How Sonia battled breast cancer
Sonia Patton (46), from Bready, Strabane, is receiving treatment for breast cancer. She is married to Michael (47) and they have three daughters, Molly (16), Eve (6) and Alice (4). A volunteer with Cancer Focus NI, she held a Girls’ Night In and raised a bumper £3,018 for the vital breast cancer research we fund at QUB. She says:
“Back in August/September last year (2013), I was constantly feeling unwell, fluey, tired and run down, not like myself at all. I was going home in the evening and falling asleep on the sofa, sleeping all night and falling asleep at my desk at work by lunchtime.
“I went through a battery of tests at the doctors and saw a nutritionist. It was one thing after another with my bladder, bowels and back.
“After many visits, I eventually asked my doctor to check a spongy mass of tissue at bottom of my breast, which had become painful over the previous three or four weeks. She thought it was a cyst but fast-tracked me for a mammogram and scan at Altnagelvin in December.
“The radiographer said he was 99% sure it was a benign cyst but took a biopsy anyway. With Christmas coming up he asked me to ring back on December 27 for the results. The breast care nurse rang me that morning to say the consultant would like to see me. It was at that point that I realised it was something serious.
“My husband and I knew something was wrong because of the way people were dealing with me. The breast surgeon put her hand on my knee and asked if I was ok. I felt physically sick.
“The consultant confirmed I had a tumour and that I’d need an immediate mastectomy. It was a whirlwind – nothing seemed real. I couldn’t consider having a breast removed without some form of reconstruction. I knew the treatment would mean losing my hair and eyebrows, it was like losing my identity as a woman.
Rollercoaster of emotion
“From there it escalated. The breast surgeon saw me very quickly – she said there was a chance I wouldn’t have to have a mastectomy, but after the lumps were removed in January it was discovered I still had high grade cancer cells and I’d have to have the operation after all.
“I had six session of chemotherapy between February and May. It was a horrendous time, one of the low points, as I reacted very badly to the treatment. During the first session I developed cellulitis in my arm, and during the second I was really unwell with phlebitis.
“The third time I became very sick and dehydrated and had to spend four days in hospital and I also developed deep vein thrombosis. At this stage I felt I couldn’t go through with it, but of course you do. Finally on May 29 we celebrated the last chemo session.Things started to get okay after that – not that it got easier but I knew what to expect.
“On July 10 had the mastectomy and reconstruction. I had skin taken from my stomach for the reconstruction (or a tram flap), and there was a lot of toing and froing from hospital as I had problems with my wounds not healing.
“That was when I was at my weakest but Molly and my family were all a tremendous support. It’s been very full on for Michael too, he’s been amazing.
“As soon as everything was healed, my radiotherapy started on September 1. I finished on October 3 – it’s a great feeling.
Telling the family
“I have a young family and one of the most difficult things was deciding how to talk to them. My 16-year- old was very worried about me and was worried this could happen to her. The little ones were upset seeing their mum so sick, it was very unsettling for them.
“The girls missed me as I was staying overnight in Belfast a lot – I couldn’t manage the travelling every day. Molly did her GCSEs in the middle of it all and I was concerned about the impact this would have on her, but she did really well and I’m so proud she was able to deal with it all. I can really see her growing up.
Getting back to normal
“I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal family life, being home with the kids. For me now dealing with the fatigue is tough. I’ve started herceptin and also hormone therapy, which unfortunately has catapulted me into the menopause. That’s a bit of a struggle but something I’ll just have to come to terms with.
“The next thing will be genetic testing as a number of the women in my extended family have had breast cancer – and there are all lot of girls in the next generation to look out for.
“But hopefully I’ve turned a corner and I couldn’t have done that without all the support I’ve had from family, friends, medical staff and others – thank you all so much.”