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Carole - Interview 39

Age at interview: 71
Age at diagnosis: 55
Brief Outline: Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago. She received a partial mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She also received tamoxifen, which gave her severe side effects and menopausal symptoms. Nowadays, she feels physically and emotionally well.
Background: Carole is a retired teacher, and married. She has a son and a daughter. Ethnic Background: White British.

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Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago. She received a partial mastectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatment. Carole had originally been on tamoxifen, which was making her feel unwell and experience very severe menopause symptoms, including hot flushes and night sweats. It really affected her life at the time, and she experienced depression due to the side effects of tamoxifen and hormonal problems caused by the original cancer. Someone suggested an alternative tablet which was not oestrogen based which she asked her doctor to prescribe instead, and it really changed her life. She doesn’t think that the radiotherapy or chemotherapy has given her any long-term effects. 
 
She joined a social group of other people with breast cancer, and they used to meet up every fortnight. She found it especially helpful as they were all going through a similar experience, and it was someone in this group who suggested the alternative to tamoxifen. 
 
Nowadays, she feels perfectly healthy and recovered physically and emotionally. She does think that having cancer affected her relationship with her husband, as he was very anxious when she was first diagnosed, and because she was experiencing depression as a result of the tamoxifen treatment. It took some time for them to work their way back to their former relationship. 
 
Carole continued to see her cancer consultant for 10 years, which she feels was an appropriate length of follow up for her. It was a chance to get a physical check and to discuss any worries about the cancer coming back. She thinks that perhaps a yearly checkup at her GP clinic might be helpful for cancer survivors just to make sure everything is ok. 
 
Her message to other people going through cancer is to always ask for help, to not keep things buried, and if you’re not happy with your care to say something about it. Also, she thinks it is important to keep your family involved, and not to be ashamed to have cancer. 

 

 

Carole experienced frequent hot flushes and night sweats while taking tamoxifen for breast cancer...

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Carole experienced frequent hot flushes and night sweats while taking tamoxifen for breast cancer...

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Sounds like it was a really hard time to sort of get through that.
 
It was because it affected, it’s awful. It affects everything. You see, I was having extremely powerful flushing every, three times an hour, every twenty minutes, and so much that often the perspiration would run down the backs of my legs into my shoes. You know, it was, it was really, really. And then after that passes you get this icy cold feeling that has to, you know, is as the perspiration, I suppose, as that all fades away and cools down, and at night, at night it was dreadful because I was just awake. I couldn’t get a good decent deep sleep. So I think this is how, you know, really I got out of, and it affected me without me realising it, I’d become very moody and irritable and…
 
But looking back on it, you know, it seemed, at the time, it seemed to be a long haul but when I look back on it I think that really it was a much shorter time than it felt, because I think by 1998 I was more or less back to normal, picked up the pieces and I was fine again. So I would say, maybe three years at the most that I was, by that time, I was still continued, you know, I’d stopped the tamoxifen but I still had a, you know, really rotten menopause, but by that time I was able to, it was controlled enough for me to be able to manage it. I still get hot flushes and night sweats. I said to the doctor once, “How long will this be?” And she said, “Well.” She said, “It’s different for each.” She said, “I’ve known women” - I was about sixty two or three at the time - she said, “I’ve know women who are still having hot flushes at seventy.” So I, “Ha ha ha.” I’m seventy one next month, so…
 
So I often think back to that, her saying to me, “Well, I have known women of seventy.” And I thought, “Oh, when will it end?” But it’s manageable now. I can wake up at night and fling off the covers and open the window and go back to sleep. 

 

 

Carole had breast cancer 16 years ago and agrees that she is a ‘cancer survivor’ but says she...

Carole had breast cancer 16 years ago and agrees that she is a ‘cancer survivor’ but says she...

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And I know, I mean we’ve been talking about, you know, cancer survivors and, what do you think of that term and do you agree with that term of cancer survivors? Do you think it’s a good description of people living past?
 
Well, yes, it’s graphic. It’s to the point. I can’t think of anything to substitute but I as a cancer survivor, I think it’s, yeah, it’s a bit unique, so in that respect, yeah, I am, I’m a cancer survivor. Again, thankfully, but I do think it does probably make me a bit different in lots of ways, attitudes and yeah, I see what you mean about the words cancer survivor. 
 
I hadn’t really, I don’t think I would say to anybody, “I’m a cancer survivor”. I think if somebody says it to me I’ll agree, “Yes, I am”. But I don’t think I’d actually use the words if I’m talking to other people. I just say, you know, “I’m fully recovered”. That’s all.

 

 

Carole developed depression after her breast cancer, which altered her behaviour towards her...

Carole developed depression after her breast cancer, which altered her behaviour towards her...

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And what about your husband? Do you think that having had cancer affected your relationship with him?
 
It did. He was a bit shattered and at times didn’t really know how to deal with it. He wouldn’t go to any men’s groups or counselling or that sort of thing. He just didn’t, he would insist that he didn’t need it, but I think it did, you know, he was anxious. And when I was going through the struggle with the depression and he couldn’t deal with it at all, he didn’t know what was wrong. It was only when my daughter came home and said, that he sort of began to understand. He thought that my attitude to him had changed, and I wasn’t aware of if it had. I mean there were times when I just wanted to run away from him. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t want to speak to him. I didn’t want him around me. Looking back on it, you know, afterwards I thought, “Well, why didn’t I ring, you know, why didn’t I do something about it then?” But I just thought that, I think it may have been that I thought that he wasn’t reacting to me, that he wasn’t understanding me the way I thought he should, and it wasn’t that at all. 
 
It was just this awful, so afterwards I would say it took a while for us to work back to our former relationship, I’m sure of it. You know, now that I think about it, it did take a while and a lot of reassuring on my, of me reassuring him that it had, you know, that it wasn’t anything, that it wasn’t really me. Some husbands deal with, just looking, you know, from my experience some husbands deal with it very well and then others, obviously, it happens in life doesn’t it, others can’t cope with it at all. But my husband was very supportive in our decisions that had to be made, you know. 

 

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