Helen Masters, who works at our Llangefni store, was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. Here she writes about her experience, the support she’s had from her colleagues, and why she’s such a keen supporter of our Tickled Pink campaign…
I remember it all like it was yesterday, but it was back in February 1999, while I was getting undressed, ready to go for a bath, that I felt a different type of sensation – where my right arm brushed against the side of my right breast, I felt it – a type of hardness on the outside area. On closer examination, I felt it, a lump which I can only describe as feeling like a walnut – in size and in feeling!
I had been on a strict diet since the New Year, so I automatically put it down to the weight loss. Thinking it was nothing more than the ‘fatty lump’ I had read about in numerous magazine articles. I put it to the back of my mind and continued with my healthy eating and keep fit regime – determined to be slim by the millennium!
In the May I developed a urine infection and made an appointment to see my GP. After being prescribed a course of antibiotics, I made a quick decision to ask him to have a feel at the breast lump. It seemed to have changed from a lump to a wider spread area of hardness.
While my GP was pummelling away, he was frowning. He guided my hand to the lower, underneath section of my breast, informing me that he could feel another lump, rather like a marble, deeper in. Throughout this he continued to tell me that he was sure the lumps were nothing – ‘just fatty lumps’, left from the weight loss. He told me that he had to refer all women with breast lumps to the specialist to be investigated further and I should hear from the hospital in the next few days.
I went to hospital in Llandudno soon after. I had a series of examinations, biopsies and tests and the specialist sat on the bed and took my hand in his, saying: “I’m afraid it is bad news, yes it is cancer.”
I can remember the specialist informing me of my options – either a lumpectomy with a 50/50 chance of getting rid of it all forever, or a right side mastectomy.
There was no question about it – I had three children – Naomi, Beth and Joe, who was only two years old, and a wonderful husband in Chris. 50/50 odds were just too low – I would have the mastectomy straight away!
People’s reactions to my condition varied – everybody was wonderful. You would think that I had been the most popular person around – they were all so concerned.
One person who was a real help was a friend of my eldest sister. I didn’t know her, but she telephoned me one evening. She had been through the same thing herself and had just completed her reconstruction a few months earlier.
The main point of her call was to tell me that the most important thing was to have a positive attitude to it all. I can remember thinking that it was an easy thing to say, but she was really supportive and positive. She told me to use her as a lifeline if I needed to speak to someone, she was only at the end of the telephone line. It was people like her who made me realise just how caring people could be.
I wrote a book about my experience based on a diary I kept all the way through from being diagnosed. My son typed it up for me but I've never gone on to have it published. I wanted to do it as it's such a blur when you're going through your treatment and I wanted to have it as a self-help book.
Sometimes it doesn't seem that it happened to me. When everyone mentions cancer some people break down, but I didn't. I've got a good husband in Chris, who's been very supportive.
I've worked at Asda Llangefni since it opened 13 years ago. I put out the store's newspapers and magazines, as well as new CDs, and work in the home and leisure section. There are a number of colleagues at the store who've had cancer, and they're all willing to draw on their experiences to help anyone else who's worried about cancer.
Living on an island everyone knows everyone else and their stories. I remember when I first went to my doctor he gave me the example that one in three people you see have had something to do with cancer – it's a staggering figure and one that makes me really determined to share my experience.
Quite a few of us in the store have been through it and have our own experiences and ways of coping to share. I just say to people that if they need to know anything, ask anything or just want to talk to someone they know where I am. I don't like to push my advice on anyone – everyone's different and not everyone is always as ready to talk about it.
I’m so proud that our little store on Anglesey has raised £3,000 for Tickled Pink this year – it tells you how many people are affected, directly or indirectly, by breast cancer.
Thank you to everyone who’s donated, bought one of the Tickled Pink products, stopped to find out more or who’s checked themselves because of the information in store. It’s a fantastic amount we’ve raised this year and I know it will make a difference. It’s so nice to know that everyone’s there for you and on your side.