Breast cancer has stopped my life

A true story told by Itsaso.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 1.38 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, making it the most common disease in women worldwide.

Although breast cancer is without doubt one of the most common women’s diseases, it can also affect men. According to American studies, it affects 1% of them. It is a malignant tumour that develops when tumour cells appear in the glandular tissue of the breast and attack the healthy tissue around it.

The possible causes of this type of cancer are still largely unknown, according to the Spanish Cancer Society (AECC). Family history, age and lifestyle are not enough to determine the exact causes of the cancer.

Having to deal with a cancer diagnosis is one of the most feared experiences of the female population. Itsaso, a patient of our clinic in Donostia, has been very courageous in dealing with it, like all women affected. We wanted to talk to her and have her tell us in her own words how important it was for her to know that when it was all over she could still become a mother.

As many already know, early diagnosis is of great importance in the fight against the disease. This was also the case with Itsaso, who went to the gynaecologist after noticing a lump in her breast, and shortly afterwards the news that stopped her life: she had breast cancer.

Did you notice that something was wrong? How was the breast cancer detected?

At that time my body was very strange to me and although I understood afterwards that it had been sending me signals in the months before the diagnosis, I could not interpret them at that time.

In October I had a gynaecological examination which did not reveal anything unusual, but after a month I noticed a lump and went back to the gynaecologist. From there I was referred directly to the hospital and had a biopsy which was positive. Waiting for the results of the biopsy was very hard.

After the initial diagnosis, a series of tests were arranged for me with the utmost urgency to determine the extent of the problem.

What did you think when you heard the diagnosis?

It was very difficult and my world collapsed. At first I went through a state of denial, I could not believe that this happened to me at such a young age. All my plans for the future were about to fail (some for the immediate future, like becoming a mother).

I felt very scared and I didn’t know how to tell my mother because I thought it would be negative, so I hadn’t even told her that I had had a biopsy.

How did you live the following days after the result?

With a lot of sadness, fear and worry. They were very difficult days, where I had to face my fears every time I wanted to do a test. Everything hung in the air, I didn’t know what would happen to me, and at work I didn’t want to say anything until I knew something more concrete… I really felt as if someone in my life had pressed the pause button. Life for the rest of the world was as usual, but my life had stopped.

My sister convinced me to seek professional help by going to a psychotherapist and to the Katxalin Association for women with gynaecological diseases and breast cancer.

As soon as I accepted the situation and knew the extent of the disease, I decided on a treatment and the centre where I wanted to do it. At that moment I decided to fight for it with all my strength, to come out of it healed and strengthened, not only for me but for the people I love most.

What is it like to have to share this news with your loved ones?

It is very difficult, because if you explain it in your own words, you become more and more aware that it is really happening and that it is not a nightmare to wake up from. Besides, in many cases I had to comfort the people I told.

Although I knew I was strong, I felt very vulnerable, so the moment I told it, I put up some kind of shield to beat it as an objective fact.

I also had the support of those closest to me to tell the rest of my loved ones.

Did you want to become a mother?

Yes for sure. It has always been my dream and when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my partner and I were in the process of planning it for the near future.

The doctor who diagnosed me with breast cancer had no regard for my desire to have children and told me to forget about it because it was not possible. However, I did get a second opinion and was offered a treatment that would allow me to realise my dream of motherhood after a reasonable period of time. So I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to try.

Have you received any advice on your chances of becoming a mother in the future?

In the centre where I was treated for my illness, I was told from the beginning about the possibility of becoming a mother in the future, and that was really very encouraging for me, because they told me implicitly that they knew that I would come out of this illness and be cured.

When did you make the decision to preserve your fertility?

Before I started chemotherapy, I carried out ovarian stimulation to preserve my eggs before they were damaged by the chemotherapy. The gynaecologist who guided me through the process was charming, very human and gave me a lot of self-confidence.

It wasn’t easy for me to decide to preserve my fertility because I was diagnosed with hormone-dependent breast cancer and the stimulation of the ovaries worked against my health (the disease spread); this caused a lot of anxiety, tachycardia and insomnia; maybe I really didn’t suffer physically from the symptoms, but my anxiety had me completely under control. However, I knew that I would regret it later if I did not keep my eggs, because in the end it meant a life insurance policy, another chance to become a mother. And if it didn’t succeed naturally, I would always be able to donate them to someone who needed them.

Now that I have almost finished hormone therapy and can finally start thinking about motherhood, I am glad that you were brave and encouraged me to do it.

Emotional support is very important to overcome any illness. How was it in your case?

Emotional support is the key to overcoming any illness and especially illnesses that make life difficult, but it is also very important what attitude you take towards life, even in such precipitations.

My mother was crucial for me, because she accompanied me throughout the healing process, either by taking care of me or simply by being there. My sister was also a very important person in the healing process; she accompanied me on the path of my personal development and explored the deep reasons that led to my becoming ill, in order to resolve them and heal me forever. My partner, although he did not always know how to behave, was always by my side, cared for my self-esteem and gave me the strength to think positively about my future and our life project together.

Today, many women continue to fight against breast cancer. To defeat cancer, it is very important to surround yourself with people who support you emotionally and with professionals who empathise with your personal situation.  When Itsaso has finished her hormone therapy, she will go to the IVF centre in Donostia in the Basque Country so that together we can realise her life project.