Introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from) - What was your life like before your cancer diagnosis?
Hi, my name is Sam Wickins, I have two kids – boy (22) and a 16yr old daughter, I have a partner, Gary. We had just moved into our new house, work was busy, spending my time between work and the gym. I was pretty active – spent 6 days a week in the week. Spent weekends with the family going out for meals, cinema – usual family stuff. I work as a Civil Engineer for a large construction company in the UK and it’s pretty full on. The pandemic has slowed my pace down with traveling but I was carrying on working from home. Not my ideal situation as I like to visit sites and see people but I was working and that I was grateful for.
Bring us along your journey – when were you diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction?
We had made the decision to start trying for a family, and I had noticed this lump for years. Didn’t do anything about it and kept seeing if it was still there and then just forget about it, check again – yep it is and carry on as usual. I then decided as we were trying to get it checked out – I mean I was not feeling unwell, so it couldn’t be anything as I was fit and healthy and surely if it was something it would get bigger etc. So on New Years Eve 2020 I went to the doctor for a check up – I mean we couldn’t go out as we were in lock down so it didn’t spoil any plans. Also we had just spent the Christmas holidays in lock down so why not go to the doctors. He didn’t think it was anything – but would organize a check up at the breast clinic and they make take a mammogram or ultrasound and have a look. So I waited for the date, had the mammogram, then a ultrasound and they did decide to take a biopsy of the lump. The women who was doing the biopsy even said it didn’t look like a cancer tumor – so that to me was like “ oh thank god”. And then we waited, that was the hardest part, friends, family who knew I had been for this was rolling off statistics of breast cancer under 40, how common lumps were but not hat it was nothing.
I got a text to say that I had an appoint at the hospital to see the breast surgeon on the 1st feb 2021. I rang them and was like what’s this about , is it good news. Again I had others telling me that it was fine and that he would just be telling me I was ok.
On the 1st feb 2021 I was diagnosed with Grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. Oestrogen and Progesterone receptor positive breast cancer, tests showed that my nodes were clear but that they would take a sample when I made the decision on what operation I would have.
After the surgeon told me those words “ I’m so sorry it’s breast cancer” I felt like I had left my body, this was not happening, this was not the plan, I worked and I was active and I was never ill, we were planning for kids and this was not happening. I just sat in that room with tears rolling down my face, Gary sat next me asking questions and I couldn’t speak.
I had choices to make – go for a lumpectomy or mastectomy, I could only nod my head. There was a nurse in with him and she offered me tissues, we had to wear masks and I could feel myself getting hotter and more uncomfortable- I don’t want to be in here. I want to leave. The surgeon kept talking and I just stared out the window. Nothing was going in, I could hear voices but they weren’t talking to me. We left and I was dumbstruck, couldn’t talk, couldn’t make a sound.
We came home, I text my boss that I wouldn’t be back at work, rang my mum who lives in America, she just cried and that was it – I couldn’t stop. I text my dad and sister and then remember spending two weeks off work of just getting up, watching crap on telly and not wanting to talk to anyone. It was a blur – it was just like this is not happening.
Then all the scans, blood tests started to come through. I am very lucky we had private health care so the operation for the lumpectomy was scheduled for March. I had to have a CT scan and MRI scan before to check that the cancer hadn’t spread. Those two weeks were the hardest, even harder then receiving the cancer news because of it has spread them everything changes – the outlook etc! Anyway we got the all clear. There was no sign of cancer in my body apart from where we knew it was. Thank god – one thing I have learnt through this whole journey is take the positives – abs this was pretty good positive!
So the operation was in March and it went well. We had to wait for the the results – again for the results but they came back within two weeks. I had healed well and the surgeon was happy. But the news both good and bad. The good news is that he had taken the tumor out and got it all out. Positive!!! But the lymph node sample had shown that it was found in the lymph node – which meant that I had to go back in and have another operation – to remove all my lymph nodes. I didn’t want that- it meant that the cancer had spread –
So the operation to remove the lymph nodes was booked in for April 2021 again the surgeon was great and he removed 11 nodes and tests showed that 4 had cancer in them.
So because of that the plan had changed – I had to have chemo and extra sessions of radiotherapy- again this wasn’t the plan – I didn’t want to lose my hair, I don’t want to have this poison in me – which I know will save my life but this wasn’t part of the diagnosis!! I’m not even a hair person – I wear a hard hat all day lol or put it in a pony tail but I didn’t want to loose my hair, I didn’t want to look ill. I didn’t want to stop work or stop going to the gym. This was not fair!
What was your first chemotherapy treatment like? What treatment/treatments did you or are currently undergoing?
I start chemo on the 12th July 2021 and I’m nervous. I have 6 doses spread over every 3 weeks for a 3 hour session. I’m nervous, apprehensive – I know that I need it but I don’t want it. If that makes sense – when ever you hear any one talk about chemo is always sounds so bad , I’m sure it is, but I’m hoping that I can’t find a positive out of it, I’ve cut my hair short to take into account that it will fall out – that helped a lot – being in control of something that you are not in control of in the cancer journey means a lot.
One bit of advice – if you can do anything to feel in control during this – do it!
Who did you turn to as your support system?
My support system has been great, my OH – Gary has been fantastic and I couldn’t do this without him, my kids have been good, I think everyone hears cancer and that your going to die – so it’s been hard to reassure them that I’m not dying – even if I think about it every day and that every ache could mean it’s spread or every headache is now brain cancer. I hear that gets easier to deal with- I hope so- it’s a very lonely journey living with cancer. My family have been great, friends so supportive but if you haven’t heard those words yourself you really have no idea. I talk to a charity Breast cancer now and I talk to a lady who has had the same treatment ( she has had her lymph nodes removed) and she is a great help, it’s just so good to talk to someone who knows the dark places you go too or just to rant too. My work have been great and that has really helped, I’ve started going back to the gym and understanding that it will take time to get back to where I was but I need it for my mental health. Now more then ever.