Elaine Henderson, 62, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2018 after getting a lump and bruising checked by her GP after being hit in the chest by a tree branch whilst out walking in the hills.
Elaine, a physiotherapist initially thought it was a soft tissue injury, but when it didn’t settle after a couple of weeks, she made an appointment with her GP practice.
Elaine’s GP then referred her to the breast clinic for a biopsy, where her diagnosis was confirmed within a week.
“My mum had breast cancer at 60 so I was always very aware of it, even though there was no hereditary risk from the type that she had.
“I checked my breasts regularly and went for routine mammograms when invited, but I always thought a lump was something round like a pea. I got the word ‘lump’ wrong in my mind, and because what I’d noticed was more of a long ridge, I really didn’t think it was anything other than a soft tissue injury.
“I was so blasé about the tests, I didn’t even take my husband with me. Hearing that news that I had cancer was absolutely devasting. I remember the consultant saying ‘we can treat this’ within a split second of confirming my diagnosis. The breast care nurse was also there and was absolutely amazing.
“I asked what happened next, but didn’t take anything in as my mind was racing with worry about the future, my family, my job.”
Further tests showed Elaine didn’t need chemotherapy and a biopsy of her lymph nodes showed that the cancer hadn’t spread. A lumpectomy was scheduled at Monklands Hospital in July 2018 to remove the tumour. Elaine then underwent radiotherapy, finishing her treatment in November.
“The waiting for results, to then be able to decide on my treatment plan, was by far the worst part. Not knowing and trying to manage your emotions as well as that of your friends and family was hard. I chose to work right up to the surgery as I felt better being busy, that was my coping mechanism.
“My lumpectomy was day surgery and my recovery was great, mainly due to the phenomenal support network I had. I had a really good breast nurse and I don’t think I would have got through it without the support of the Maggie’s Centre and the Beatson.
“I remember my consultant saying at a check-up after my surgery that I didn’t have breast cancer anymore and radiotherapy would help reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. That was just fantastic to hear.
“Radiotherapy was another adjustment - I didn’t know what I was going in to and I struggle not being in control, but I just let the professionals do their job. I was tired after treatment but had no pain, just discomfort.”
Elaine focused on regaining her movement and getting herself mentally well, returning to work five months after surgery. Soon after, she made the decision to retire but now works two days a week as a physio.
Following a period of monitoring, Elaine is back to routine mammograms and is on daily medication to decrease the amount of estrogen in her body.
“I feel like that part of my life is over and I don’t think about it. I don’t want to be defined by it. I said to friends that’s it gone now we move on from here, because I’m fine and I want to get back to normal.
“It’s taken me a while to adjust to my medication, but on the whole, it was a really positive time. There were some funny moments and some really sad and poignant moments. It’s changed my perspective. I rarely lived in the moment before but now I stop and think about everything a bit more. I appreciate life and have changed my priorities as there’s still so much I want to do with my life. It’s made me even more positive and probably more gentle and understanding. It’s changed me for the better.”
Speaking about the importance of getting possible symptoms checked, Elaine said:
“My daughter had just got engaged when I was diagnosed. Her wedding day was really special and quite poignant. Had I not followed up on something I knew wasn’t normal, I might not have been there. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
“If you notice any change, get it checked. And don’t just look for lumps, if you have anything that is unusual for you, contact your GP practice.
“When the chips are down and you need the NHS, it’s there. Yes a cancer diagnosis is hard, but I just wish at that point I’d known what I’d be like today and how seamless the whole process was going to be.”