As part of our Tickled Pink campaign Susan Grant from our Longwell Green store writes about how her experience with breast cancer has inspired her to help others through our annual Tickled Pink charity campaign…
Tickled Pink is my favourite time of year – I just love it! Everyone supports it, because so many of us have been affected by cancer either directly or through people we love. It's so important that we fundraise and raise awareness of breast cancer and support the amazing work Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now does.
We have lots of Tickled Pink activities planned in our store over the next few weeks, including a fun day and zumba dancing, and a sponsored walk is in the pipeline. One of my colleagues, Jason, is also going to have his head shaved!
I love to have chats with customers when they come in and I always say to them that's so important to do regular checks. Do it once a month. Do it on the same day. Awareness is so important. If you feel something that it not quite right, get it checked. You know your own body.
I know how important it is because I've been affected by it ... twice.
I lost my mother Janet to breast cancer in 1995 – her life was taken at the age of 49. She had a lump, but did not tell anyone about it.
As a result of this tragic event I had begun receiving routine check-ups every year. In the February of 2011, during only my second mammogram, it was discovered that I had Stage 2 breast cancer in my right breast.
I was devastated when I was told I had breast cancer. I could not believe this was happening to me after watching my mother fighting her battle. I thought it was history repeating itself.
My consultant told me after an MRI scan that I had a 2cm tumour about the size of a grape along with widespread DCIS (early stage breast cancer) and I would need to undergo a masectomy – which is not what I wanted to hear. The thought of losing my breast terrified me, but I kept positive with the help of my husband Mike who was always by my side to reassure me that everything would be fine.
I had my breast surgery on 23rd March 2011. I did not sleep throughout the night, as my heart was racing and my mind was in overdrive. I was terrified about the cancer eating away at me and on top of this I was worried for my family, as at the time my youngest child was at the young fragile age of seven. I could not bear the thought of him growing up without his mother. My oldest son was 17, the age my brother was when my mother passed away.
Fortunately my husband was always by my side to lift my spirits and reasure me that everything would be fine.
When I woke up after my surgery I could not bring myself to look at my scars as at that point I was not strong enough. I just felt the cancer had stolen the very thing that made me a woman. The cancer had stolen my breast.
I was discharged from hospital after four days. Then two weeks after my surgery I was referred to see my oncologist who told me that I would need six sessions of chemotherapy and that I would need to take a drug Tamoxifen for five years.
As soon as I heard the word chemotherapy it sent a chill down my spine and tears filled my eyes as I remembered my mother and her fight against cancer.
I promised myself and my family that I would not let it beat me and I would stay strong. But the chemo made me feel poorly and weak and I was so worried about hair loss. I tried the cold cap, which helped, but after the second session of chemo my hair just started falling out and I needed to wear a wig as although I managed to keep some of my hair it was very thin with bald patches all over.
I managed to get through the chemo sessions, then had my left breast mastectomy in the October of 2011 at which my consultant suggested that I had an ADM stratis which made it possible to have a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time. When I came round after surgery I now had both breasts reconstructed and I was overjoyed with the outcome.
It's now been eight years since my breast cancer and since that time I have had six further operations on my breasts due to problems with breast implants. I have also had two investigative hysteroscopies due to the side effects of the cancer treatment. This led to a full hysterectomy.
Having breast cancer has changed my life in many ways. I always live life to the full, spend lots of quality time with my family, eat healthily and exercise regularly.
I joined my local breast cancer charity BUST that supports the Bristol Breast Care Centre and I have organised lots of charity events and ran lots of 10k races to help raise funds.
I have also written my story in a book for patients, 25 Years, 25 Stories to mark the 25th anniversary of the charity. Joining BUST also gave me the encouragement and confidence and led me to a new job as an Asda community champion – a job which I love and find so rewarding. I help local charities and groups in the local community and fundraising for Tickled Pink, which supports Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now – a charity after my own heart.
It's so important to me to encourage all women to check their breasts regularly for any changes, as many lives can be saved if breast cancer is found early.
The advice I would give to someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer would be stay positive and strong. Read all the beast cancer care leaflets available at the hospital or on the breast cancer care website as it really helps to have some understanding about breast cancer and the treatments that are available to you.
Also if you talk to your breast care nurse they can refer you to cancer support groups and mindfulness sessions which can also help whilst having treatment.
It's good to talk to people that have had breast cancer themselves as when you get diagnosed your mind can go in overdrive and by talking to people who have fought cancer and survived and go on to lead a healthy normal life can really help put someone's mind at ease.
There are so many fantastic treatments available for women and men who have been affected by breast cancer.