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Personal Stories

Breast cancer made me feel like I had to rebuild myself

During her recovery from breast cancer treatment, Angela decided to write Rebel Boob, a show about the real-life experiences of women with breast cancer.

I felt a lot of emotion 

I didn’t have a good experience with my diagnosis. It took several weeks, and when I got the news that I had breast cancer, I was in shock. I spent the first three days afterwards sitting on my couch watching Friends. I just needed something to distract me.  

When I’m in those situations – any kind of trauma or stress – I troubleshoot. I want to know all the details, all the possibilities, even if they’re not going to happen. I started researching, which gave me some control and power over what was happening.  

I would flip between being positive and then feeling that I was going to die. There was a lot of emotion. 

Feeling uncertain was the worst part 

I wasn’t always in a bad place. I was more anxious leading up to my diagnosis when I wasn’t sure what was happening than when I knew I had cancer. 

I decided to have my treatment in Greece, where I used to live, so I flew out there almost immediately for surgery. I had a mastectomy, fertility treatment and four rounds of chemotherapy.  

Connecting with others helped me a lot 

All the services I connected with post-treatment have been brilliant. All the support has been amazing – but, at the beginning, I felt completely lost.  

Thankfully, I found one person to reach out to through Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me service. She gave me a lot of amazing support, it made me feel so much better. I felt relieved. 

What helped me was finding women who had been through it and come out the other side. It made me feel like it was possible for me to do the same. 

The misconceptions about cancer affected me 

There are a lot of misconceptions and myths about breast cancer. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do Rebel Boob. 

For example, I didn’t have any symptoms at the time of my diagnosis. I only found out I had cancer through a mammogram

Then there’s the notion that breast cancer is always fatal. When you hear cancer, you just think, ‘that’s it’. I went through a paranoid phase where I thought I was only being told it was treatable so I didn’t flip out completely. 

People tend to go online and talk about their breast cancer when they’re not having a good experience. There are far more negative accounts online than there are positive ones. In a way, that’s a good thing – because it shows that, when people move on and they’re having a good time, they put it behind them. But it also leaves people with a lack of information and support. 

Cancer is a near-death experience 

When I was having chemotherapy, I started thinking creatively. I initially wanted to write a stand-up comedy, because a lot of what was happening to me was, in a way, hilarious: the way people reacted to me, what was happening to my body. 

When I finished treatment, I felt like I was grieving. Even though I was relieved, all my emotions caught up with me. My husband put it best when he said that it was normal for me to feel this way, as I had had a near-death experience – only one that happened in slow-motion. 

Rebel Boob is for everyone 

During my recovery, I met other amazing women who had been through the same thing, and I realised we all had stories. From the outset, we may have looked similar, but all our experiences were different. And I wanted those stories to be told – not just for us, but for other people who have all these misconceptions about breast cancer.  

Rebel Boob is about defying those misconceptions and how cancer changed our lives. 

I know women who, after their treatment, have left their partners. Others who have moved to a different country or quit their jobs. Personally, I went to university to study ceramics, which I’ve always wanted to do. It made me think: what if everyone lived like this, diagnosis or no diagnosis? 

I want my audience not to have to experience what I have to appreciate that we ought to live our lives thinking about what we want to do, rather than what we should be doing. 

I have rebuilt myself 

Since my initial diagnosis, I found out I have an altered PALB2 gene, which means I am at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. As a result, I am going to get a mastectomy on my other breast.  

I’ve dealt with all this by taking baby steps. A friend once told me that the next five minutes are the most important time of your life, and so I’ve gone by that. It’s all about taking it slowly. 

Breast cancer has made me feel like I have had to rebuild myself and my life. Even though it was horrible, a lot of good has come out of it, too. I now feel like I really appreciate what is important in my life.

You can find out more about Angela and her show, Rebel Boob, on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. If you would like to attend the show, it will be playing at the Cockpit Theatre in London between 23 and 27 February 2022.

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