I was diagnosed with cancer a WEEK before my big day
I spoke to stunning bride Charlotte Drake about how she was diagnosed with breast cancer just one WEEK before her big day. I secured her several newspapers deals to share her story to raise awareness of the disease.
A bride was a week from walking down the aisle when she was given the devastating news that she had breast cancer.
Charlotte Drake chose to go ahead with her big day but only told her fiancé Luke, 32, her parents, sister and bridesmaids about her diagnosis.
Now, after finishing treatment, the 34-year-old is just about to celebrate her first Mother’s Day with seven-month-old Henry, who she and Luke conceived through IVF.
Charlotte, who lives in Oxfordshire, said: ‘I still can’t quite believe I had cancer. When I was diagnosed I was 30, had no family history, I didn’t smoke, rarely drank and was very healthy.
‘I remember thinking at least if I die everyone will have seen me at the wedding looking the best I was ever going to look. I would be going out with a bang.’
The couple postponed their honeymoon so that Charlotte could have surgery to remove the lump just three days after the ceremony in May 2014.
‘Moments before I went into hospital for my results, I was agonising over which colour dress to buy online for my honeymoon. An hour later I was told I had cancer. It put everything into perspective and I couldn’t believe I had been worrying about a dress.’
‘I was convinced my life was over and told Luke I didn’t think we should get married. I thought I’d ruined his life and didn’t want to become his wife, only for me to die. I felt like I was taking away his wedding day. But he was amazing and told me we were going ahead with it no matter what.’
Inspired by the love her parents had, Charlotte knew from the early age of 10 that she wanted to get married and become a mother.
‘I’d been planning my wedding since I was a little girl,’ she said. ‘I had been so excited for the day to arrive, so I could finally slip into my dress and exchange vows with Luke. But now my life was on the line.
‘In the days leading up to our big day, instead of sorting the last-minute details I was looking into where to have treatment.’
The stress caused Charlotte to have a panic attack and her mother, Elizabeth Johnson, 66, rushed her daughter to hospital.
‘Luckily for me, a breast cancer surgeon was at hospital that day,’ Charlotte said. ‘He booked me in for surgery three days after the wedding and knowing I had a plan of action made me feel better.’
She added: ‘As our wedding approached I remember thinking, this could be the last time people see me looking my best so let’s make it a really great day. Luke and I didn’t tell our guests because we wanted it to be a happy occasion. We didn’t want their pity, it was a wedding not a funeral after all.’
‘I found the morning of the wedding tough. It was the day I’d been dreaming of for years - and I had cancer. But I managed to shake off my sadness and told myself the day wasn’t just for me, it was for Luke and my family too. I had to suck it up and get on with it.
‘For the rest of the day, the only thing that was hard was that people kept hugging me, which really hurt because I had just had a biopsy.
‘I’m most proud of how my parents and Luke held it all together when I’m sure they wanted to crawl away and cry. Instead they were all smiles and made sure the day went exactly as I had planned since I was a little girl.’
Following the wedding day on the Friday, Charlotte had surgery on the Monday to remove her tumour. A week later she had a further operation so the surgeon could get a clear margin, then she began chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
She said: ‘When I started losing my hair I bought an electric razor from Argos and told Luke he would have to shave my head. We had fun with it, cutting my hair into a bob, then a mohawk, before taking it all off. After that I wore a a hat most of the time.’
After her treatment, Charlotte made a big decision. She told her surgeon she wanted her breasts removed.
‘I was insistent on having them both cut off. I never wanted to have to worry about them again and I didn’t want to leave hospital until it had been agreed I could have a double mastectomy.
‘But my surgeon refused and explained removing my breasts wouldn’t stop the cancer coming back. I didn’t carry the BRCA gene so it would have been pointless. My diagnosis had simply been bad luck.’
Charlotte, a senior brand manager, feared her treatment had affected her chances of becoming a mum.
‘Luke and I tried for a baby naturally for a year, but nothing happened. On a day out at Blenheim Palace, I looked around and saw all the parents with their children and broke down. I felt robbed, I needed a baby of our own and told Luke I wanted to try IVF.’
Despite chemotherapy damaging her ovaries and having only two eggs retrieved which were both bad quality, Charlotte fell pregnant after just one round.
‘I was told that it was very unlikely IVF would work. Afterwards I was meant to wait to test, but I did one every time I went to the toilet. I was actually out on a work lunch when I first got a positive result.
‘I was overwhelmed and desperate to tell Luke, but he was abroad with work. I avoided talking to him over the next few days so I didn’t have to tell him over the phone. Then when he got back, I handed him a box containing two pairs of booties, one pink and one blue. His face was a picture when he realised we were going to have a baby.’
But the pregnancy wasn’t plain sailing. At 30 weeks, Charlotte haemorrhaged due to having a low-lying placenta and was kept in hospital for the last six weeks to be closely monitored.
Then at 36 weeks, she had a C-section and their son was born.
‘As I looked at Henry and then at Luke, it felt like everything we had been through had been worth it. There are so many miracles that have happened and Henry is the greatest one.’
Last month, Charlotte and Luke held Henry’s christening in the same church they got married in. They also returned to Blenheim Palace - this time with their son.
‘It was so strange being back in the place where I had broken down in tears over a year earlier, desperate for a baby. This time around, I was thrilled to be there with my very own family.’
Now Charlotte has regular check-ups and scans and is encouraging everyone to check their breasts regularly.
‘My mum has always taught me to be breast aware and check my breasts, even though we have no family history of breast cancer. I am convinced she saved my life,’ she said.
‘If you do find a lump, act quickly. When I found mine, my doctor thought it was a fatty cyst but I pushed to be referred to a specialist so I could be checked further. My cancer was an aggressive type and if I hadn’t pushed, I was told I could have been dead within two years.’
Charlotte is raising funds to support people affected by breast cancer by walking 20 miles at the Breast Cancer Care Pink Ribbon Walk in association with Skechers. To sign up, visit breastcancercare.org.uk/ribbonwalk