Facing cancer together – Anna and Rob tell how her cancer diagnosis not only turned life upside down, but also turned the tables and made their relationship even stronger…..
Anna turned 50 last July and a month later, was called for her first mammogram and like many women, wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I felt very pleased with myself,” she said. “While I wouldn’t actively choose it as a leisure activity, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. That’s an important message for women who put off going through a fear of what it might be like.”
Anna’s mammogram result was found to be abnormal and she was called back for further investigations at her local hospital. But with lots happening in her life at the time – including a trip to a festival and a camping trip – she wasn’t unduly worried as she waited for her appointment in September.
A further mammogram, an ultrasound scan, and a fine needle biopsy were all carried out before she learned in October last year that she had invasive breast cancer with a 20mm tumour, and that she would need a mastectomy.
“I felt very pleased that it wasn’t sugar-coated, and the facts were given to me straight,” said Anna. “However, it was like being hit by a wrecking ball. I just went into shock and felt as though it wasn’t actually me in the room any more. I then spent weeks trying to deal with the psychological effects of the proposed surgery.”
Anna’s partner Rob is an army veteran, having seen active service in three war zones, and has received counselling for post traumatic stress disorder. But he freely admits that he’d never before experienced the feelings that were generated at that point.
“In that room, there was so much uncertainty,” says Rob. “Normally, I lean on Anna for support and I realised at that point that it was now my turn, I can’t run away from this, I want to be there for Anna. This has definitely brought us closer together.”
Importantly, Rob is also aware that he too needs help to deal with everything that’s going on, and to enable him to provide the support that Anna needs to deal with her illness and her forthcoming surgery. One source of that support is Help for Heroes, the UK armed forces and military veterans charity.
Anna, a complementary therapist, and Rob - pictured left - are both former practitioners at the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Anna believes being tuned into her own psychological and spiritual needs have also helped.
She then turned the tables and herself experienced care at the Robert Ogden Centre as a patient, as well as at Breast Cancer Haven in Leeds.
“It’s important to look after your wellbeing as a whole,” she said. “Once I had my diagnosis, I calmed down a lot because I knew what I was dealing with. I don’t think of the cancer as an alien monster I have to fight or battle, but rather as part of me. That said, I want to make it as uncomfortable as possible so that it moves out!
“I’m quite a positive, spiritual person so that element of my journey has been very interesting. Cancer takes over everything and changes your outlook on life. I am definitely more ‘in the moment’. I don’t bother about the small things any more and I’m starting to become good at saying no – I was a bit of a people pleaser before!”
Anna is now preparing for surgery following a second MRI scan, which showed that the tumour has responded well to the six cycles of chemotherapy which she completed six weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, I experienced most of the side effects but on the other hand, I’m thankful that the information provided by Macmillan prepared me for what to expect. That said, I did rather under-estimate how long it would be before I returned to work and I had to realise that some things take time,” said Anna.
“My care has been outstanding and all the staff have been so kind and sensitive, and able to put me at my ease. I’m also very lucky to have had such a lot of support from my partner.”