Tattoo is a permanent reminder of my battle to beat breast cancer

29 December 2010

WHEN Janine Smith meets people for the first time, she often notices them sneaking glances at her right wrist.
 
Those who are bold enough will eventually ask about the ribbon and the date tattooed on her skin.
 
She is proud to tell them they are a permanent reminder of her battle with breast cancer.
 
The ribbon symbolises the breast cancer awareness campaign while the date December 23, 2009, is when she underwent major surgery to rid her of the disease.
 
She was inspired after reading in the Derby Telegraph about a fund-raising scheme for cancer charities at Abacus Tattoo and Body Piercing, in Sadler Gate, Derby.
 
Janine Smith, 47, of Valley Road, Chaddesden, said: "My tattoo is a way of saying 'been there, done that'. I'm not scared of telling people what's happened."
 
Janine was in the habit of checking her breasts for lumps while washing and it was this that alerted her, in November 2009, to the tumour in her left breast.
 
She said: "The size of it was scary – it was more than 3cm long. Women need to check themselves and so many don't.
 
"I was gobsmacked by how many women where I work at Royal Derby Hospital don't."
 
After finding the lump, she kept calm and did not even tell her husband, Kevin.
 
Janine, a team leader in the Medical Outpatients Department at Royal Derby Hospital, said: "I was thinking that in my department at work, three other women had been diagnosed with breast cancer, so the chances of me having it too were slim."
 
She told a colleague, who encouraged her to make an appointment with her GP who got her an appointment at Royal Derby Hospital's Breast Unit within days.
 
She said: "When I came home from the GP's surgery I walked through the door and silently gave Kevin the paperwork. He looked at me and said: 'what are you telling me?' And I told him I'd found a lump. But I still wasn't panicking about it, I still wasn't upset."
 
Kevin, 45, said: "I was anxious. It was all going through my mind but I just tried to be positive, thinking that it would be nothing and that women go through it all the time."
 
They went to hospital together and learnt that Janine would need surgery to remove her breast after several more lumps were discovered.
 
She said: "I'm still adamant that nobody said the word cancer.
 
"I went into work and told my boss and when she asked me what they had actually said, I realised I didn't really know if I was having the operation because I had lots of lumps or because they were cancerous.
 
"I phoned the breast unit and said: 'This is going to sound really silly but nobody said whether I had cancer.'
 
"The nurse went away and got my notes and said: 'Yes, you have got cancer.' And I was in a mess then."
 
She phoned Kevin, who, on that day, was marking the fourth anniversary of his mum's death from pancreatic cancer.
 
Kevin said of Janine's battle: "Yes, I'll go and cry in a corner but whatever life throws at you, you have to get on with it."
 
The mastectomy took place on December 23 and the surgeons also removed lymph nodes under her arm, where the cancer had spread.
 
Janine said: "The next thing I remember is Christmas Eve and Kevin visiting."
 
She is yet to have reconstructive surgery, which she hopes will take place in the New Year, and said the mastectomy had knocked her confidence.
 
She said: "You don't feel like a whole person. I enjoy swimming but I've not been since, even though they've said I can use the hospital hydrotherapy pool as part of my recovery. I know people aren't looking at me but I can't help thinking they are."
 
Following the operation, she had chemotherapy from February to June but she was not given the radiotherapy normally offered to breast cancer patients.
 
That is because she was part of a research study, still ongoing, comparing the effects of having both treatments to having chemotherapy alone.
 
She said: "Out of each three-week course of treatment, I'd have five really bad days where I felt so weak sometimes that I couldn't even get up the stairs. And it made my arthritis flare up. I'd get really bad joint ache."
 
During that time, she used their Alsatian dog Zeus as a crutch, leaning on him as she walked around.
 
She said: "He was a godsend, he never left my side. He knew I was poorly before I did. He started following me around the house and sleeping by my side of the bed for three weeks before I found my lump. And he came and nudged me all the time, it was ever so weird."
 
During chemotherapy, Janine lost hair from all over her body but not on her arms.
 
Another strange side-effect was that it left her with altered tastes in food.
 
The drugs kill fast-growing cells, including those in the mouth, and she believes this has left her with cravings for strong flavours.
 
She said: "I used to eat so much chocolate and I wouldn't thank you for it now. I love a glass of wine now but I couldn't drink it before."
 
A week after the treatment ended, she went to the hospital on a high for the last blood test to make sure the chemotherapy was working.
 
She said: "It had been very hot and I thought I'd been bitten by gnats. I showed the hospital registrar and he said: 'I'm sorry, you've got shingles.'
 
"And I just burst into tears. The poor registrar didn't know what to do. He couldn't understand why, after everything I'd been through, I was crying over shingles."
 
After that, she spent a lot of time resting and recovering.
 
And she relied on friends, including Karen Mahoney, Ruth Mill and Sue Rogers, who picked her up when she was feeling down.
 
She also thanked Macmillan Cancer Support, which runs an information office at Royal Derby Hospital, for its advice about benefits and treatments.
 
Janine's treatment appears to have been successful but, as with all cancer patients, she will continue to have regular check-ups at the hospital for five years before being fully discharged.
 
She said: "I saw the consultant last week and she said everything appears fine. I'll be seeing her again in June."
 
Since returning to work on August 23, she has built up her hours gradually and finally became full-time at the start of December.
 
She said: "People say I've changed. I used to be very work-orientated. It came first and Kevin came second.
 
"Now it's the other way around. Work is important while I'm there and I take pride in doing a good job.
 
"But if it hadn't been for my friends and Kevin, I wouldn't have got through this."
 
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