WAKING up on Christmas morning should be a joyous experience but for Janine Vickery it was the moment she’d been dreading.
Having started chemotherapy two weeks before, after being diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive aggressive breast cancer, the 37-year-old woke on December 25 last year to find thick strands of her long dark hair strewn across her pillow, having fallen out while she slept.
A month previously she’d mentioned a cyst in her left breast after attending a routine GP appointment to collect her prescription inhalers.
The mum-of-one, from Birmingham, was sent for a mammogram and a biopsy but medics assured her it was “nothing to worry about”.
A week later, while she was out Christmas shopping, doctors broke the devastating news that she breast cancer.
Janine waited a couple of weeks to find out if the cancer had spread and admitted she started “planning her funeral”.
Thankfully it was localised to her breast and she started chemotherapy as the festive period was getting into full swing.
She felt the effects on Christmas morning, when her hair fell out – and wore her wig for the first time at her family lunch.
Janine underwent a mastectomy in March 2018 and finally finished treatment in September 2018.
She is now a trained aesthetics practitioner who tattoos eyebrows and aims to help women going through chemotherapy.
Janine said: “My hair fell out within two weeks of starting chemo which was very hard to take, even worse as it started to fall out on Christmas Day.
“I woke up with hair all over my pillow and after I had a little cry in the shower, I put on my new wig and went around to my family’s house for Christmas lunch.
“After the initial shock we went on like normal and had a lovely day, even though I was really unwell.”
Janine told how the doctor said she seemed very anxious and didn’t know why she was worrying so much when she told him about the cyst and she’s had them in the past.
“He said if it made me feel better he would book an appointment at a breast clinic,” she went on.
Janine attended the clinic and received a mammogram and a week later she went for a biopsy and waited to get the results.
“The doctor said he was about 95 per cent certain it was a cyst and nothing to worry about. I was out shopping for presents when I got a call from the clinic to go and pick up my results.
“I didn’t think anything of it until the doctor started asking about my family’s health history – then I knew it was going to be bad.
“I was told I had a tumour and I was devastated – my world fell apart. I was utterly terrified and the first thing I thought was, ‘Am I going to die?’
“The doctor replied, ‘We all die Janice,’ which shocked me.
“I had lost a grandparent to cancer. This may sound very naive, but to me cancer was usually what older people get, not young women, especially not breast cancer.”
Janine is a single mum and lives at home with her daughter Abigail, 13.
She said: “Life was pretty hectic, I was taking an access course to hopefully continue on to university to become a nurse.
“I didn’t ever imagine something like this would happen to me. The hardest part was telling my daughter, but she was amazing.
“She told me we’d get through this – she was my rock.”
Before starting treatment in December 2017, doctors ran more tests to see if the cancer had spread.
“It was the hardest two weeks of my life,” Janine admitted.
“I even started planning my funeral. When the news came back it hadn’t spread I cried with relief and I started chemo four weeks later.
“It was tough going through it at that time of year but I have an amazing support system in my family around me.”
In the new year, Janine found out her chemotherapy wasn’t shrinking the tumour and it had grown from 2cm to 7cm.
She put her studies on hold and was scheduled for a mastectomy on her left breast in March 2018. Doctors also removed 15 infected lymph nodes.
“The first time I saw my naked body afterwards it really didn’t faze me, I thought I might cry but I didn’t, I was just relieved,” she said.
Signs you could have breast cancer
SIGNS you could have breast cancer include:
- a lump in the breast
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue
- an inverted nipple – that’s turned inwards
- a rash on the nipple – that looks like eczema
- discharge from the nipple
- swelling or lump in the armpit
- pain or discomfort in the breast that won’t go away
“I found things that kept me strong and looking good made a big difference. Even on chemo you can get your eyebrows tattooed, so that’s what I did and I’m so glad.
“If you’ve got to suffer this awful journey then why not keep your head up and look glamorous?”
Two months after surgery Janine was back on a different chemotherapy and finally finished her the nine rounds of treatment in the September 2018.
She said: “My life is going in a different direction and I’ve trained to be aesthetics practitioner with Sata Training School and Jo Taroni at Shapers.
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“My aim is to help other women with cancer look and feel great even when they’re struggling.
“I had to dig deep at times and keep mentally strong – cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end. You can still reach your goals and dreams.”
One in eight women across the nation develops the disease in their lifetime and experts advise that women should check their breasts each month for signs of cancer, starting in their 20s.