Since passing my driving test at 17 years old I would happily drive anywhere. Distance never concerned me because I felt confident in my ability. If I’m perfectly honest I never really understood people who would tell me they could drive to X but they couldn’t drive to Y, without any reason. Considering that your skills don’t change depending on the length of your journey, I found I couldn’t relate to those feelings.
However, fast forward to February 2022 and I was sitting in my local hospital with my boyfriend. I was anxiously waiting as the clinic was running three hours late. When the nurse came to the door and called my name, all of a sudden I felt uneasy, with fear in my stomach. The look in the nurse’s eye was one of sympathy and compassion, and within a couple of minutes my consultant announced: “Emma, you have breast cancer”.
We’ve all seen the adverts on TV where the patient is being handed a jack-in-the-box. Let’s face it they all tend to be of a similar age when being told the news that they have cancer. In fact, I was 30 years old when I was told the news most of us fear. I didn’t fit the ‘criteria’ or the stereotype. I was too young to get breast cancer. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never been overweight. I exercise regularly. I breastfed my baby. I did all the things they recommend when it comes to minimising your chances. But, let me tell you, the sad truth is you’re never too young or too healthy for breast cancer. As my consultant said: “it’s simply bad luck”.
At the time of my diagnosis my son was 18 months old, and the crippling worry that took over my body always focused on him and on being his mum. If the worst was going to happen, would I just be a familiar face in a photograph? Was it lucky he’s a baby so he didn’t need to suffer the grief of losing someone? Those fears were suffocating.
Anyone who’s experienced a cancer diagnosis, or knows someone who has, will know that it comes with (quite literally) hundreds of appointments. Mine ranged from being at my local hospital two miles down the road, at Lister Hospital nine miles away. Or Mount Vernon 20 miles away. It feels overwhelming like this diagnosis is too big to handle. And that’s when I found myself losing my confidence – in my driving, my parenting, my work…
I consider myself fortunate that I’m surrounded by the most incredible family and friends. My support network carried me through the first few weeks after my diagnosis. In fact, as I sit here writing this blog, I struggle to remember anything that happened during that time.
Some appointments require you to take certain drugs as part of your diagnosis or treatment plan. So, my medical team recommended that I shouldn’t drive myself. Note the word ‘recommended’. It was only when I could face up to reading the paperwork that the hospital staff gave to me, I noticed at the bottom of the page in size 10 font that some of the chemotherapy drugs would take you over the legal drink-drive limit!
Cancer takes away your independence. It forces you to rely on other people. Whether it’s for lifts to and from the hospital or being chaperoned to appointments. In fact, over the past year, I’ve seen some of my family more than ever. They insisted on being my chauffeur and waiting room companion. That’s one benefit of this rollercoaster of a journey!
Let’s get back to my confidence…the diagnosis knocked me. I wasn’t invincible. And I was having to put my independence to one side whilst the people around me picked up the pieces and filled in the gaps.
Since the day of my diagnosis and throughout my active treatment I found myself nervous to leave the house on my own or with my son. All due to the fear of me becoming unwell or not having the strength to handle something if it were to happen. Before I knew it, everyone around me was either doing the jobs for me or picking me up to take me places. Whether it was just a walk around the block or popping to the shops for the essentials. I wanted that reassuring company by my side so I could just dissolve into the background and not be noticed.
After 7 rounds of chemotherapy, 15 radiotherapy sessions, and a five-hour operation, I was told by my oncology team that they had removed the cancer. A wave of relief flooded my body and I could feel my chest breathe again. It was the first time since February that I could look at my son without the feeling of guilt – the guilt that I might leave him too soon.
Even though I’ve finished active treatment, this is where my mental recovery begins. It’s time to rebuild the confidence that I once had, be the person who says ‘yes’ to things, and be that fun Mum and partner who I’ve missed these last few months.
I’m determined to get in the car again and feel like I can drive anywhere that life takes me. Maybe my next blog will be about a crazy road trip that I’ve been on. One thing I do know, I will continue to shout about the importance of checking yourself and making sure you call your GP with any concerns. Remember, you know your body best!
By Emma Mitchell, PR and Communications Manager at IAM RoadSmart