In Conversation with Holly Worthington
In decication to a cause close to our hearts, this month we are donating 25% of net profit on all Signature Blush and Signature White sales to Coppafeel. We are also dedicating our platform to conversations about breast cancer through education, awareness and support.
Holly Worthington shares part of her breast cancer journey with us and offers some invaluable advice to those on a similar journey.
I was diagnosed with primary hormone sensitive breast cancer in the June of 2018, I was 42. I found a lump in my left breast. My GP fast tracked me for a mammogram, and on the same day I also had an ultrasound and needle biopsy so I knew it wasn’t good news!
I had a mastectomy on July 2nd and 4 lymph nodes removed. I was diagnosed with a grade 2 cancer, which was hormone sensitive and it transpired that it had spread into 3 of my lymph nodes. There wasn’t really a big decision for me on my treatment, I took the advice of my GP friend who said ‘just chuck the kitchen sink at it’! I had 14 rounds of chemotherapy, 15 rounds of radiotherapy, an oophorectomy and hormone therapy which is ongoing.
I’m now three years cancer-free. I get checked by my oncologist every few months, and have a mammogram every year. 😊
Were there any programs or services offered to you that helped with the treatment process?
I have private healthcare insurance through work so I opted for that which made my appointments probably smoother and more convenient but the treatment offered by the NHS is pretty fantastic and I think you feel a little less isolated, in that there’s more of a community with women going through what you are and on the NHS you get offered much more holistic support in terms of complementary therapies, given alongside conventional treatments, things like massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, breathing exercises and psychological support.
There are lots of great workshops and exercise classes that you can do from nutrition, yoga, meditation, art classes, cooking classes to name a few. But I actually felt too rotten to do any of these whilst I was going through treatment!
There are some specialist drop in centres, like the Haven and Penny Brohn. Penny Brohn is a drop-in centre to support people living with cancer and we’re lucky that their headquarters is here in Bristol Penny Brohn UK - Live Well With Cancer’
One workshop that I did do and went to with my Mum was run by the charity ‘Look Good and Feel Better, Facing Cancer with Confidence’ (Look Good Feel Better For Women - Look Good Feel Better : Look Good Feel Better) it was full of brilliant tips on doing your make up, looking after your skin, hands, and nails, as well as coping with hair loss and which are safe products to use. You just want to look and feel as good as you possibly can because your confidence takes such a hit and without your wig and your war paint on it’s such a reminder that you have cancer. The C List is a lovely charity too that’s just been set up by The Titty Gritty, it’s a beauty shop with tips, tricks advice and inspirational stories.
What message would you like to share with women in the community?
A diagnosis of cancer can be completely devastating and isolating but just to say that you’re not alone and even though it seems a long road ahead with gruelling treatment you do get through it and life does get better and start to feel more normal again, a ‘new’ normal but really a ‘good new’ normal.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started treatment?
Mmm that’s tricky to say really, it’s all so overwhelming when you first get diagnosed and things happen so quickly. They also only really tell you things in bite size, to not overwhelm you but at the beginning with each appointment (of which there were so many, along with a mountain of leaflets and booklets after each one!) I felt like I was being relentlessly hit with bad news. And, although I was going to chuck everything at it, I didn’t really know that I had a choice in my treatment. I wouldn’t have changed my decision about a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy but my hormone treatment has been really gruelling and brutal and still is on and off. I was pushed into an extremely intense early menopause and at one point I felt so wretched it was on a par with my chemotherapy days and they were awful!
With hindsight, I perhaps wouldn’t have had an oophorectomy, combined with zoledex and exemestane. If I had known what I do now I would have opted for Tamoxifen as my hormone suppressor which acts as a block between hormones and cancer cells as opposed to completely obliterating all hormones! After two years of very poor sleep, achey joints and relentless hot flushes I made the switch and also the decision to take HRT. I had assumed this wasn’t an option because of my cancer being hormone sensitive but a friend recommended I read an article with Kirsty Lang, the journalist and BBC broadcaster in the Liz Earle magazine. Kirsty has had a very similar journey to me with hormone sensitive breast cancer and the menopause. With her background she was able to research the possibility of taking a low dose of HRT with leading experts helping her to weigh up the actual risks versus her quality-of-life post treatment. Kirsty made the decision to go back onto HRT.
After reading the article I immediately booked an appointment with Kirsty’s Menopause Expert, Dr Louise Newson; I read the book ‘Oestrogen Matters’ by Carol Travis and Dr Avrum Bluming as recommend by Dr Louise Newson. I listened to podcasts by Liz Earle, Dr Louise Newson and The Latte Lounge with Professor Michael Baum, Drs Avrum Bluming and Tony Branson, as well as GPs, Dr Tina Peers and Dr Melanie Martins, read up on the NICE guidelines and checked up on my actual risk numbers.
Through my own research, like Kirsty Lang, I concluded that there is just not the evidence to prove that taking HRT would greatly risk my cancer coming back and the very many benefits certainly outweighed the risks for me. There are numerous health benefits of oestrogen in women, including reducing risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia. As many women die from osteoporosis as breast cancer each year which is a sobering thought and heart disease is the no 1 killer of women at the moment. Women who survive breast cancer are more likely to die of heart disease than a cancer recurrence.
Predict is a great tool to use when considering your treatment options: Predict Breast.
What was your biggest self-discovery or revelation after you were diagnosed?
A friend gave me a lovely card with a quote saying ‘You are stronger than you think and braver than you believe’ and this is so true, the thought of breast cancer treatment is actually a lot scarier than when you are actually going through it because then you just have to get your head down and get on with it. I’ve also really realised that as long as you have your health you have everything so now when I get anxious and caught up in the small stuff I just have to remind myself of this. We only have a finite amount of time so make it the best life that you can and enjoy the moment because that’s all we really have…
Why did you choose Coppafeel?
Coppafeel was founded by twin sisters Kris and Maren Hallenga. Kris was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer at the age of just 23 and she is totally awesome, she is so strong and such an inspiration. They do amazing work in raising awareness amongst young people and the importance of regularly checking their breasts which is so vital as mammograms are only offered in the UK from the age of 50 and breast cancer treatment is so effective if it’s identified early.
What advice would you give on how to best support a loved one going through breast cancer?
My husband is emotionally very strong and pragmatic so that really kept me on an even keel. He doesn’t really wobble and I think I’d have been a lot more wobbly if he did! That was the same for my friends and family, they were all real anchors, just having them there to listen to me go off down a rabbit hole of worry was a big help, letting me cry one minute and laugh the next!
My lovely Dad was also becoming very poorly with Alzheimer’s then so my Mum was going through an incredibly tough time because of my diagnosis and my Dad, but she shielded me from a lot of the worry and upset with my Dad during that time, which was a huge help as I couldn’t really focus on anything else other than getting through the treatment. Lightening the load in any capacity that you can would be amazing for someone going through it.
With all of my appointments I either went with family or friends and that was a real support, especially at the appointments where there was a lot of information being relayed but also when you are sat in the chemo chair or waiting for your radiotherapy just to have someone with you is such a comfort, I just couldn’t imagine going through any of that on my own.
Friends and family stayed over making meals, cooking, cleaning, shopping - local friends dropping food, gifts, helping with the girls….so many cards and flowers….I really did feel truly loved and all of this really did get me though the days
What motivated you during this time?
I think just having a family keeps you motivated every day; you just have to keep going. I also run a business with my husband so work was a great distraction when I wasn’t feeling too rotten and could focus on it and definitely being with friends and family during this time kept me motivated. Even feeling rubbish you can still enjoy moments, humour helps massively, the more gallows the better to lighten those tough moments.
And last but not least being with our hounds, walking and lots of cuddles.
How important is it for patients and survivors to join a support group do you think?
I found some support groups online helpful and also following on Instagram The Titty Gritty and Bowel Babe, as well as listening to You, Me and The Big C, they have a wonderful way of normalising what you are going through and again you don’t feel so alone.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions and we hope this blog raises awareness to many people.