Fiona Anderson is looking forward to turning 50 and marrying her partner Nina this year, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020.
Fiona, from Falkirk, underwent a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the cancer), chemotherapy, Herceptin injections (a targeted anti-cancer drug) and radiotherapy. Now training to be a counsellor, Fiona also volunteers for Breast Cancer Now to support others through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond.
Fiona contacted her GP practice to get checked after folding her arms the way she always did and feeling a lump, in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to take hold.
After an examination by her GP, Fiona had a fast track referral to the breast clinic at Forth Valley Royal Hospital where they did a mammogram and ultrasound with a core biopsy. Fiona’s initial diagnosis was confirmed at that appointment, three weeks after first finding the lump.
“When they said they needed to do a core biopsy I prepared myself for the fact that it was going to be cancer. I then had to wait for the lab results for a definitive diagnosis, and from there my treatment options were explained.
“Hearing the news that I had cancer was weird. I felt disembodied, it was completely surreal. Especially as, until that point, having cancer was probably one of my biggest fears. When they mentioned chemotherapy might be required I got a little bit tearful, but I don’t ever think I felt my life was at risk. I was really well supported; the team were fantastic, and everything moved so quickly which was amazing given the country was locking down.
“Tests showed it was an aggressive cancer, but it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes as they found it at an earlier stage.”
Fiona underwent a lumpectomy in early April 2020 and started six rounds of chemotherapy three weeks later. She also had Herceptin injections for six months, and a ten day course of radiotherapy following her chemotherapy.
Speaking about her treatment Fiona said:
“The Breast Cancer Now forums were really helpful, and I remember a girl saying chemotherapy wasn’t pleasant but that it was absolutely doable. I think that’s a really important message. The treatment hits everyone differently, but whatever happens, you’re helped at every step of the journey. My team threw everything at the side effects I experienced and were absolutely fantastic.”
Fiona started tablets (aromatase inhibitors) to remove the oestrogen from her body and will be on them for another three years – five years in total – and has annual mammograms.
“I live with a manageable level of pain every day, caused by the medication. That’s my life now and although I don’t want it to be, it is what it is. You have to accept a diagnosis will change your life, I’m not going back to any version of what I was before, but the way I view it is you need to adjust and adapt to all the ways in which you have been significantly, and in some cases, permanently changed. That’s what’s helped me move forward.
“There’s no candy coating it, but I’m now getting married and training to be a counsellor – something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. There are gains as well as losses in this journey.
“I’m tired, but I’m working three days and I’m doing my diploma and placement. There are always going to be significant challenges in life – it’s not the end of the world, even if it feels that way at times, and it is what you make it.
“In some ways I think I’m going through a late adolescence. I’ve had the helix in my ear pierced three times, I’m planning a tattoo for my 50th and I went skinny dipping in the Atlantic on holiday last November. It was the most exhilarating thing and something I’d never have done before.
“As a celebration of being one year past active treatment I had my hair coloured in shades of blue, green, purple and pink which was awesome. I’ve never felt more like myself.
“The five years before I got diagnosed with cancer I was coping with complex post-traumatic stress and the mental health support I had at that time also really helped me to cope, as well as support from my local Maggie’s. The only way through is through.”
“If you’re worried about something that’s unusual for you, make that appointment with your GP practice. The anticipation of something is usually always worse than the reality – waiting for chemotherapy to start was way worse than actually going through it.
“When you’re experiencing something, certain things are under your control. If you’re worrying and putting it to the back of your mind, you’re not in control of anything. I personally couldn’t have been better supported through it all and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”