I'VE GOT CANCER TOO MUM

I spoke to Mary and Beverley, a mum and daughter who both battled breast cancer at the same time. Read their honest and emotional story in this week's That's Life magazine #breastcancer

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Unhooking my bra, I looked at the marks it had left on my skin. It had been digging in all day.

Then I put a hand to my left breast.

‘It’s even bigger and harder than it was a few days ago,’ I told my husband Paul.

‘Maybe you should go to the doctors,’ he said.

‘I think I will,’ I replied.

At first, I’d put the changes down to gaining a few pounds. But now I was worried it was something more sinister.

Days later it was Paul’s 50th birthday, so we went out for dinner with family to celebrate. When I saw my mum Mary I gave her a squeeze.

‘How are you?’ I asked.

‘Very well thank you,’ she smiled.

Though Mum and I were close, being busy at work meant we sometimes went weeks without talking on the phone.

‘It’s good to see you,’ I said.

We sat around the table and toasted to Paul’s birthday, then enjoyed a lovely evening.

A week later, I was in the bedroom when Paul appeared looking grave.

‘Take a seat, I need to talk to you,’ he said.

‘Oh gosh, what’s happened?’ I said, panicking.

I sat on the edge of the bed and Paul put his hand on mine.

‘Your mum’s got breast cancer,’ he said. ‘She called to tell me because she didn’t want to upset you.’

My body went numb with shock and then my eyes pooled with tears.

‘I need to talk to her,’ I said.

I phoned Mum with shaky hands.

‘I had tests on Paul’s birthday,’ she confessed.

I thought back to the meal out we’d had.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ I asked.

‘I didn’t want to spoil the evening,’ she said.

Mum assured me she was going to be fine, but I couldn’t shake the thought of losing her.

It terrified me.

Then I thought about my own symptoms.

Telling Mum will only upset her, I thought.

So I decided to keep it to myself.

Later that month, I went to the doctors.

By now, some orange-peel type skin had appeared on my breast and my nipple had become inverted.

My GP seemed concerned.

‘I’m going to refer you to hospital,’ she said.

Back home, while I waited for my appointment, I made sure to keep checking up on Mum.

‘I’ve got a pre-operation booked,’ she told me.

‘When is it?’ I asked.

‘On the morning of the 11th at Churchill Hospital’ she said.

My stomach lurched.

The same day as my biopsy, I thought.

We were both going to be sitting in the same hospital waiting room at the same time…

I realised I had to come clean.

‘I’ll be there too,’ I blurted out. ‘I’ve noticed some changes in my breast but I’m sure it’s nothing.’

‘Oh Bev,’ she sighed. ‘You should have told me.’

I couldn’t help but smile – neither of us had said anything because we didn’t want to worry the other.

On the day of our appointments, it felt surreal being in the waiting room together. I could sense Mum was fretting about me.

‘I’ll be fine,’ I assured her.

With her surgery coming up, the last thing she needed was double the stress.

Soon after our appointments, Mum had a mastectomy to remove her right breast.

While she recovered at home, it was time for me to get my results.

Feeling positive, I said to Paul: ‘Let’s hope it’s just an infection.’

An hour later, we left the hospital room in utter shock. As we walked to the car, my head was spinning and I couldn’t think straight.

Knowing Mum would be waiting to hear from us, I passed Paul my phone. I couldn’t even speak so he dialled her number.

‘Bev has breast cancer too,’ he told her.

My body heaved with sobs as I pictured Mum hearing the news.

How did we both have cancer?

It didn’t seem real.

Days later, I went to see her.

‘I can’t believe we’ve been diagnosed within four weeks of each other,’ I said.

‘At least we’re in it together,’ Mum said.

It was true. Neither of us wanted cancer, but it meant we knew better than anyone what the other was going through.

Next, we got some good news.

Mum’s cancer had been removed and she was told she needed no further treatment.

‘That’s brilliant news,’ I said.

‘But I just feel so guilty,’ Mum sighed. ‘I wish I had it and you didn’t.’

‘Don’t be silly, you’ve been through enough,’ I said.

Before I knew it, I was back in hospital again. This time to have chemotherapy.

It made me feel terrible. I couldn’t sleep, my nails peeled off and I lost my hair.

I couldn’t focus on anything and was either wandering around aimlessly or lying in bed.

There were days I couldn’t even talk but as I lay under the duvet exhausted, Mum was at my side chatting about anything and everything.

‘Don’t try and speak,’ she soothed. ‘I’m just here to keep you company.’

I felt so grateful just to have her there.

After chemo, I had a mastectomy to remove my left breast – just six months after Mum had had hers. Up until now she had refused to show me her scar, so as not to alarm me.

‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,’ I grinned.

‘Alright then,’ Mum laughed.

And we compared our matching scars.

Soon after, I had radiotherapy.

Once it had finished, I asked my oncologist: ‘When do I get the all clear?’

‘I’m afraid you don’t really,’ he said.

Even though I’d had eight lymph nodes removed, they couldn’t be sure there weren’t any cancer cells leftover.

But now I’m feeling much better and I’m back at work. Life is slowly returning to a new normal and I can only hope that the cancer doesn’t come back – for me or Mum.

Looking back, I know I couldn’t have got through everything without the support I received, including that from Breast Cancer Care. In turn, Mum and I would like to help others affected by the disease, so we are raising funds by taking part in the charity’s Pink Ribbon Walk. We’re also encouraging others to sign up too.

Now Mum and I talk on the phone all the time and love nothing more than catching up over a coffee. Despite it being the toughest of years, having cancer has definitely made my relationship with Mum, 72, even stronger. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Beverley Griffiths, 49, Oxfordshire

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