2020 was not a good year for anyone but, for my family, it felt like the world was conspiring against us.
One day in late September my husband Matt said his stomach was acting up. At first he thought it was bad indigestion, but as the day went on it got worse.
When I came downstairs after putting the kids to bed that night, I found him on the phone at 111. After an agonizing 24 hours in A&E, he was sent home with painkillers.
He has private insurance with the job, so we agreed he should go see a specialist, just for peace of mind. At no time did we think it could be cancer.
About a week later, he was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer of the small intestine and – although it was not mentioned at the time – the ultrasound also found spots on his liver.
That meant he was at stage 4. Stage 4 means the The cancer has spread, or metastasized, from its original area to other parts of the body. That’s what the spots on his liver were.
Hearing this news, I knew the outlook for Stage 4 was not good.
However, neuroendocrine cancer usually grows slowly and there are many options, which means people can live with it for a long time.
The following months were a blur of scans, treatment plans and bowel surgery. I think I was in “fight or flight” mode the whole time. He didn’t need chemo, but he did have monthly injections and take pancreatic enzyme replacement tablets when he ate.
Matt handled it all very well; he just put his head down and went at it. He had to change his diet to reduce the risk of another obstruction, so it was a lot of soups, yoghurts and low fiber foods.
He lost a lot of weight but at the same time he continued to exercise in order to be as prepared as possible for the surgery.
He had surgery in early December 2020, and everything went well, but the recovery was tough, especially the first few weeks. However, by mid-December he was back home and able to walk around and he felt like there might be some stability to come.
How wrong we were.
A few weeks later, while taking a shower, I felt a very large, obvious lump in my right breast. How could I not feel this before?
I felt oddly calm as I went to show Matt. Oddly, we both remember knowing in our guts that it was cancer. We knew it was possible. Life had already changed, so she could certainly start again.
I went to the GP and was referred to the breast clinic. When they did the ultrasound, I felt the atmosphere in the room change.
The consultant came to do a biopsy and I explained through tears that I couldn’t have cancer because my husband also had cancer and we had two small children who needed us.
When I finally took a deep breath and asked frankly if it was cancer I think they all knew but because of my situation the consultant said it was hard to say. She tried to please me but her body language did the opposite. She couldn’t look me directly in the eye.
I don’t remember much of the following days. I just went through the motions. A week later, I was back in the hospital, receiving confirmation of my worst fears.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Matt and I were in shock. I didn’t cry, I just wanted to know what I should do to get rid of it. I think we both felt a kind of inevitability about it.
After a bone scan and a full body scan – luckily clear – I started chemo.
It was the hardest four months of my life, I cried a lotI lost all my hair and a lot of myself, but I did it, and I’m very proud that I got through it.
I couldn’t have had my chemo without Matt, my mom and his parents. From keeping the kids happy, to cooking me food, and organizing my medication, they all played their part.
A month later I had surgery to remove the shrunken mass and a biopsy to see if it was successful.
Unfortunately, they found active cancer in the tissues.
So I went back to the theater, this time to remove all my lymph nodes. This time, success!
I then started four weeks of radiotherapy and targeted chemotherapy, which will end next month.
Along with this I also started hormone therapy, which consists of an injection that disables my ovaries and a daily pill to prevent any other cells in my body from producing estrogen. It put me into medically induced menopause, which at 37 is not ideal. It was a lot.
Still, there were many light and happy moments in between, mostly provided by my two amazing boys, who were six and three when I was diagnosed, who pick me up every day with their smiles and cuddles.
We tried to be as open and honest with them about what happened, while respecting their age.
We told them Matt needed a belly lump, but since his cancer hasn’t had too much of a physical impact on his life since then, we refrained from discussing it in those terms.
This is something we will tackle as we feel the time is right.
As for me, my eldest was told that I had a “nasty lump” in my breast, for which I had to take medication. I explained that it would make me gross and my hair would fall out, but it would make me better.
Over time, as I continued to need treatment, I introduced the idea that the lump was cancer. I feel like my eldest took it in his stride, but I know they’ll both have questions in the future.
My youngest struggled with not having me as available as before, but he was accepting Matt for late night cuddles and that sometimes I was in too much pain to play.
Cancer has changed us forever, but I truly believe we are enjoying life more now. It’s not like life is drastically different in a practical sense, it’s just that I don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s very liberating!
It has also given me the opportunity to meet inspiring women who are going through similar things and to have great new experiences, the most incredible of which is yet to come.
In November of this year I will hike 100km across the Sahara Desert for CoppaFeel to raise as much money for this amazing charity that is on a mission to educate and remind people to learn to know their breasts in order to catch breast cancer early.
After the time we spent as a family, I know more than anyone how important this is.
To donate, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/lucyscoppatrek or to learn more, visit my Instagram page @my_bothersome_boob.
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