I kept my cancer a SECRET
When Julia was diagnosed with breast cancer there was one thing on her mind - her son's wedding. How could she tell him and her daughter the news when there was such a big family event approaching? So Julia made a decision - to keep her devastating diagnosis a secret...
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Julia says: My son Andrew was due to marry his fiancée Lorna and as mother-of-the-groom, I wanted to wear something special. So I’d made my outfit by hand.
The wedding plans were in full force and I couldn’t wait to see my son begin the next chapter in his life.
Weeks later, I was checking the post when I came across a letter from Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
This must be my mammogram results, I thought.
I’d been for a routine check-up just recently.
I scanned its contents quickly.
‘They want me to visit the breast unit,’ I told Danny. ‘There’s a query on my imaging.’
‘I’m sure it will be fine,’ he reassured me.
I wasn’t too worried. I checked my breasts monthly for symptoms and had never found anything.
Danny came along to my appointment and I was given a biopsy.
A week later, in August 2014, we returned for the results.
‘I’m really sorry to tell you this,’ the consultant said. ‘You have invasive lobular breast cancer.’
Suddenly the situation didn’t seem real. It was as though I was looking down on someone else’s life.
‘What does that mean?’ I asked.
The consultant explained that there was a centre core to the cancer that had leg-like extensions.
‘Does that mean it’s spreading?’ I asked.
‘We’ll need to check if it’s spread to your lymph nodes,’ the consultant said.
‘But I’ve got my son’s wedding coming up!’ I cried.
I couldn’t believe the bad timing.
In just five weeks’ time our family and friends would be gathered to celebrate.
And now this.
‘Is there any way we could delay the surgery until after the wedding?’ I asked.
Thankfully, the doctor agreed.
On my way home, my mind was whirling.
The last thing I wanted to do was cast a black cloud over the day we’d all been looking forward to.
So I made a decision.
‘I’m not going to tell Andrew I have breast cancer,’ I said to Danny.
And I decided not to tell our daughter Jenna either.
We had always been such an open family so I was deep in turmoil about my choice, but I knew it would absolutely kill my children to know my life was in danger.
‘Are you sure?’ Danny said. ‘It might be better that they know.’
‘It’ll only upset them and I want Andrew’s wedding to be filled with happiness,’ I said. ‘Why spoil a lovely day with them worrying?’
‘When will you tell them though?’ he asked.
‘After the wedding, I promise,’ I said.
‘OK,’ Danny nodded. ‘Whatever you think is best.’
We had friends from Brazil visiting for the wedding who were staying with us and I knew they would notice me popping off to hospital for appointments, so I told them the news. Then I tried to put it to the back of my mind.
Luckily, I had the perfect distraction.
Months earlier, Andrew had given me the task of creating a floral cascade made of sugar for the three-tier wedding cake.
‘I haven’t done anything like that for years,’ I’d said.
‘You’ll do a great job Mum,’ he’d smiled.
Switching on my iPad, I began watching YouTube videos to refresh my memory.
It wasn’t easy but it certainly kept me busy.
In between making the fiddly pink roses and white calla lilies, I went along to my appointments at the hospital.
Then before I knew it, in September 2014, Andrew and Lorna’s big day had arrived.
I slipped into my pink dress, bolero and matching hat, while Danny put on his morning suit.
‘I really want to enjoy every moment today,’ I said. ‘If you see me looking pensive, just leave me with my thoughts.’
‘Of course,’ Danny smiled. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Ready,’ I nodded.
And I was, I couldn’t wait for the ceremony.
But that morning, as I stepped into the church, a strange feeling came over me.
It was as though my diagnosis had suddenly hit me.
I watched Andrew and Lorna exchange their vows with a lump in my throat.
Am I going to be here this time next year? I thought. Would I be around for their first wedding anniversary?
Doubt began to creep in and I wondered if I was right in keeping quiet about my diagnosis.
As the vicar pronounced Andrew and Lorna husband and wife, everyone cheered and clapped.
‘Congratulations,’ I beamed, hugging them both.
Afterwards, I tried to push my negative thoughts to the back of my mind and forced a smile for the photos.
But by the time the reception was in full swing and everyone was having fun dancing, I knew I’d done the right thing.
The day had been full of happiness and laughter, just how it should have been.
A week later, I knew it was time to face the music.
‘Let’s tell them,’ I said to Danny.
Andrew was on honeymoon in Rome so I planned to tell him when I was back, and we set off for Jenna’s house.
There, I went to her bedroom and sat her down.
‘I have breast cancer,’ I said gently.
‘Oh no Mum,’ she said, and began to sob.
‘I was diagnosed a few weeks before the wedding but I didn’t want to ruin the day,’ I said. ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not telling you both.’
She nodded as her tears fell.
‘I understand,’ she said, hugging me.
It was a relief that Jenna knew, but I still had to tell Andrew. I knew he was staying with Lorna’s parents the night he landed, so I asked her father to ask him to ring me when they were back.
But later, Andrew texted me.
Has something happened Mum? Lorna’s dad said to call you.
Seconds later he was FaceTiming me from Rome airport. It was now or never.
‘Sorry love, I didn’t want you to know until you were back,’ I said.
Then I told him everything.
He went quiet for a moment, then he said: ‘I’m glad I know now. The flight will give me time to think.’
I was pleased he had taken it so well.
Two days later, Andrew, Lorna and Danny came with me to hospital for my surgery.
We reminisced on how wonderful the wedding day had been and heard all about their honeymoon before I was called in.
‘Good luck Mum,’ Andrew said.
After the surgery, the consultant came to see me.
‘The lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy went well,’ he said. ‘I’ve removed what I can see but I won’t know if we’ve got all of the cancer until I examine the results.’
A fortnight later, I returned to hospital.
‘Unfortunately we haven’t got the clear margin we hoped for,’ the consultant said. ‘You’re going to need a mastectomy.’
Next to me, Danny gasped loudly.
I was in shock too.
‘OK,’ I said numbly.
In October 2014, I had a single mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. An implant was fitted on my right side that could be filled with saline.
Only having one real breast took some adjusting to. The implant felt alien and left me a bit unbalanced, but the surgeon had done a good job.
In April 2015, I had my left breast reduced so it was a better match to my right one.
Looking in the mirror, I smiled.
My chest wasn’t perfect but I was happy.
I was relieved to hear I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. But now I’m taking Tamoxifen, which has made my hair fall out in clumps.
I’ve had it cut shorter, which feels strange after having long hair my whole life. But it’s a very small price to pay for being able to be here with my family.
Jenna has just given me my first grandchild, Louie, and he’s the best bottle of medicine I could have asked for.
Now I want to urge women to attend their mammogram appointments. I wasn’t showing any symptoms but if I hadn’t gone to mine, I might not be here today.'