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A beginners’ guide to breast cancer diagnosis for younger women

Laura_Price
Friday, 25 January, 2013 - 18:48

‘Oh, but you’re so young!’It’s a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my breast cancer journey. Nobody expects a woman in her 20s to have breast cancer – after all, eight out of 10 cases are in women over 50, and only a tiny fraction are women under 35, or men. But every year, about 200 women under 30 are diagnosed with the disease.

Having breast cancer is an isolating experience, regardless of age, nationality or background. It’s no less easy for a 70-year-old than for a 25-year-old. Nevertheless, over the past seven months since my diagnosis at age 29, I have found that a lot of the support and guidance available is (understandably) catered towards older women, and doctors don’t necessarily take into account the needs of the pre-menopausal.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a few bits of advice from personal experience. Most of it is relevant to women of all ages, but I hope some of it will be particularly helpful to those few fellow women in their 20s and 30s who receive a diagnosis this year.

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Fertility

DO ask your oncologist for a referral to a fertility specialist immediately

Whether you haven’t even thought about having kids yet or you’ve already had them and want more, your fertility is likely to be affected by your cancer treatment. Fertility preservation won’t necessarily be an option for everyone, but it’s important to state your concerns early on, since oncologists won’t automatically bring this up. If you decide to undergo fertility treatment before you start chemotherapy, the process will take time, so the sooner your start, the better.

Emotional health and support

DO start a personal diary or blog

Writing a blog is a great way to connect with fellow cancer sufferers and can help stave off the feeling of isolation. It’s also a perfect way to keep all your family and friends posted on your journey when you’re too upset or exhausted to repeat the same words 100 times over the phone. If you’re not quite up to airing your thoughts in public, at least try writing a personal diary to keep all your thoughts in place.

DO find your cancer community

It can be tough to strike up friendships in the cancer ward when all you want to do is puke in a bucket and curl up in a ball. Your fellow patients also won’t necessarily be close to you in age, so online support networks are increasingly popular.

Through writing my blog, I soon found other blogs and joined Facebook cancer-support groups with women the same age as me, all over the world. These ‘virtual’ friendships have been fundamental to my coping. Breast Cancer Care also organises regular forums and events, including the Younger Women’s forum.

Physical appearance

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DON’T expect all your hair to fall our immediately

Despite what you may have seen in the movies, your hair probably won’t fall out all at once. It is likely to thin before it falls out completely, so you’ll have a bit of warning and some time to get used to being bald. You won’t necessarily lose all your eyebrows and eyelashes either – I lost about 80% of mine, but only in the final weeks of chemotherapy.

DO cut your hair short before chemo starts

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If you have long hair, I recommend cutting it short so the effect is less drastic when it does fall out, but shaving it off straight away can be too much of a shock. It will also feel less traumatic when you start pulling short strands out of your head, instead of very long ones.

DO ask about cold-cap therapy

You may have the option to wear a cold cap on your head during chemo to minimise hair loss. The cap is usually worn for several hours and can be very uncomfortable, but it may stop your hair falling out completely.

DO invest in one good wig before you lose your hair

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You will feel more confident about losing your hair if you have a wig to use as soon as it starts falling out.

I recommend Bloomsbury Wigs in London as they have a full range of wigs in stock and a discreet private room where you can try them. Continental Wigs are also great as they will post five wigs to you and you can try them on and just keep the ones you like.

DON’T buy lots of wigs before you lose your hair

You may find wigs look completely different on your bald head than they did when you tried them on with a full head of hair. You will probably also find them more uncomfortable when you wear them for several hours, so think twice about spending lots of money on them before your chemo even begins. One or two wigs is usually a good amount to start off with.

DO invest in new make-up for your eyelashes and brows

Although my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out several months after the rest of my hair, I found this had the biggest impact on my appearance. I recommend Benefit’s Browzings eyebrow make-up and any good eyeliner to create a less bald-eyed look!

DO take a ‘Look Good… Feel Better’ course

These are brilliant for boosting your self-esteem when cancer has knocked your confidence.

And just one final bit of advice until my next blog post…

DON’T suffer in silence

Cancer is an isolating experience, but you should never have to suffer through it alone. Ask for a Macmillan nurse, join as many support groups as you can, keep yourself busy and keep talking. Your friends and family won’t necessarily know what it feels like to have cancer, so the more open you can be, the better.

 

Laura also writes blogs for two other websites. You can read more from her at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/ or www.thebigscarycword.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bigscaryCword

You can also ‘Like’ her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BigScaryCWord

 

 

 

Comments

Re: A beginners’ guide to breast cancer diagnosis for ...

Laura, this is a BRILLIANT guide for anyone who is experiencing breast cancer. Like you, I discovered alot of these things by going through it myself 5 years ago but I also relied on fantastic advice like yours from a colleague at work who had been through breast cancer previously. I am now foing volunteer work for Breast Cancer Care for the Headstrong service, which is about alternative headwear to scarves. It wasn't available for me during my hair loss but something I would have definitely taken advantage of if I'd known about it.
I love reading the your blog entries and also Cheryl's - it's great that we are all so different so approaching our situations with both similar and alternative coping strategies.
I love all your wigs - the pink one is really goof fun! You also look amazing with no hair - I never looked that good but I had some funky scarves and 'reinvent myself' wigs.
Keep up your fantastic tips - look forward to your next blog entry
Jenny (fellow Vita blogger)

Re: A beginners’ guide to breast cancer diagnosis for ...

Laura, I'm with Jenny: Great suggestions, many of them just as good for older women. I thought of a bright pink wig as a mood-booster, but found scarves and hats were more comfortable. So my wig, which a lovely NHS supplier's fitter helped me choose, very like my hair colour and style about 15 years ago, is still sitting on its stand, scarcely worn and I had an excuse to buy a few new scarves, even though my scarf drawer was already crammed.
Look Good Feel Better came up towards the end of chemo and in some ways I'd have liked it earlier, but it was a lovely giggly afternoon and even those who don't normally wear make up, or not much of it, can learn how to care for their skin and how to look more like your old self or like a new self.
And the last one, don't suffer in silence, ought to be written everywhere--at home, in oncology clinics, at the GP's, and everywhere else.
Cheryl (the other other blogger)

Re: A beginners’ guide to breast cancer diagnosis for ...

Hi Cheryl, I only just saw your comment so I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner! Yeah I have all my wigs in my cupboard now as I stopped wearing them about a month ago. It was good to have them to fall back on! Glad you enjoyed the advice and I'm looking forward to your next blogs too!Best wishes, Laura

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