Please note this article is of a sensitive nature and contains images that reflect this.
I am 34 years old and a Chartered Financial Planner working for a wealth management firm in the West End of London.
I wanted to share my story as I feel that it is important to raise awareness of two issues; Cancer in young women and financial protection.
In 2010, I lost my father after watching him fade away over 5 months, which broke my heart. I also had several other major personal setbacks. Four weeks after my father passed away, I lost my job, and had to find new employment, which I luckily did straight away.
A few months into my new job, I found a lump in my breast and after being sent to hospital for tests, followed by a grueling wait, I went back to find out my results. Everybody had told me that it was probably nothing to worry about as there is no family history of cancer on either side of my family and I am young and fit.
I was given the devastating news that I had breast cancer in my left breast. The shock is unbelievable and nothing can prepare you for being told that you have cancer.
The only thing that I remember from the day that I was first told was my consultant telling me that the ladies with the most positive attitude are the ones who have the best prognosis.
I had a lumpectomy followed by another operation to take a wider margin and was told that I was cured of the cancer as it had been removed and that the other treatment was my ‘insurance policy’. I was to undergo 6 months of chemotherapy followed by a course of radiotherapy of six weeks.
Apart from all of my fears of death, how ill the chemo would make me, and losing all of my hair, I had another huge worry; how would I afford to live if I couldn’t continue to work? I am single and so have no husband or partner and my family are not in a financial position to help. Thanks to a previous relationship where I was taken for a huge ride financially, my monthly outgoings are large and I had no financial protection because I had cancelled my policy when finances got tight. This is the biggest regret of my life and I have kicked myself many times over for being so stupid, especially as its part of my job and I ensure that my clients are aware of the dangers of not being protected. I just thought that as I am young, I had time to take the protection in the future when finances were less tight. The only thing that I could do was to continue to work full time while I was undergoing treatment.
Nothing can prepare you for how awful chemo makes you feel. Some days, you can’t even get out of bed and as it goes on, it affects your brain as well and you can’t think straight.
I am lucky that I was able to work from home as well as in the office; so on the really bad days, I worked from my bed.
Going into the office when you feel dreadful and look like a freak is no walk in the park either, however much you hope they wont; people treat you differently as they don’t know what to say to you, I guess it brings it home to them how real cancer is.
Towards the end of my chemo, I really struggled.
It attacks everything, including your ovaries and shuts them down. So my periods had stopped and I was getting menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes and my hormones were all over the place. I also have to take a drug for five years to further suppress my ovaries. There is a chance that my ovaries may not recover and I may not be able to have children. My second course of chemo drugs were administered on a weekly basis and I was visiting the hospital 3 times a week as a minimum to have my bloods checked, see the consultant and then have the next dose of chemo. I was exhausted.
The morning of my second to last chemo treatment, I got a twinge in my breast, which made me check and I found a very small lump, which obviously scared the life out of me. I told the chemo nurse when I got to the hospital for my treatment. They said that although it was probably nothing to worry about as I was undergoing chemo and it is very rare to get a recurrence while on chemo, they would send me for a scan to be on the safe side.
Against the odds, I had got cancer back while undergoing chemo. I was absolutely devastated and really frightened about the cancer having spread anywhere else, I really thought ‘this could kill me’.
I then had to have the rest of my internal organs scanned to ensure that I did not have cancer anywhere else. Thankfully these were clear.
I had a mastectomy about a month after.
I was back in the office full time 10 days after my last chemo session and worked full time until I had the mastectomy, and then worked from home in weeks two and three after the operation, so that I would get full pay.
I am now about to embark on five weeks of radiotherapy and would dearly love to have had a break to just take a breath after all that has happened but finances won’t allow. So, I will be having my radiotherapy first thing in the morning and then coming straight into the office afterwards.
I am however a positive person and have tried to do many positive things. I took part in the Race for Life on 19th May, 3 and a half weeks after my mastectomy and raised £3,000 and was featured in my local press.
I wanted to use my experience in a positive way to help others and so this is the reason why I am sharing my story as I want to raise awareness about cancer in young women, even those with no family history of cancer and how important it is to listen to your body and check yourself regularly. My body told me by me having a twinge in breast on both occasions and I would not have checked had that not happened.
But the biggest message that I want to spread is that financial protection is so hugely important that I can’t reiterate it enough.
I thought that I could get away with it for a couple of years because I am young and fit and I thought I was invincible. If I had had financial protection, I would now be in a comfortable financial position with all my debts paid off and an income, which would have allowed me to take the time off to concentrate on getting better and then take some time out for myself to pause for breath after the roller coaster of a life that I have had for the past two and half years.
Instead, I have worried constantly about money and had to work throughout treatment when I felt like I wanted to curl up and die some days. I have had no break at all.
I have no excuse for not having cover, but like all of us, I thought it would never happen to me. It can and it does! So, I have decided to take this opportunity to grow my own business out of making sure that no woman has to suffer the stress that I have if they get a critical illness or are unable to work for another reason.
I have been lucky that I only had myself to think about, but what about children, who will help you with them if you feel too awful to get out of bed? How will your business survive? Who are your key people and how would your business cope without them for a year, while they go through treatment?
Thank you for reading and please get in touch with me so that I can ensure that your family and your business don’t suffer in the same way that I have had to. I can’t stop you from getting cancer, but I can stop you from having to deal with immense financial stress at an already incredibly stressful time.
I can be contacted by email at [email protected]