“I was diagnosed aged 43 on March 9 2004. I’d found a lump in my breast while on holiday, and the skin felt like orange peel. I went to the doctor on the Monday, and by 5pm on the Tuesday it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. It was such a shock – I instantly thought I was going to die. I was with my husband when I received the diagnosis. I couldn’t believe it, I felt too numb to cry.
“I had four young boys, aged at the time between 8 and 14, so I was anxious about telling them, but we were honest from the beginning. It was hard, but you can’t hide something as big as that.
“I sat down with the boys, my husband, and my mother and father. I told the children that I had breast cancer, which was very serious but that I would receive immediate treatment and would be doing everything I could to get rid of it. I was honest with my children, but tried to adapt the message according to their age.
“My husband John says that the night before my first operation, just before he went to bed, our 10-year-old asked him: ‘Is the man who is going to operate on Mummy the best?’ John says he answered as honestly as he could: ‘Yes, I believe so.’ ‘That’s good’ said our son, and so he went to bed.
“I went straight into having a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, then radiotherapy and finally a mastectomy. After the mastectomy I cried and cried for a couple of days. I hadn’t had chance to come to terms with the lumpectomy before I had the mastectomy and it was such as a terrible shock to my system. I finished my treatments within a year, but it took two years for the exhaustion to lift.
“My friends were really wonderful. I love gardening, and two of them came round to tidy my garden up for me, while others made a rota for driving me to hospital for appointments. Sometimes we’d meet at the school gates to go for a walk in the fresh air, it really helped me feel like me again. My mum and dad were great, they only live an hour away and they came to stay and look after the boys.
“I’ve always been very independent so learning to accept help was a difficult but important step for me. It gives other people pleasure to let them help and I think it helped them to cope with the situation. I also had to get used to taking a nap if I was tired because the treatments left me feeling exhausted.
“I tried to find ways in which my sons could help me. My youngest use to rub baby oil into my bare scalp whilst we watched television together. I also started to prepare some things in case I did not make it, and I wanted to know they’d be able to care for themselves. My dear husband is no cook, but he decided that he would cook a roast dinner. I wrote out instructions for him to follow whilst I lay in bed recovering from Chemo. Half way down the list was the instruction: ‘Bring me a glass of sherry’. It was my way of saying that I was still there and still the same character.
“Breast Cancer Care were great at providing information about my treatments, and I had a wonderful nurse who told me almost exactly to the day when my hair would start to fall out. It was important to take control, so I bought a wig beforehand and asked my hairdresser to style it for me.
“Looking your best can make a difference to how you feel. There was a ‘feel better’ day at my hospital and I was taught to paint on my eyebrows, as well as having reflexology to help me relax.
The hardest time in a way was post-treatment, because I felt there was no longer anything proactive I could do. To take charge I started learning about healthy living, and took control over what I eat. I try to eat organically where possible and buy high quality meat.
“I would advise other women to check their breasts regularly. The important thing is to notice any changes in the breast such as puckering of the skin, inverted nipples, a discharge from the nipples or any unusual lumps or bumps. Breast tissue changes throughout the monthly cycle. I noticed that the skin on my breast had started to look like orange peel at times and could feel a small lump. If you find any of the above symptoms then go and get yourself checked. Although it is mainly women who are diagnosed with breast cancer it can also happen to men.
“I have a checkup every six months now. The cancer is always there in the back of my mind, and it’s changed my attitudes and priorities. I spend more money now, and if I want to do something I just go for it.
“I play tennis, see friends and my husband and I went on the Moonwalk to raise money. I also volunteer for things and am a member of a women’s group called She Who Dares. We’ve done everything from whitewater rafting to climbing up the O2.
“In 2007 I decided to have a breast reconstruction, because I finally believed I was going to live again. My youngest son turned 18 this summer, so now it’s really time for me.”
Alyson’s breast cancer diagnosis motivated her to model on Breast Cancer Care’s catwalk. For more inspirational stories revealing the unexpected hidden effects of breast cancer visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/hiddeneffects
To see a gallery of breast cancer fundraising fashion and beauty items on sale this month, click here
Main image credit: Julia Boggio and her team at Home By Midnight