Written by Standard Issue

Health

“We tell people our kids are waiting for us in the freezer in Leeds”

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues, 28 year-old Kirsty Brade takes us through a year which saw her treated from all sides for cancer, while giving herself the best chance of becoming a mum.

Kirsty Brade was 27 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Kirsty Brade was 27 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When Kirsty Brade felt a lump on the first day of her holiday, she wasn’t worried. She was 27. But when the trip was finished, she immediately found herself facing months of cancer treatment as well as the likelihood it would leave her infertile.

I was diagnosed on 5 August 2015. We’d just arrived in Rhodes and I happened to be lying down on the bed with my arm above my head. My right hand just brushed past my left boob and I felt a bit of a lump.

I didn’t think much of it. I did a bit of Googling, which is never the best idea, is it? But I read it was a one in eight chance [of being malignant], so that put my mind at rest a little bit.

When I went to my GP as soon as I got back, she said she thought it was just a benign and hormonal lump, which were common for my age group, but she would send me to the breast clinic just to be safe.

A week or so later a breast cancer nurse examined me and said it felt “lovely and benign”, so we were like, “yay!” I think my mum started crying with relief. Then I had an ultrasound and the sonographer said he wasn’t sure so wanted to do a biopsy, which I had on the same day.

About two weeks later, I went back in and saw the breast cancer nurse I’d seen previously and a female doctor I hadn’t seen before.

I think she made a bit of a joke to ease the tension and then I remember her getting her chair and pushing it right up to me so our knees touched. I don’t know why I remember that, but I clearly recall thinking, “This is weird. Why are we touching knees?”

Then she got hold of my hand and said, “I’m really sorry, but we’ve found a breast cancer.”

I can’t really remember what the doctor said after that. It was the breast cancer nurse I mostly spoke to about what might happen in terms of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and other hormone treatment.

I was really shocked after that. I had been pretty adamant that it was just going to be a hormonal thing. Of course it’s always at the back of your mind that it could be something else, but I really didn’t think it would be. The doctors were surprised too. They told me I was likely to lose my hair, which was upsetting of course, but I kind of expected it because you see that on TV and films, don’t you?

But then they told me there was a good chance the chemotherapy would leave me infertile as well. I was not expecting that. I hadn’t considered it at all, maybe because you normally associate breast cancer with older people.

It was pretty early on when they told me that and they let us have a round of IVF between my surgery – I had a lumpectomy and a lymph node biopsy, which thankfully showed there was no lymph node involvement – and my chemotherapy. After four to six weeks of injections and hormones, they took my eggs and then mixed them with my boyfriend’s sperm to make embryos, because those apparently freeze better than just eggs on their own.

We had been together for four years when I was diagnosed. We’d talked about getting married and being together and loving each other, but it felt very strange to have to suddenly have all these conversations about children and the future. Especially in the middle of a cancer diagnosis and all the treatment.

“I feel like a completely different person in a lot of ways. I definitely see life in terms of before and after my diagnosis. I suppose being faced with your own death can’t help but change the way you look at life.”

It puts pressure on your relationship. We weren’t engaged; we didn’t have a house – although we ended up buying one together during treatment – and here we were, making what will hopefully be our future children.

There was a lot going on. And IVF isn’t a simple thing. There are lots of scans and appointments as well as forms to fill in and lots of hormones to take… and because it was all happening during my treatment, and pretty soon after my diagnosis, it’s fair to say that emotionally I was a bit all over the place.

We’ve got six frozen embryos, which is strange to think about. We always tell people our kids are waiting for us in the freezer in Leeds. It’s a weird thing to think about, but there wasn’t much time to think about it because I was straight into six rounds of chemo, 15 standard rounds of radiotherapy and another five booster sessions.

The chemotherapy and radiotherapy seemed to be more of a precaution, mainly because of my age I think, because things can move very fast. They tend to throw everything at you. I’m still really tired. I’m not back at work (as a merchandiser) yet. I still have really bad chemo brain, so I forget stuff a lot. But it’s mainly my energy levels which are rubbish.

It does feel like there’s an expectation that once chemo is done and dusted, you should be back to normal, but it doesn’t work like that. You’re basically thrown into the menopause and the after-effects of chemo don’t just disappear.

Breast Cancer signs checklist
I finish my Herceptin injections in November, but the hormone treatment carries on for five years. We’ve been advised to wait until the five years are up before we think about trying for a family.

I feel like a completely different person in a lot of ways. I definitely see life in terms of before and after my diagnosis. I suppose being faced with your own death can’t help but change the way you look at life. I’m more grateful for things now. I like to spend a lot more time with my family and not take them for granted. I live about an hour away from my parents, who I’ve always been really close to, but we hadn’t had a family holiday for years. We’ve had two this year.

KirstyDealing with my diagnosis was all completely new territory for us all. No one in the family had experienced breast cancer. We had to learn everything from scratch.

Because I’m quite young. I used the forums at Breast Cancer Care. If you’re going through something or have a question, you can always find someone else going through it. It was a good way of hearing from people who were young like me and experiencing the fertility aspect as well. On my chemo ward, everyone was decades older than me.

I’m looking forward to trying for a family in the future, but I haven’t thought too much about the ‘what if’ questions. What if I am infertile? What if the embryos don’t work? We’re just taking our time and I’m looking forward to feeling better and better. I’m only 28, so have hopefully got a lot of life ahead of me.

Read Hayley Ryan’s story of living with triple-negative breast cancer here.

@BCCare

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Written by Standard Issue