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Isobel recounts hard journey through cancer treatment

By Helen Paterson

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ISOBEL MacKenzie thought her life was over when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It came as a bolt out of the blue for the practice nurse, who spends much of her working week advising women on how to check themselves for lumps.

But one year on, and in remission, the 51-year-old has decided to speak to The Inverness Courier about her experience to give hope to others in the same position.

"It is devastating and you think it is the end of the world, but it’s not," she said.

"It is a hard process to go through, a difficult journey, but you get through it. You have to keep focused and take a day at a time.

"You also have to be good to yourself and accept that you are not going to be well for some time, but that will improve, you will come out the other end. It is just at the time you don’t think you will."

Mrs MacKenzie, of Broadstone Park, found a lump in her breast over one year ago.

"I just thought, ‘It will be a cyst’," she said. "I thought it will be nothing."

Her doctor quickly referred her to a consultant and she was diagnosed with cancer.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked. It just seemed to come out of nowhere. Obviously it is a shock, it is a complete and utter shock. You can’t describe to anyone how it feels until you are in that position.

"It was devastating, I would say for the first month, it is all-consuming — you will be talking to someone, and the whole time it is at the back of your mind. It is a horrible experience. It is overwhelming and of course, you think, well that is it, I am probably not going to be here this time next year."

The results of her biopsy, where a sample of breast tissue is taken, showed a mastectomy would be necessary and the breast would have to be removed.

"I was upset because it had spread further than the lump and surrounding area," she said. "I wasn’t that bothered or concerned with having the mastectomy. It is such a huge deal really, breasts are sexual, feminine, but it didn’t bother me, I just wanted rid of the cancer."

She received six treatments of chemotherapy — which caused nausea and pain — one every three weeks.

"It was horrendous for me, it really wasn’t a nice experience," she recalled. "There were days when I just sat in front of the television. You can’t even watch television, you can’t read, you can’t speak, you are just sitting there.

"It maybe took 10 days to feel a bit better, just in time to get the next bit of chemotherapy. Lots of people are much better than that, lots are fine. Some people can still go to work, if their treatment is not as strong, which is absolutely astonishing."

Losing her thick blonde hair was one of the toughest things. Before starting chemotherapy, the mother-of-three cut her hair short, and during treatment, wore a cold cap, which is supposed to reduce hair loss. "My hair certainly got very, very thin, but I didn’t actually lose my hair. Luckily I had really thick hair. Initially it came out in balls, like golf balls. I wasn’t upset, but it was a bit disappointing."

The NHS provides free wigs to women receiving chemotherapy and Mrs MacKenzie had a long blonde wig, but only wore it once.

"It was gorgeous, my friends had wig envy, but it was a bit uncomfortable, like wearing a hat all the time."

Her nails also started to come off with the treatment.

Chemotherapy was followed by radiotherapy, which she received for 20 minutes, every day for three weeks — a course of treatment she described as a "breeze" compared to everything else and today she is in remission, although goes for check-ups every six months.

Reconstruction surgery is something she is now considering. "I probably will get reconstruction," she said. "As my friends say, I will probably get a better pair than before."

Mrs MacKenzie, who has now returned to work at Crown Medical Practice, knows she was lucky to have the support of husband Donnie, her family and friends.

"Some people are on their own, I don’t know how they cope," she said. "To have a lot of people round you, supporting you, it really was one of my saving graces.

"You do feel at times you are not the person you were and you feel you never will be again, but as you get back to normal, and normal does return, you do. Most of the time you forget what you have been through, then sometimes it just catches you, you see something on television and you think, that was me. You just do your fight and you move on."

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