“The chemo nurses at Burton are like earth angels” Breast cancer patient praises UHDB staff for providing excellent care | Latest news

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“The chemo nurses at Burton are like earth angels” Breast cancer patient praises UHDB staff for providing excellent care

Laura Wilson

A patient at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, is raising awareness on World Cancer Day on how the disease can affect anyone, of any gender and any age.

World Cancer Day is an international day marked on 4 February to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.

Laura Wilson, age 40, from Lichfield, whose mother also had breast cancer, was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer. She started to notice that things weren’t right when she became aware of a pain in her breast.

She said: “I have always been fairly vigilant with self-checking my breasts as my mum had breast cancer – she always drummed into me that I needed to be aware of the signs and symptoms.

“When I first had this pain, I went to my GP and at first they told me it was nothing to worry about. This pain persisted and spread to under my armpit, and I also discovered a lump in my breast, I went back to my GP and that’s when I was referred to the Breast Clinic at Queen’s Hospital Burton in November 2020.”

In January 2021, Laura had a mastectomy and a sentinel node biopsy at Royal Derby Hospital. She said: “The staff at Royal Derby were amazing. There was a few complications with my surgery and I cried at them many times. They sat and listened to me and stroked my arms/legs and reassured me. Our NHS are marvellous.”

After the surgery, Laura began her chemotherapy at Queen’s Hospital Burton, she said: “I did feel pretty nervous about having chemo, but luckily not overwhelmingly so. As soon as I walked into the chemo unit, the nurses put me at ease. They have an incredible skill at doing that don’t they? The chemo nurses at Burton are like earth angels – they really are fantastic!

“Before having my chemo, I had to have my zoladex injection which “put my ovaries to sleep” – this limited the amount of oestrogen being produced and tried to stop my cancer from coming back and protected my ovaries from the chemo drugs.

“After the injection, I tried out the cold cap. I was more anxious about getting a good fit as if you get it wrong, it reduces its efficacy. I was incredibly scared about losing my hair – but when I did, it was just something I had to accept was happening.”

“The first chemo drug that I had was Epirubicin which is bright red. This is the more toxic of the two. It was manually administered by the nurse which was nice as she was lovely and chatty. And then I had Cyclophosphamide which is clear. Again, administered through a cannula by a nurse. I felt absolutely fine as it was going in. The only sensation I had was during the final cooling time of the cold cap (you have to wear it for 45 mins before treatment, during and then 90 mins afterwards). But the nurse reassured me and told me to try and sleep and have a hot drink. It did the trick and managed to go through with it in the end, but I won’t lie, it was tough!”

Laura had two lots of chemotherapy, and by the end of her second round, she had started running again and with this, started to fundraise for the Breast Cancer Now Charity.

Following the chemotherapy, Laura had five fractions of radiotherapy throughout November 2021, she said: “A couple of weeks after my radiotherapy, I started to feel like my normal self again, and in January 2022 I started my phased return to work which is a monumental milestone.

“I felt quite nervous to return to work – I’m an Assistant Headteacher and I was wondering whether the students would remember who I was as I look so different, and I haven’t been in school for almost a year, would my brain still work, can I cope physically with the fast pace, high intensity of my role?

“I have loved being back in school. It’s been wonderful to see the students and they have seemed happy to see me. My colleagues have made me feel so welcome and it’s been good for my emotional recovery to be back doing something that I love, and something that has no links whatsoever to cancer. I am finding the physical demands of the job absolutely fine which is a huge relief.

“Mentally, there is some way to go. My brain is slower and I’m finding it hard to concentrate but I’m sure it will come back. This is why a phased return is so important. It would be so easy to rush straight back but slow and steady wins the race and I need to be patient.”

Throughout her treatment, Laura set up an Instagram account, @breastcancerandlittleoldme, to document her journey and connect with others who were going through similar. She said: “I wasn’t sure initially whether to go public with my cancer journey and share it on Instagram because of my job, however people started to follow me because they were genuinely interested in my journey – this was fantastic and really helped me to feel less alone.

“When you start to lose your hair, this is nothing that anyone can say that makes you feel better about the situation, however just being connected with people who understood what I was going through was a really great support.

“If my Instagram account can help just one other person go and check themselves or go and get something looked at that they’re worried about, then its been totally worth setting it all up.”

Get more information on breast cancer and support (opens in new window) >

Symptoms that you need to look out for include:

  • a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit
  • changes on the surface of the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • any changes in colour, shape or size of the breast or breast pain not associated with monthly periods
  • discharge from the nipple
  • a change to the nipple itself such as the nipple becoming inverted