you?
Cooking, cleaning, taking me out for coffee, understanding recovering from cancer doesn’t happen quickly once treatment ends.
How have you learn to Thrive since your diagnosis?
This has taken me a while! I have done a lot of work in the past year around grief and relearning who I am. Trying to find a level of acceptance that I have changed.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If I could go back and wave a magic wand so my cancer never happened I would choose that. Although I have a lot to be grateful for, I wouldn’t have chosen to go through the level of emotional and physical pain I have. I don’t believe cancer is a gift, I think it’s something that happens and we learn to live with the consequences.