I’m only 39, I’m a mother and I have breast cancer.
This summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s still unreal to me, but true. Suddenly my life’s been turned upside down. I had so many plans for the future, but now I have to put everything on hold. I’m only 39, I’m a mother of small children and I have breast cancer. Now what?
Up until now, this has been very difficult to deal with on many levels, so I needed time to take it all in. It’s safe to say I’ve been at my absolute lowest, but now I feel optimistic. That means I’m also ready to share my story.
But pursesandpugs is a fashion blog, why share this here?
I wasn’t sure I’d even write this post, but I’ve chosen to share my story because this will not go away in the near future, it will affect me for the rest of my life and be a part of me.
I wouldn’t be true to myself if I were to continue this blog pretending everything is normal, because it isn’t. Also, I want to own my story and tell it from my point of view. It’s therapeutic for me to write, and hopefully, for different reasons, helpful for you to read.
Since pursesandpugs is a fashion blog and @pursesandpugs is a fashion account on Instagram, I haven’t shared that many personal things earlier. But when life-changing things happen, you can either keep them personal and continue to produce content like nothing’s happened, or you can share and let them become a part of it. To me, the last option feels right.
That being said, pursesandpugs will still be about fashion and I’ll continue to update my blog and Instagram account with fashion-related posts. Doing normal things that I love keeps me sane and somewhat normal in all this craziness.
Before I start, I want to give you a little glimpse into my personal life so you may understand better why this has been an extremely difficult period for me and my family. Getting a breast cancer diagnosis is not easy for anyone, but in my case the timing couldn’t be worse.
I’m married, have two boys of age 1 and 6, and a 14-year-old stepdaughter. Up until now, my bonus daughter (as I like to call her) has lived half the time with us and half the time with her mother. We have a very close relationship and she’s the best big sister to her little brothers, they miss her every time she’s not around!
Three years ago, my bonus daughter’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Out of respect to them, I’ll not go into any details, but this summer her mom turned very ill and on August 4, 2018, she passed away.
Naturally, this has been a very tough time, and right in the middle of this, I was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. To say this was devastating news and a huge shock is an understatement. Life can certainly give you challenges.
The big shock
I discovered a lump in my breast on June 15 this year, on our 5th wedding anniversary to be exact. I thought it was an innocent fat lump or a swollen lymph, but went to my doctor for a checkup just to be sure. Unfortunately, my doctor didn’t agree with me. It looked suspicious so he sent me to the hospital for further examinations.
Fast forward to July 20. I was on a summer holiday in Croatia with my family and close friends. We were at the beach having a good time when I got a phone call from the hospital. I immediately felt it was bad news. My gut feeling wasn’t good. So I stepped away and went to a parking lot nearby to take the call. And I was right, it was bad news. The lump was a malignant tumor. I had breast cancer.
It’s hard to explain the next few minutes. Even though my mind and gut had somehow warned me, I was in shock. My body started to tremble and I almost dropped the phone out of my hand before the conversation was over. I felt like I was going to vomit or pass out.
Tears began to run down my face and on to my raspberry red summer dress. Thank God for sunglasses and for a few trees I could hide behind because a public parking lot at the beach in the middle of July was definitely not the best place to be right now.
I hung up and sat by myself for a while. It couldn’t be true… Maybe they mixed up my test results with someone else’s? Here I was, 38 years old and felt absolutely fine, except I felt that stupid lump. This wasn’t even something that ran in the family. How could I possibly get this? Why me? What’s going to happen next? I was confused and there were so many questions.
Crazy thoughts started to pop into my mind. I would be chained to a hospital bed with no hair and die. I wouldn’t grow old and see my two boys and bonus daughter grow up.
Then reality hit me, I had to tell my husband.
On a crowded beach, surrounded by cheery people on summer holiday, I told him. It was so surreal that I don’t think any of us were able to fully take it in.
Later that day we told our friends we were traveling with and it was a huge relief for me to have one of my best friends around, who is also a nurse, to talk to.
We chose not to tell the kids, because the hospital had said there was nothing I could do while on holiday, the best thing was to live as normal and try to have a good time. So we didn’t want to worry them with this right now. Also, we still had very little information so it was better to tell them after I was fully examined and had all the facts on the table.
For the rest of the holiday we did our best to have fun, and luckily we did most of the time. But I couldn’t wear my raspberry red summer dress again or cross that parking lot to get to the beach. It made me physically ill.
The medical examinations and feeling overwhelmed
When we got back home to Norway, a bunch of medical examinations were lined up, ready to determine my destiny. I’ll spare you the details, but let me just say this wasn’t a walk in the park (with my favorite handbag).
One thing is to physically go through all the examinations, they are unpleasant and sometimes claustrophobic, but hey, I’ll manage. Because I’ve had a chronic autoimmune illness, Ulcerates Colitis, for 20 years, I’m used to being examined.
Another thing is what went through my mind when I laid there for 30-60 minutes, sometimes unable to move, and couldn’t do anything but think. Crazy thoughts and fear of the outcome mixed with claustrophobia can be quite overwhelming. A major mental challenge.
And speaking of feeling overwhelmed. When getting a cancer diagnosis, you are bombarded with LOTS of new information. Several doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel are involved, telling you a ton of new stuff. When you’re still in shock and trying to adjust to the new situation, this is very overwhelming. It’s not possible to take it all in. And remember any of it? Forget it, you’re lucky if you can remember 1%!
The best advice I can give is to bring someone with you to every doctor’s appointment and use them as an information vault. Also, get the information in writing, if possible.
Feeling alone and depressed
Although I’m lucky and I have the most supportive and loving family and friends, I felt very much alone in all this. I still do. No one can really understand how this is for a person unless they experience it themselves.
Suddenly your life is turned upside down. To actually feel fear of death, to feel there could be a chance you won’t grow old and see your children grow up, does something to you. It changes you. You see things differently, and in some ways, that’s a good thing as well.
Personally, I’ve become more grateful for the little things in life. I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I just celebrated my 39th birthday, and pushing 40 was something I didn’t look forward to. I used to dread getting older, but now I’m grateful for each year. At least that’s something.
But naturally, it’s also made me quite depressed. And it sucks.
At one point my mind was so dark that I was convinced I wouldn’t see my kids grow up. It wasn’t only fear of death anymore, it was sadness. Not be able to be there for your children, leaving your husband alone with everything.
One day I ordered new name tags for the kids to put into their clothes and shoes. I usually put their name and my phone number on these stickers. Then suddenly it struck me, maybe I should skip my phone number this time? No need for this if I’m not around? Real-to-me thoughts like this popped into my mind every day.
I may sound like a drama queen, but this was how I felt. I went through some kind of mourning phase. Alone, because I didn’t tell anyone. Saying it out loud would make it even more frightening and real, and also I didn’t want to worry those around me more than necessary.
That’s also one of the reasons I’m sharing my story. Maybe others in similar situations can relate? If only one person reads this and finds comfort in not being alone with these kinds of thoughts, it’s worth it.
The waiting game
Then there is the waiting game. Waiting for the results. I understand these things take time, but it dragged out for weeks, and at some point it was almost unbearable.
Not knowing how far the cancer has developed, if there is any spreading, what stage it’s at, and worst of all, if it may even be terminal. Anyone can understand how mentally challenging this is.
This uncertainty was also reinforced by mixed messages from the hospital.
The worst example is that at first, they didn’t see any spreading to my lymph nodes, then they suspected there was. And I have to add that I received this message on a Friday afternoon, right after I flew to another city to visit a good friend of mine. She had just picked up me and my eldest son, we sat in her car all happy and cheery when I got a message from the hospital saying they had seen something suspicious in my lymph nodes and I had to come back on Monday morning for further examinations. Great timing! Needless to say, it cast a dark shadow over a weekend that was supposed to be a nice break from it all.
Waiting for the final results took forever in my mind, and the only thing I could do was to try to give myself breaks by suppressing it and doing things that made my day as normal as possible.
It was also confirmed by the doctors later on when they said this stage is often the hardest for cancer patients, mentally. When they finally have the results and can start therapy, it is often a huge relief.
The final results and the prognosis
Then, on August 29, almost 6 weeks after I got the diagnosis on holiday in Croatia, and 11 weeks after I discovered the lump on my 5th wedding anniversary, I got the final results.
Of course I had talked to the doctors along the way and knew to a certain extent what the outcome was, but still, it felt like doomsday. I was nervous and after getting mixed messages here and there, there were many ”what ifs?” in my mind.
To sum it up shortly:
I have NO spreading, not to the lymph nodes or anywhere in the body. There are several types of breast cancer, I have the most common one that also reacts to estrogen, which is a good thing. There are stages from 1-3 and I have a stage 2 which means it’s mildly aggressive.
Most importantly, the prognosis is good. The doctors say I’ll recover completely after therapy is done and will be an old lady. A big YAY for that!
Telling people and the kids
Telling your loved ones that you have breast cancer, especially when the timing couldn’t be worse, is simply terrifying and exhausting.
So hubby and I came to the conclusion we’d only tell a few people before I had the final results. After that, it would be easier to tell since we have all the facts on the table and can answer the questions they may have. Still, I dreaded it and sometimes postponed it. But afterward I felt a huge relief and most times it wasn’t so hard to tell as I thought it would be.
We did the same with the kids, right after I got the final results we sat down and spoke with them, which of course was the hardest part. I really dreaded this and was so nervous, my biggest fear was to scare them.
The next day we also had an appointment with a nurse who was professionally trained to explain these kinds of things to children. I helped a lot that my 6-year old and I sat down with her first, then my husband and his 14-year old afterward. There’s no right or wrong way to tell, but it’s a huge educational difference to tell a 6-year old and a 14-year old, especially a 14-year old who just lost her mom. Naturally, we didn’t tell the 1-year old, I just I give him an extra hug now and then.
Luckily, the kids took it much better than I feared. As long as you include them and tell them the truth, I strongly believe they deal with it much easier. Also, we speak about it at home in a natural way now, and they know when mommy’s getting her therapy and may be extra tired afterwards.
Although I’m extremely grateful and happy that there’s no spreading and I’ll get completely well, the treatment is no joke. Chemotherapy is tough for the body and mind.
In my case, the doctors have chosen to start with chemotherapy, then surgery and, if necessary, radiotherapy. Lastly, I’ll be given a hormonal estrogen treatment that will prevent relapse – hopefully!
I get two different types of chemo for 12 weeks and then a third type for another 12 weeks. That’s 24 weeks in total – almost 6 months – of chemotherapy which means I’m finished in February/March 2019 if everything goes as planned.
Then there is surgery, but that’s something I’m not that worried about. It’s just an operation, some recovery time and then it’s all done. Yes, I know there may be certain risks here as well, but I’m optimistic because I’ve had several operations before and they all went well without any complications.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
My first chemo felt like doomsday
I have to be honest… The doctors say most patients feel relief and get more optimistic once they start their treatments, I felt the opposite. I hated everything about breast cancer and the chemotherapy, it scared the heck out of me and it all seemed so unfair.
When I had my first chemotherapy, the nurses noticed I was developing a panic attack in addition to an allergic reaction. Many factors played a role here. For weeks I’d lived in uncertainty and fear, I was exhausted and depressed. In addition, I knew that after getting this “poison” into my body it would take 2-3 weeks before my hair would start to fall off. I’ll get more into that later.
I was at my absolute lowest and it felt like doomsday again.
If it hadn’t been for a good friend of mine who was with me to therapy that day, who thoughtfully brought silly old pictures of us to look at, snacks and other things to distract me, I don’t know what I’d do.
But the doctors might have a point after all. Although I was at my absolute lowest at this point, I would feel more optimistic later on. There were just a few more obstacles to overcome first.
The side effects of chemotherapy
The chemotherapy is definitely the hardest part. You’re stripped down to zero.
Obviously, it affects my whole body because it kills some of the good cells as well as the cancer cells. But I also take a lot of pre- and post-medication after each treatment to prevent severe allergic reactions and nausea, and unfortunately, they have a few side effects too.
As I write this, I’m 8 weeks into chemotherapy. So far, my body has dealt with this therapy pretty well, but there have been times my immune system and other vital things have been so affected that the doctors had to postpone a few treatments and lower the doses. And I definitely have less energy and feel more tired now.
Since I take a bunch of pre- and post-medication, I don’t get very nauseous and I hardly throw up. But a few days after chemo I feel a bit queasy and unwell, like a hangover. Some of the medicines make me sleep poorly, if anything at all, and sometimes it’s necessary to take a sleeping pill or else it’s hard to function.
In general, I experience fatigue from time to time. My hands and feet get numb and sometimes I lose the feeling in my fingertips and toes. An itchy and painful rash appears as well.
The chemo dries out the body. My mouth is constantly dry with little to no taste, or a nice touch of chemo, which resembles a yucky metal taste. This affects the appetite, but at least I still love my coffee, and a glass of wine or two are fine as well. Phew!
Then we have the Chemo Brain, which means that thinking and memory problems occur. I forget names and words. I lose things out of my numb hands because my brain isn’t paying attention. I put hand soap in my face instead of my usual face wash. I forget to reply to e-mails and messages. I forget most things on my to-do list unless I put reminders on my phone. For a control freak like myself, this is really amusing.
Hopefully, these side effects will disappear when the therapy is over, but there is a certain risk some of them will be distant after effects.
And then there’s the hair. Yes, I’ve lost it. And maybe I’ll lose my eyebrows and eyelashes later on too.
Losing my hair has been the hardest side effect to deal with. It was even worse than thought. Read on I’ll let you know why.
Losing my hair – why it was worse than I thought
Losing my hair was a horrible experience. It was worse than I thought. Not only did I lose my hair, but I also lost my identity.
And the cancer becomes more visible. Suddenly, reality slaps you in the face.
I’m a girly girl, and for me, that means I have a very special relationship with my hair. I’ve always had long, blond hair, apart from a few short periods with a bob and coloring it dark brown. We’ve all been there! Last few months I had a lob (long bob), which was the shortest I’ve had for many years.
Like most people, I have my insecurities, probably more than most “normal” people. Long story… But my hair has been the ONE thing I’ve actually liked about myself and was proud of. It made me feel somewhat pretty. In addition, I also loved that my hair was long so I could hide behind it. Feeling a bit invisible from the world.
Short hair was never for me. Going bald was just a nightmare.
Also, your hair is your identity. Losing your hair makes you lose your identity as well. That’s how I feel. You look like a different person, and who likes that? Not me.
When I got the breast cancer diagnosis and they told me I had to have a type of chemo that would make my hair fall off, I was devastated. I knew I had no choice though, so I chose to suppress it until the day would come.
Losing my hair – how it happened
2 weeks after my first chemotherapy my hair started to fall off. It was a Saturday morning and I had just come out of the shower. Suddenly, big chunks of hair fell off. It was a huge shock! Even though you know it’s going to happen, you can’t really prepare.
I usually try my best to treat people around me well, but this day I was probably a nightmare to deal with. I was incredibly moody, angry and sad.
Luckily my family understood and we went out to do one of my favorite things, a Saturday stroll with a nice cup of coffee to go. Later that day I met another good friend of mine and we went shopping, had a few glasses of wine and a really nice talk. Having a loving and understanding family and friends around you is alfa and omega. Also, the wine was definitely essential that day!
4 days later my hair was just a mess. So I called my “wig lady”, a hairdresser who works in a salon where I’d bought a beautiful and natural-looking wig made of human hair. I bought it a few weeks earlier, so it was ready and waiting for me.
She’s the sweetest person who’s made this horrible experience more easy for me. When she removed the rest of my hair that day, I cried so hard that I swear the whole salon heard it, probably the people walking by at the street as well.
She calmed me down the best she could, my dear hubby too who was also with me. She did some final touches on the wig and honestly, the result couldn’t be better. It looks very natural and close to my real hair. That helped a little.
Although I obviously prefer to have my own hair, and I know it will grow back someday, I’m extremely happy there’s such a thing as a natural-looking wig. But it can be hot and itchy to wear for a long time, so when I’m home I usually take it off.
But I jump when I see myself in the mirror! I probably always will as long as there is no hair on my head. Who is this person? My identity is somewhat gone.
Get up, dress up, show up and never give up!
During my medical examinations and the first chemotherapy, I was really depressed and didn’t care what I put on as long as it was comfortable. I realized this made me feel even worse, so after my first chemo, I decided never again. From now on I’d dress up and be myself.
In addition, I bring a nice cup of takeaway coffee and my favorite handbag. Whatever makes you happy.
By doing this, I feel better and more optimistic. It makes my chemotherapy easier to deal with.
I choose to see this as a project I have to go through. This is my job now and it’s time to get up, dress up, show up and never give up!
This has been a game changer for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a girly girl who likes to dress up. This is who I am and it’s important to remain the same and not lose myself in the illness.
For me, dressing up for any occasion is some kind of therapy. It makes me feel better and I get a more positive attitude. It makes me remember who I really am, even with no hair.
“Dress like you are going to meet your worst enemy today.”
– Coco Chanel
Last but not least, check yourself regularly!
I’ve never thought much about the risk of getting breast cancer. Why should I? I’m in my 30s and this doesn’t even run in my close family, so it was the last thing I thought I’d get.
But this can happen to anyone at any age. Only 10% of those with breast cancer are under 40 so the chances are small, but they’re there. Luckily the prognosis is good if you discover it at an early stage.
When I found the lump I honestly thought it was nothing. Just an innocent fat lump or a swollen lymph node. I was wrong, and thank myself that I immediately went to the doctor for a checkup.
I’ll get completely cancer-free, it just takes time. I’ll be myself again, maybe even more myself than ever before.
– Anne Mari / pursesandpugs
More info about breast cancer here: