Intended for healthcare professionals


A patient's journey: living with breast cancer

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 29 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:31
  1. J J Brooks (, patient1
  1. 1Elmwood, Douglas, Isle of Man IM2 5AE
  • Accepted 30 May 2006

A sudden departure

Breast cancer is a life changing event; one you cannot anticipate or plan for and one in which you have no choice. How we deal with living with it differs from one person to another—this is my personal story.

My journey began in 1991 when I was an apparently healthy mother with two children, just living a normal life. It was a particularly fulfilling time for me. I had an interesting job as a biology teacher and was fit and well with a happy family life. Then, out of the blue came a diagnosis of breast cancer; something that has changed the direction and focus of my life, both positively and negatively.

My first reactions were shock, surprise, and terrible fear—would I live to see my children grow up? These fears clouded my whole being at first. How would we tell the children and the rest of the family? Suddenly my whole world changed in front of my eyes.

I had a history of benign breast disease, but there seemed to be no particular concern about that. Then I found a new lump that did concern me, as it felt different from the others. I asked if I could have a biopsy, just to put my mind at rest. This insidious lump turned out to be an invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 2, with positive lymph nodes, so after a lumpectomy and axillary sampling I immediately began treatment—six months of chemotherapy, tamoxifen, and then radiotherapy.

A roller coaster ride

The cancer patient's journey is a true roller coaster. Once you step on there is no stopping, no let up, no days off. I started my chemotherapy unprepared for what would happen to my body. When I was diagnosed, little information or support existed—no clinical nurse specialists to guide me along the journey, little accessible information, …

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