I'd just given birth to triplets and put odd changes down to hormones – it was cancer | The Sun
EMMA Campbell says breast cancer was “the last thing on her mind” when she’d just given birth to triplets, aged 39 in 2010.
She put the odd changes she experienced down to hormones or blocked milk ducts from breastfeeding, but she in fact had breast cancer.
Little did the single mum-of-four know that the course of the rest of her life was set to change.
Now 52, the podcastcaster (Open with Emma Campbell) speaks about her journey with the disease, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.
Emma, author of All That Followed, said: “I’d just turned 39. It was 2010 and I’d given birth to triplets six months earlier.
“There was no history of cancer in my family and having spent the last few years dealing with secondary infertility, IVF and then adjusting to life as a single parent to four, the last thing on my mind was breast cancer.
“Years earlier I’d had a lump investigated but was reassured that it was nothing to worry about.
“I was busy, life was full of distractions, the lump remained unchanged, time ticked by and I gave it less and less thought.”
Emma adds: “I became aware of new changes in my breast in the weeks and months following the birth of the babies.”
A lump is the most well-known symptom of breast cancer, but there are in fact half a dozen more.
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Emma was not aware – but she says she was in “denial” that something could be wrong.
She said: “The skin on my breast was puckered and my nipple had become inverted but, knowing as little as I did about the other symptoms of breast cancer, it felt reasonable to think that those changes might be due to blocked milk ducts from feeding.
"Or post pregnancy fluctuating hormones. Or, even the weight loss from endless adrenaline fuelled days and sleep deprived nights.
“Denial. It’s always been one of my superpowers.
When Emma did push herself to get checked out, her “worst fears were confirmed”.
“That initial primary diagnosis of invasive breast cancer was absolutely terrifying.”
Almost 56,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. Some 11,500 die occur every year.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK.
'I wanted to just be mum'
Emma said: “Despite the love and support of friends and family, the sense of isolation and desperation was all-consuming.
“It was as though I was watching the rest of the world through a glass screen.”
A single mum, the weight of the world was on Emma’s shoulders.
She said: “Pushing a giant, triple buggy around the local park or high street, my eldest son zooming alongside on his scooter and me with a scarf or hat covering my bald head and my face a deathly shade of pale – I got used to the stares and furtive glances from passers-by, often feeling like we were a walking local attraction.
“To be honest, that was the least of my worries – staying alive was all I could think about.
“I’d stare at other parents and ache with a deep longing for the privilege of ‘just being mum.’
“Those early years were mostly bleak and that’s a grief I still struggle with today, along with the lingering guilt for not being emotionally present during many of those mundane and magical moments that mothering multiples gifted me.”
Sadly Emma’s cancer returned after treatment, but she’s grateful for being alive.
She received a secondary diagnosis in 2014 and a further recurrence in 2019.
Emma said: “My eldest son is twenty and the triplets are nearly fourteen. I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am, despite being on treatment for life.”
Of the 56,000 breast cancer cases each year in the UK, some 10,000 are in women under the age of 50.
Recent research has suggested that cancer cases are increasing in younger people.
A landmark study by the University of Edinburgh recently showed rates of all cancers in under-50s have surged 79 per cent in the last three decades.
The Sun’s columnist and inspirational campaigner Dame Deborah James died last year aged 40 — five-and-a-half years after being diagnosed with bowel cancer at 35.
Last month, influencer Nicky Newman died of the disease at the age of just 35, having been diagnosed at 30. She shared her journey of living with cancer, inspiring her followers to “go grab life”.
Too many taken young
Emma was close friends with both, and said: “Nicky Newman, our gorgeous mutual friend and an enormously loved part of the online cancer community, was just 35 when she died two weeks ago – five years after her initial diagnosis.
“Of course, I’m not one of the ‘young ones’ anymore but I was at diagnosis and I can feel the anger rising amongst those of us who are are at an emotional breaking point.
“Barely acknowledging the deep-rooted trauma we feel as a result of navigating the seemingly endless grief of losing those we love whilst managing the fears we have for our own uncertain futures.
“Why are our social media feeds increasingly filled with the wrinkle-free but strained faces of young people doing their very best to ‘seize life’ between three monthly scans or three weekly chemo?
“Why are so many broken-hearted emojis flying up towards the top of our screens as we read, via an Instagram story, about the loss of another young person in their prime?
“It’s easy to glance over at glossy images, smiling faces, cake bakes, glitter and the various shades of pink that sometimes show cancer in what seems like a manageable light.
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“At best, living with cancer is manageable, some of the time. At worst, it cuts precious lives devastatingly short and when those lives are as young as Nicky, Deborah and so many others, surely enough really is enough?
“The shocking truth is that for those of us living in ‘that’ world – losing friends, saying our goodbyes, attending funerals one day and a christening the next, has become a strange kind of normal but it’s not normal. Far from it."
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