The lumps that changed our lives

16/06/2011

There was breast cancer in her family but Jude Harris was told not to worry – until a year ago, when a grim diagnosis proved otherwise. As hundreds of women prepare to join Saturdays Pink Ladies Sunset Coastal Walk, Jess Stevenson hears how the 46-year-old has fought her way back to health

IT WAS only around a year ago that Jude Harris was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

The then 46-year-old spotted a lump when she was in the shower.

‘Your world kind of collapses,’ she said.

‘You look in the mirror and it’s everything it shouldn’t be.’

Within a few days she had seen a doctor and within a couple of weeks she had seen a specialist.

Jude had a mammogram and biopsy and was brought in two days later for the results.

‘By that point you stop convincing yourself it’s going to be negative – you start to get a little wound up.’

Jude was told she had grade-three aggressive breast cancer and that it had broken free of her duct glands and was growing rapidly.

She acted fast, undergoing a mastectomy, six courses of chemotherapy (three weeks apart) and finally radiotherapy in Southampton.

‘In that six months I’d been through all that – it was pretty intense. You sit down and think that it’s half the year gone.’

She had the surgery in April last year, started chemotherapy in May and by October had finished radiotherapy.

The latter, which she had five days a week for five weeks, burnt away her skin.
It had initially been relatively easy, she said, until the redness and soreness began towards the end of the treatment.

‘It kept cooking for two or three weeks after.

‘But even compared to chemotherapy, it was a lot easier. With that, you feel sick – it’s like you’re coming down with something and it hasn’t materialised.
‘They give you so many tablets for it so it doesn’t make you physically sick and to help stop you from picking up any bugs going around.’

The chemotherapy was administered intravenously for four months and she suffered hair loss.

‘When you finish the chemo you feel really fatigued to the point where having a shower is exhausting.’

When she had the original operation, she was also told that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she had to have 11 removed as a precaution.

There had been a history of breast cancer in Jude’s family, but her relatives had been much older when it developed.

Her mother was diagnosed when she was 68 and died five years later, in 2002, from secondary lung cancer. Her maternal grandmother had breast cancer when she was in her 70s, but died in 2002 aged 96.

Some of her grandmother’s sisters also contracted the disease and at least two of Jude’s mother’s cousins died as a result of it.

‘But my sister and I have always been told that, due to the age of our mum and gran, we were at no greater risk than anyone else,’ she said.

She also thought she could not have picked it up any sooner: the small lump that had grown pretty fast.

On diagnosis, she didn’t panic. But when she found out the cancer had spread, it became a different ball game.

‘That’s when my world fell apart. It didn’t even occur to me that it would have moved.’

But the College of Further Education teaching assistant, who is now 47, got on with tackling the disease with help from her two daughters, Lauren, 20, and Megan, 22, and husband Kevin.

By November, she felt well enough to return to her spinning class.

‘I became almost philosophical and I think I’m different now. It’s a life-changing experience,’ Jude said.

‘They’ll never say you’re cured because they can’t give you that guarantee.
‘I tend to think that I don’t have cancer because it’s all been removed.’

For the next five years, Jude will see the oncologist every six months and will take tablets to suppress the female hormone oestrogen.

She has been told that her daughters are at no greater risk than any other young woman in her 20s.

‘There is also a special gene that they can be tested for, but I believe it’s a long process.’

She said that while one daughter was considering the test, the other was not.
Jude said she had strongly recommended it, but questioned what could be done with the information gathered.

‘They could have a double mastectomy and not develop breast cancer anyway.’
Her experiences in the past year have made her think differently about what she values in life.

‘It’s just little things, like the fact it doesn’t matter if you splurge cash if you can afford it – and things that you thought were important aren’t.’

GEP Article by Jess Stevenson 16/06/2011


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