Rebecca Clay's story | Youth Cancer Trust

Most stories I read start the same, ‘I found a lump.’ Mine is no different, except for finding two – breast and armpit.

In a matter of minutes, I’d rang my GP, who said, ‘you’re only 30, it will likely go on its own but if you’re going to be anxious about it, then come in today.’ Feeling then like I must have ‘hypochondriac’ written all over my medical file, I paused, thinking I’d do what the doctor wanted and wait a couple of weeks. Then, I just thought, actually, I’m worried and I’m not going to feel like an idiot because of it and I asked for an appointment.

That same afternoon, I saw my GP, and watched his face uncontrollably drop as he felt the lump in my breast. He referred me to my local hospital for further investigation.

The 12th of August, slap bang in the middle of this glorious pandemic, I made my way alone to St James hospital. It was such a hot day and my face was melting away under the face mask. The staff were unbelievable, bringing everyone water and working like slaves to make sure everyone was comfortable.

The first person I saw assessed my lumps, and said it’s likely to do with me breastfeeding (I breastfed my then 2 year old for 2years so unsurprisingly a connection between the lump and feeding made a lot of sense). Nonetheless, further scans it was. I went for an ultrasound, that’s when I started to panic, as I could see from her eyes she was worried. She sent me for a mammogram, and then I had 4 biopsies from my breast and one from my armpit. During that time everyone was acting even nicer to me – I remember I didn’t have to go sit back with the ‘riffraff’ (joking) in the main waiting area, and they let me sit alone in a little private corridor.

After the scans, I waited to see my doctor to discuss, thinking it would be nothing major. I was told that day, alone, that I had breast cancer.

I remember saying to the dr – ‘so what now? Do I just go home?’ I remember suddenly being outside the hospital building, nobody there to pick me up, because nobody, including me, expected anything sinister. My partner was in a meeting, my mum and dad weren’t answering so I just walked. Walked and walked and walked, crying through the streets of Harehills. I rang my boss, asking her if I could have the rest of the day off work – clearly she said yes and was obviously in shock. I finally got in touch with my family, and my stepdad picked me up at a bus stop. I remember the fear in my partners eyes when I arrived home and me saying, it’s ok, I’m not going anywhere today. Adrenaline took hold and I was almost unnatural calm by late afternoon.

Fast forward a week, I see my surgeon, who confirms I had grade 3, oestrogen positive, stage 2 cancer in breast and lymph nodes. She requested a CT scan to see if it had spread any further. Later I saw my oncologist, who advises on treatment – chemo, EC and docitaxel, followed by surgery, radiotherapy and hormone treatment.

This beginning was the worst. I became so worried, I was waking up in the night being sick. I developed every symptom in my mind for all sorts of different cancers. I was petrified of it spreading. But thank goodness, my CT scan confirmed it hadn’t spread beyond the lymph nodes. There was an instant calm and I just thought, bring it on. I’ve got this.

With a date set for chemo, I made the most of the couple of weeks beforehand as I was told I would need to shield. I even got engaged to my wonderful partner. Turns out the day of diagnosis he had asked my mum and stepdad if he could marry me… literally could not make this stuff up, I’m sure sometimes I’m actually on the Truman show?

My attitude the entire time was just to focus on the thing directly ahead, and nothing else.

1: Learn about chemo, power through, keep up my strength, listen and be kind to my body, eat healthy and get through it.

2: Mastectomy, trust my surgeon and go with their recommendations – their goal is to best prolong my life, and that’s the priority.

3:Radiotherapy – to be continued… starting on the 15th of March.

4: Deal with the mental strain this has had on me and my family. Heal my mind and try to overcome, or at least manage fears.

It’s all been going surprisingly well. My mastectomy (skin and nipple sparing with immediate reconstruction, is so good, that my surgeon insists on lifting the other ‘saggy one’ – fine by me!

My pathology results showed the chemo had worked amazingly, shrinking my breast tumour from a whopping 4.8cm to 0.3cm and totally eradicated any sign of cancer from lymph nodes. I was told I am currently cancer free, with radiotherapy as the ‘belt and braces’. I am still shielding. I have been since before chemo. I am SO excited to go to a supermarket. I can’t wait to see what new products have come out. I can’t wait to look at all the cheeses and show my son the fish counter (he loves fish…and since the aquariums are closed…).

I have began to imagine my life beyond cancer.