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Breast Cancer in women

Chemotherapy for breast cancer

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The aim of chemotherapy is to do the maximum damage to cancer cells while causing the minimum damage to healthy tissue. Women with breast cancer may have chemotherapy:

  • Before surgery to shrink the cancer. This is known as neo-adjuvant (or primary) chemotherapy. If it shrinks the cancer successfully, only part of the breast may be removed, avoiding the need for a mastectomy.
  • After surgery if doctors think there is a risk of the cancer coming back. This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy. Decisions about adjuvant chemotherapy are made after the tissue removed during surgery is tested (pathology report).
  • As treatment for breast cancer that has spread or come back.

Chemotherapy drugs are usually given as an outpatient, either by injection into a vein (intravenously) or as tablets. Chemotherapy into the vein is given as a session of treatment, usually over a few hours. This is followed by a rest period of a few weeks, which allows the body to recover from any side effects of the treatment. A complete course of chemotherapy is likely to take 4–6 months. There are many different chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer, and they’re often used in combinations (chemotherapy regimens) usually a combination of about 3 chemotherapy drugs (see Cancer Research UK for a list of chemotherapy drugs and the most common combinations for breast cancer).

Here women we interviewed discuss their experiences of chemotherapy and its side effects.

Having heard or read about chemotherapy and its side effects, many women were anxious or concerned about having it. Several described the procedure, and many commented on the comfortable clinic environment and supportive staff. One woman who had inflammatory breast cancer was given constant chemotherapy for several weeks and described her experience.

 

Describes her experience of having constant chemotherapy for several weeks.

Describes her experience of having constant chemotherapy for several weeks.

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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The actual clinic that the chemotherapy was given to the patients is quite nicely laid out, they've tried to make it comfortable and nice curtains and furnishings so that it doesn't seem so clinically cold, you feel a little bit more relaxed as though you're in somebody's sitting room.

Anyway when we came to the first dose it was not very pleasant.

They put a needle in the back of my hand, connected it to a saline drip and then about 6 inches down the tube there was a little junction and into that they injected 5 different chemicals.

They arrived at my side with this tray with 5 huge syringes on, so I just sat with my arm out one side and looked in the other direction so that I couldn't see it.

I understand that there were three chemotherapy drugs and two anti-sickness drugs because the chemotherapy often makes people sick, but I was quite lucky and I wasn't, I didn't feel sick and I wasn't sick at all throughout the whole of it, throughout the whole of the treatment.

I also had some anti sickness tablets to take and I took them very religiously to begin with but after two or three sessions I sort of gave up because I really had no side effects in that respect at all.
 
 

Comments on the supportive hospital environment.

Comments on the supportive hospital environment.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
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I was petrified going in on that first day. I didn't know what to expect, you don't until you've actually experienced it. The medical team were fantastic.

They explained as much as they possibly could to me and offered me things like the cold cap to see if we could save some of my hair.

So I went in, my sister came along with me, and we started the procedure.

It's a nice friendly environment and the nurses were wonderful.

I was determined that I was going to laugh through it.

We brought some crosswords, we met a lot of other ladies in the same position as myself, some of them a lot more sicker than I was, some of them less.

We turned it into a positive experience.
 
 

Describes her experience of having constant chemotherapy for several weeks.

Describes her experience of having constant chemotherapy for several weeks.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
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And I was very, very nervous on that day because I just didn't know what to expect. I didn't know whether it would hurt or if I'd be sick or what the reactions would be.

That was a very difficult time, very difficult because the Hickman line and the chemo pack, the pump, were a constant reminder. And then you looked in the mirror and that was an even bigger reminder.

So I went through a spell of being quite low. Of feeling that I couldn't escape. It was always there, you know, because you couldn't escape from the pump at all. Having a shower you had to wrap it up and put it on the side.

When you went to bed at night you had to tuck it under your pillow and you'd sometimes forget and jump out of bed and think' "Oh my God, I'm still attached." I think that probably was quite a hard time to become adjusted to that so it was actually quite good to get that over with.
 

Tess was 33 when she was diagnosed, and pregnant. She had chemotherapy during her pregnancy and very few side effects.

 

The doctor assured Tess that it was safe for her to have chemotherapy while she was pregnant. She...

The doctor assured Tess that it was safe for her to have chemotherapy while she was pregnant. She...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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The chemo was really not that bad. And to the point where I remember the last session, my sister came with me and we were watching a video and almost enjoying it, which sounds ridiculous. But it was just, I think I felt very supported and very loved through it, and it didn’t even make me feel that bad. I know that’s not the same for everyone. But I felt that it was very well managed and the side effects were very well managed.

Were you pregnant through the chemotherapy?


Just yeah, pregnant. But you can have certain sorts of chemo after 12 weeks pregnancy. So actually it didn’t really change the treatment I was going to have. And they said because they’ve dealt with, they had treated quite a few pregnant people, that actually they did find sometimes the people that were pregnant do better with chemo, no real reason why, but they don’t always feel so bad.

When I was having the chemo there was a lot of people that feel that they can make comments or judgements. And they don’t know the evidence. They don’t know that you’re, but people would say to me, “Why are your doctors letting you have chemo when you’re pregnant?” And they would be almost rude about it actually and almost sort of saying that I was being kind of crazy or putting my baby at risk. And I suppose that’s the only thing I would say is just to be strong to those kind of comments and attitudes because people do feel they have a right when you’re pregnant to...

Is that friends and er....?

Lots of different people. I mean people, other people who were having treatment in the chemo suite, you know that, I think people feel they have, there’s something about being pregnant that makes you a public property a little bit. And I think people feel that they can judge what you’re doing more readily than otherwise. But, you know, no-one’s going to ask to be in that position. No-one’s going to ask to have breast cancer when they’re pregnant. It’s just not something that anyone’s going to request, so I think just to be strong to sort of insensitivities.

Chemotherapy affects different people in different ways. A few women had no or minimal side effects and some of them continued working through the treatment.

 

Comments that she coped very well with chemotherapy.

Comments that she coped very well with chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 54
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On the whole I think I coped very well because after I had the one in 99, December 99, 2000 the 5th of January I started chemo.

Which wasn't too bad because I coped with that. I didn't vomit. I didn't lose my hair.

All I did was make sure that when I go to chemo, which usually lasts about, from nine o'clock till about three, four o'clock, more or less spend the day there.

I make sure when I come back I have something to eat which I know is nourishing. And every morning I had a breakfast, midday I had a meal and in the evening I had another meal. And make sure I rebuild the cells that they destroyed. And I coped with that pretty well.
 
 

Janet was a broadcast journalist and carried on working during chemotherapy. She featured on a...

Janet was a broadcast journalist and carried on working during chemotherapy. She featured on a...

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I was in quite a privileged position in a way because, being a well known face in the region, when it came to actually having the treatment I decided to go public with it.

And just at the time I’d been diagnosed I’d also booked my first solo art exhibition for the October of that year. And then I was diagnosed with the cancer, and I thought what am I going to do? Do I carry on or do I just drop everything and say, “No, I’m not going to do it.” And I thought no I’m not going to give into it like that. I’m going to carry on, I’m going to do it. It’s going to give me something to aim for. So I carried on getting paintings ready throughout the year while I was having chemo. And then it came to the time of the exhibition, which happened to coincide with breast cancer awareness weeks. So my colleagues at the BBC decided that was an opportune moment to actually come and do a piece with me. There I was in a wig, having lost all my hair, I’d had the chemo, I was waiting for the operation. Oh no, I think I was, no I was still in the chemo, that’s right. I was still having chemo; it was coming up to the end of it. And so they sort of did the interview at home, and then at the exhibition over in Oakham. And that was really quite interesting. But I felt I wanted to encourage people to face up to it.

I also had the opportunity of doing another programme later on, the following year after I’d finished treatment. My hair still hadn’t, was in the process of growing back. And it was sort of just at the point where it, you could look at it, and yes it was a just about a hairstyle. But I was still wearing a wig a lot of the time. And so my daughter and I were invited to go on this car boot sale type programme for charity. We wanted to do it for cancer research. And there was another team doing it for another charity. And we were taken, we went down to this car boot sale.

And so for the first day of filming I wore the wig. That was when we bought all the stuff we were going to sell the next day. Then the next day we went to a different car boot, and we were filmed selling all the stuff and trying to raise as much money as we could. And I took the wig off for that one because I thought I want people not to be afraid of wearing wigs. And I thought if they can see me the first time, and perhaps not be too aware that I was wearing a wig, and then be shown in the next part of the programme that actually it was a wig. And it really didn’t look that bad, that it would, it would encourage people.

For many women, however, chemotherapy was a difficult experience because of the side effects, and most were unable to work at this time. Common side effects included:

  • tiredness,
  • weakness,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhoea,
  • hair loss,
  • weight change, and
  • altered taste.

Women often temporarily experienced several of these side effects. Many said they felt low, tired, a lack of energy or weakness and several noted that, once they knew what to expect, accepting the treatment became much easier.

 

Describes her feelings of tiredness during chemotherapy.

Describes her feelings of tiredness during chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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But I think once I just accepted that that's, I was just going to be ill now for this amount of time, and stop trying to sort of think about doing other things or whatever, I just got on with it.

And there were real, really low moments where I just felt so ill and so tired I just couldn't imagine ever feeling normal again. I couldn't imagine ever just sort of bouncing out of bed in the morning and having a full day. 

If I did one thing in a day, if I went out shopping or I went round to a friend's house that would be it. 

Then the rest, you know I'd have to go to bed early and I'd have to sleep in all morning just to be able to do these one or two things. 

And I couldn't believe that, I've always been somebody who's like rushing around and I even found that, you know, quite elderly people would be taking over me in the street and everything. 

I was like' "What's happening to me?" 
 
 

Ingrid had severe diarrhoea and felt exhausted. Her experience was complicated by other health...

Ingrid had severe diarrhoea and felt exhausted. Her experience was complicated by other health...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
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The chemotherapy experience itself for me was bad. I’m sure it’s not good for anybody. But it really was just stunning. I knew it was going to be shitty; there is no other word to use. I don’t think I realised how literally shitty it was going to be, how awful I would feel. The nausea was amongst the worst things. The medication I was given for the first bout to help cope with the nausea did zilch for me. What I had got and what did help, something simple and straightforward, are these ginger sweets that we brought back from holiday with us. And they only, they blow your head off with the amount of ginger that’s in them, but that is what helped me most initially until I was given stronger drugs.

But it wasn’t until the last session that, it was almost the last session that they found a good solution and found something that helped me. And it was at the time of the summer Olympics, and my mother would say, “If they had sleeping as a discipline in the Olympics, you’d win a gold medal for Britain.” I slept a great deal. That was part of my survival. I was almost, to some extent, like a teenager. If you got a response it would be a grunt at some stages. So that was the way I felt and experienced.

In addition to the cancer I also had mobility problems. What had happened, the appointment I had had in London, when I first found the lump, was aiming towards having a hip replacement. And my knees aren’t too brilliant either. I’d already had one hip replacement. So it was, my mobility was not brilliant either, and so that added to the complexities of it all.

I was hoping to sort of have the odd fun session going out buying hats or something like that, but actually never ever had the energy. It just didn’t happen.

I had friends say, “Oh I’ll come hat shopping with you.” But no, never ever had the energy. And I have to say that just going to the bathroom and keeping myself clean was the most I could manage. Just having a shower was exhausting.

And was your husband here at the time? Could you eat anything? Or were you, couldn’t keep anything down? Or you had no appetite?


I had...

Or things tasted…?

Oh the taste of food was, that was actually quite complicated. My husband would say, “Right, what would you like to eat? What do you want to eat? And when I’m shopping what would you like me to get?” And by the time he’d shopped and brought it back, I didn’t want it anymore. So against our usual household management, he ended up throwing a lot of food away. Because there was, it was just totally unpredictable. He would shop and have things in the house and I would just go, “Ergh.” I even reached the stage where I wouldn’t even drink water because the water didn’t taste right any more. And things like that, it was, food was a great problem and totally unpredictable as to what I would like.

Nausea and vomiting were also common side effects for some women. Others discussed their experiences of weight gain or loss, and altered taste.

 

Describes her nausea during chemotherapy.

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Describes her nausea during chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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But whenever I used to go for chemotherapy, I became such that even now when I think of that medication I start feeling sick. Even now.

And when I used to go for chemotherapy, even when I entered the room, I felt as if I would vomit.

And when I, oh the nurse was really good and she, as soon as she had put the drip in she would put a bowl beside me straight away. She'd know every time that I would be feeling sick.

 

Describes her weight gain and tiredness during chemotherapy.

Describes her weight gain and tiredness during chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
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I thought that I wouldn't want to eat during this time but I found that I was very hungry, I don't know whether it was something to do with combating this sickness but I was always hungry.

And of course with the steroids, anti-sickness, I was putting on weight, which didn't help me to feel good about myself.

So I was getting greyer and greyer, and older looking and older looking, and fatter and fatter, and just wanted to lie down because as the effects of the chemotherapy evolved I became more and more tired.

And literally I could hardly get down, just down the road to the Post Office and back, before I had to come back and lie down.

 

She describes changes in her preferences for taste and smells during chemotherapy (cisplatin).

She describes changes in her preferences for taste and smells during chemotherapy (cisplatin).

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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The worst part of it, I mean everybody says how bad hospital food is and yeah it is, it's terrible, but when you're on chemo you don't want to eat anything - whether it be good or bad.

So my diet went completely down hill.

And then, after a while, I started getting that metal taste that they warned me about, in my mouth. And you couldn't make it go away. It tasted like you'd been sucking like a stainless steel spoon. All day your mouth was dry. You wanted a drink but if you had a drink it made you feel sick because of the taste or the smell.

The anti-sickness were working until I got a whiff of something. And then the hospital food used to come in like a metal tray. The sight of the tray made me feel sick and then when you take the top off, the smell sort of suddenly comes out. And the only thing I could eat after a while was citrus fruit.

Some chemotherapies cause hair loss. A few women described the cold cap procedure that aims to reduce hair loss, though several also noted its failure in their case.

 

Comments on her hair loss resulting from chemotherapy.

Comments on her hair loss resulting from chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
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Well I was worried when my hair started coming out. But they told me before, when the nurse come to interview me, the nurse that used to give me the chemotherapy, she told me that my hair was going to fall out.

But I didn't know that when I start the treatment it would fall out that quick. The first day I started combing it a huge amount came out in the comb. I said' "Oh my God," [laughs] and it went on from that time every day, it went like that.

So my nephew, he's got a razor that he does his sons hair with, trims his son's hair with, so one day he says' "Come and let me tidy up your hair." 

So he take every single bit off it. So there was none of it all. And then, thank God, it's started growing back now, which everybody was pleased, to see growing back.
 
 

Comments on the cold cap and losing her hair.

Comments on the cold cap and losing her hair.

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
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I also opted for the cold cap, which is to save the hair because I thought that I would quite like not to be bald. And they put the cold cap on and I thought that I would die it was so painful.

It's painful for the first ten minutes and then it acclimatises to your head temperature and they have to change it every, I think twice, throughout the two hours that you're having this chemotherapy.

And my hair, despite the cap, was thinning and I had two areas of about an inch round the ears where it's not close to, where the cap doesn't, well it's sort of pushed out by the ears.

So I had bald bits there and there, and I used to have to pull the hair down over it.

And my hairline receded and you just begin to look very different - no eyebrows, no eyelashes.

And I was fatter, so it really, that was quite devastating.

You felt your femininity was coming out with the sickness really.

Several women who lost their hair decided to have their heads shaved. Others described wearing wigs and scarves at this time. Pricking pains, buzzing or burning sensations to the head were also reported by some women. Some women said they felt restless.

 

Describes shaving her head and comments that having no hair can look beautiful.

Describes shaving her head and comments that having no hair can look beautiful.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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So I came home with the wig before I started to lose my hair.

When it did come out it came out fairly quickly and I got [my husband] to shave my hair down to very short and then we sat and shaved it off completely.

And I think a lot of people tend to wear the wigs not because they need to, because you do get used to not having your hair and it does grow back very quickly, it actually started growing back before the treatment ended.

I think you tend to wear them more for other people because you're not sure how they're going to react.

And I think sometimes seeing a woman with no hair, and I have to say I've seen lots of them and everybody that I've seen looks really beautiful with no hair.
 
 

Janet had several wigs, one of which was made of real hair. She had it cut and styled and felt...

Janet had several wigs, one of which was made of real hair. She had it cut and styled and felt...

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I made an appointment and went along to them. And they’d got these wonderful wigs with scalps in them. They’re sort of like a flesh coloured mesh but it means that if the wind blows, you don’t need to worry about it looking peculiar if the hair parts. Which is what happens with cheap wigs. It was more expensive. But, you know, I thought well if it’s a real hair wig at least it’ll look like real hair. It won’t look like something nylon.

So I went, made an appointment, and I went along and they’d ordered the colour that I needed. They’d matched my hair colour because I’d gone before I’d lost all my hair. And they saw what my hair was like, and sort of length that it was, and the shape it was and so on. And so then this wig arrived, and I went along for a fitting. And they cut it on me and styled it. And so I had a proper head of hair. And that was really nice. It was lovely.

It does have it drawbacks. I mean with an artificial hair wig you can just take it off, you can dunk it in the water, you can wash it. You can shake it and it’ll dry and you don’t have to do anything with it. With a real hair wig, obviously you have to treat it like real hair. You have to shampoo it; you have to dry it and set it and look after it just like you look after hair that’s growing. So that was more hard work, but on the other hand it wasn’t likely to flare up and burn in the same way that an artificial hair wig does if you lean over the cooker too far, that sort of thing.

So I had an assortment of wigs, which was great. It was nice. And I felt very much more confident knowing that I didn’t have to go out looking bald. Because that was another thing. That, it was interesting because when I was told I’d got breast cancer the two things that really worried me most of all were a) being disfigured, losing the breast and b) losing my hair. I know that sounds vain but that was all part of me being a woman.

I also discovered the use of toupee tape, which is wonderful. It’s what actresses use to hold their clothes on, when they’ve got clothes that are fairly revealing, and they don’t want them to gape open. And so I got a roll of toupee tape and I used that. It was absolutely fantastic. I could go out in the wind without worrying too much and the wig would stick on. That was amazing. So I didn’t have to worry about my hair and I felt fairly confident in how I looked.

 

Describes her feelings of restlessness because of chemotherapy.

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Describes her feelings of restlessness because of chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
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You don't know what to do with your body. It's as if you're not there. I didn't know whether to go and lay on the bed, I used to go and lay on the bed. I lay on the bed and I had to get up. I'd go and sit down and I couldn't sit down. I'd walk around.

And you just don't know what to do for 2 or 3 days.

And I'm not the only one that has said that, I've heard it from somebody else that they felt the same. But after a couple of days that wears off and you're sort of back to normal again.
 

One woman described having oral thrush as a result of chemotherapy. Another woman said she had cystitis, as an unusual side effect of chemotherapy.

Menopausal symptoms were reported by some women and one woman, having experienced several severe side effects, refused further chemotherapy. Doctors prescribe chemotherapy if they believe that the additional chance of cure outweighs the side effects. The patient has a chance of weighing pros and cons, and many women stressed that the benefits of treatment outweigh the temporary side effects. Most women also felt encouraged by the support they received at this time from family, friends, hospital staff and other patients (see 'Sources of support').

 

Describes her severe side effects and why she chose not to have more chemotherapy.

Describes her severe side effects and why she chose not to have more chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 55
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Anyway I had to go ahead with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was a very, very bad experience. Very bad experience. I used to feel sick. All the time I used to feel bloated, you know, bloated feeling.

And even my eyesight, I started feeling blurred. My vision started becoming quite blurred.

And in the beginning it wasn't so bad but second time, third time, it was a very painful experience anyway. And I used to have a lot of temperature and very bad side effects.

And then I had half of my chemotherapy, then they asked me to go ahead for radiotherapy. I was pleased because chemotherapy was very painful. So then doctor told me after six months that I should have another part of chemotherapy. Then I refused. 

I said' "No doctor. Whatever happens I don't want any more chemotherapy. I'll leave to that God, okay?" So I didn't have any chemotherapy. The doctor said that' "It's okay, it's up to you."

I said' "Is it possible, can you tell me how you can find out. Even one cell can multiply in millions, right? "So how you can be sure with more chemo?" Right?

So doctor left it up to me. He said it's up to me' "If you don't want to go ahead with another chemo, okay." So I didn't.

Janet was told she would need to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She asked her doctor whether she could have chemotherapy before surgery rather than after it, in the hope that it might shrink the tumour and rule out the need for a mastectomy. Her doctor agreed that, in her case, having chemotherapy first would be possible.

 

Janet was delighted that her tumour shrunk after chemotherapy and that she did not need a...

Janet was delighted that her tumour shrunk after chemotherapy and that she did not need a...

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I went back to see the first surgeon in [place name] that I’d seen. And I said, “Look, okay. I realise that your diagnosis is obviously the only one because I’ve had that backed up. But can I have chemotherapy first please?” Because I just had it in my mind that chemotherapy sometimes shrinks tumours. And I thought if I can get this tumour shrunk sufficiently I may not have to have a mastectomy. So the surgeon looked at me and he said, “Well,” he said, “it’s not usual. It’s not the way I do things, but yes alright. It won’t make any difference, but you can have the chemo first if you want to.”

So the next week I was down to start chemo, and I went along and that was a really awful experience in a way. Now it was only awful to me, it wasn’t awful because of anything that they did. It was just that I knew that I was a recognised face because I’d been on television a lot. And I was very embarrassed at going into a huge room with a lot of people waiting, and I didn’t want people to look at me. I didn’t want people to stare at me. I didn’t want people to know anything about me and about what I was going through. Even in spite of the fact that I’d talked to friends about it.

And so I think I was very defensive about going in for my treatment.

And I can’t remember if it was after that first treatment or if I’d had a couple of treatments. And I had an appointment for a check up at the hospital and the nurse examined me and she measured the lump. And she was amazed because it had shrunk.

After just one session?

After just, well I think it was after just one session, as far as I can remember. I think it was a couple of weeks after the first session. And she was amazed because it had been 5.2 centimetres, and it had gone down to 3.6. And she said, “My goodness,” she said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I was thinking, “Wow, yes. Result.” And she said, “I think we’re going to have to put a marker in because if this carries on over six sessions, we’re going to lose it. We’re not going to know where it is.” So they arranged that I would have a marker inserted.

I can’t remember when in the treatment that actually happened but I do remember that, before I started having the chemotherapy, the lump was actually so noticeable it was actually, I could see that it was altering the shape of my breast. And the nipple was turning because of the lump. And you could almost see it changing day by day.

After the chemotherapy?

No this was before the chemotherapy. It was getting bigger and bigger. But then after the chemotherapy, again, I could see it altering; it was changing slightly, ever so slightly day by day.

A few women said they’d experienced complications during or after chemotherapy. Ingrid had a serious complication during chemotherapy and went to Accident and Emergency, where she was treated for a bi-lateral pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). Gillian had a viral infection shortly after the end of treatment and went into hospital for a week.

 

Ingrid had a very serious complication during chemotherapy. She wanted to maintain her dignity...

Ingrid had a very serious complication during chemotherapy. She wanted to maintain her dignity...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
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I’d had a bi-lateral PE [pulmonary embolism] as a result of the first chemotherapy. And I had an emergency admission to a local hospital and the treatment there, the emergency services were brilliant. What I experienced in the hospital was abominable, stunning and just absolutely ridiculous.

And just the very fact that there I was fighting for my life, could barely breathe, so saying, ‘You can call me Doctor Eyers, you can call me Ingrid Eyers, you can call me Mrs Eyers.” And usually when somebody says, “Mrs Eyers” I sort of look round for my mother-in-law, so I don’t necessarily realise that word, Mrs Eyers, which is why I don’t mention that as the first thing. But I was really fighting for my life. And then the final stage was, “But you cannot call me darling or dear or even sweetie.” I mean that was what had really got at me. I was being treated,

Was this by nurses?

This was by the nursing staff, yes. That really made me cross even though I think what I was trying to do was maintain dignity. Yes, I was fighting for my life, and I really was fighting for my life. I mean that really, it’s amazing that I’m still here, I know that. But then I was also fighting for my dignity in that whole process. And I was not given any dignity in that hospital at that time. If you consider that the diarrhoea that you experience when you’re going through chemotherapy and you’ve barely got the energy to get yourself to and from the toilet; to keep yourself clean at that time. I had to ask for the facilities to wash my hands. I could not get to the washbasin and wash my hands myself.

And the variation of assistance I was offered so that I could wash my hands was stunning. It varied from somebody holding a bowl of water up like that, to somebody actually saying, “I think I’ll bring you a box of disinfectant wipes and then you can wipe your hands properly afterwards, every time, independently without having to ask.” So that was the range of options I was given. But I had to ask every time. At no time was it considered that I might need or want to wash my hands.

 

Shortly after the end chemotherapy Gillian caught a viral infection and went back into hospital....

Shortly after the end chemotherapy Gillian caught a viral infection and went back into hospital....

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 51
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I finished the chemo on 28th December and it was something like the 4th Jan 2008, as I say my hubby got ill and I caught his vomiting bug. But I truly, that was probably the worst I’ve ever felt. I could have lain on the bed upstairs and said, “Oh just put me to sleep.” I just felt so awful.

Did you go to A&E?

No, because I’d been having the chemo, they gave us a phone number like an out of hours number, which actually was to the main hospital in [remove place name]. And I think in the end [remove husband’s name] rang, it was about one o’clock Saturday morning. And we’d bought a temperature gauge because that was one of the things to keep track of with the chemo, to make sure you don’t get infections. So we’d sort of monitored my temperature. So he knew that my temperature was high. So when he rang and gave the temperature and sort of the fact that I was, you know, feeling ill from both ends. It was like, and they said, “Bring her straight in.”

So we drove, I got to the hospital about 3 o’clock in the morning. But again we were just getting on the bed and it was like, “Oh just let me go.” I felt so awful. So I was in for about, I was probably in there for I think about six days. But I just felt so ergh, awful.

I went back to work, then the beginning of March in 2008 and, from one aspect, apart from one viral infection, I think it was almost 20 months before I have had a day off sick. So that was, like physically, I recovered well I suppose. Yeah.

Healthtalk has a whole section on breast cancer in men, for more information see 'Chemotherapy for men with breast cancer'.


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Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated August 2018.

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