Theatre nurse Tricia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. She shares her journey from diagnosis to recovery, diet tips for cancer patients, and why she’s a Cancer Survivor Champion.
I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in March 2019. How I found the lump so early was quite by fluke. I wasn’t looking for it as I had no symptoms, no pain, no breast or nipple defects, and no family history of cancer. I had simply dropped a bit of food down my top and I was fishing around in my bosom when I found a hard, obvious lump on my breast, the width of two fingers across.
I was shocked so I saw my GP and was told that it looked like a cyst, but was referred to hospital just to make sure. I had a mammogram, ultrasound and MRI scan, and was called back for my results the following week.
When I walked into the consulting room, a Macmillan nurse was already there but I still didn’t register that I had breast cancer.
When they told me about the cancer diagnosis I still didn’t process it. I sat there in silence for a while, then I blurted out, “Just take the breast off!” – I think they were surprised by my reaction! I didn’t want to go through a series of painful lumpectomies, only to have a mastectomy anyway. I have seen this happen before in my job.
Going through some difficult experiences – as well as the lack of advice for healthy eating after surgery and during recovery – is what has inspired me to become a World Cancer Research Fund Cancer Survivor Champion.
Someone like me with my medical knowledge, knows how procedures and post-operative ward care should be, but what about everyone else? So I want to be able to offer that extra help to others.
Once I got home after my surgery to the house I share with my mother, I was very tired indeed, I had no energy at all. My biggest challenge was pain control during the first month, and of course, pain affects your appetite.
Although we have always eaten healthily as a family, I found it hard to eat generous portions in those first few weeks. Small portions are all you can eat after any surgery so I just tried to eat as much as I could, as often as I could to keep my strength, and my spirits, up.
As my mother is on dialysis, we’ve always watched what we are eating at home. With every meal I have more vegetables than anything else – I love corn, sweet potato, butternut squash, brown lentils, tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers, beetroot, olives, peas and beansprouts in particular.
I also make my own fruit salads with pink grapefruit, black and white grapes, kiwi, oranges, pears and apples.
Always try to make your meals as balanced, varied and colourful as possible! Don’t get fed up by limiting your options. Try new things – ginger and turmeric are wonderful and very healthy, and can be added to most meals.
I also love roasting vegetables in olive or avocado oil, which makes them really tasty, and dhal is very healthy as a meal in itself.
I believe that sourcing good ingredients and eating homemade food is not only physically healthy, but also therapeutic. It certainly helped with my recovery, particularly as the Tamoxifen [a breast cancer drug] has brought on early menopause so it’s even more vital than ever that I stay strong and well.
If one good thing has come out of this experience, I feel that it’s being here to share my story. I first shared it in Mass at my church, and now with World Cancer Research Fund. With regards to someone who’s on this journey now or to someone who’s walking beside them on theirs, all I can say to them is that they are not alone.