A mother and daughter who went through br*ast cancer treatment at the same time have told how they battled the disease together, advising others to check themselves and ‘never be complacent’.
Jan Jeffery, 59, and Fern Maxted, 35, shared their experiences of being diagnosed with br*ast cancer within weeks of one other at the start of Br*ast Cancer Awareness Month this October.
“I found a tiny lump a year before I was diagnosed, and went to the two-week br*ast clinic, and had all the checks done. And I did the ultrasound and they told me it was just ageing, normal ageing.’Jan told Metro UK
‘It wasn’t that long after actually that the lump started to grow – and I just thought, that’s just a cyst, it’s just getting bigger. And I thought when I’ve got time, I’ll go back and get him to drain it. And I just sat on it for months, and it kind of got bigger and bigger.
‘I never at any point really did think it was cancer because I don’t tend to do that. I tend to think it’d be something else. I just thought it would be fine.’
When she returned to the doctor in June 2022, she was sent for another ultrasound where she was told ‘no… that’s not a cyst’ and she ‘nearly fell through the floor’ upon realising it was br*ast cancer.
‘When you first get diagnosed, the first thing you do is think about your own funeral,’ added Jan, who is an English teacher at Highworth Grammar School in Ashford, Kent, UK.
‘Then, once I got over the shock I started to think well, I’m nearly 60, I’ve had a really lovely, lucky life and I’ve seen my kids grow up. I have grandchildren. I’d rather not die this early but I haven’t done badly.’
But Jan, said the one thing keeping her going was thinking, ‘Thank God it’s not the children.’
Byt two weeks later while sitting with Fern in the garden in the sun when her daughter said: ‘I think I’ve found a bit of a lump that I’m going to get checked out – I’m sure it’s nothing, though.’
“I would always sort of check in the shower when I was having a wash – but I couldn’t feel anything in the shower. It was only when I was actually laying down.”
‘Mum’s was like a rock, but mine felt more like a – this is absolutely grim – sort of a cooked cauliflower, like a thickening. If I laid at a slight angle you might see a kind of dimpling in the skin.’
Fern, said she also had pain under her armpit and down her arm.
‘Obviously this was my lymph nodes, and if I had felt under my armpits and taken enlarged lumps a bit more seriously rather than thinking it was explained easily, I might have picked it up earlier,’ she explained.
Jan and Fern stressed the importance of ‘checking every month minimum’ in different positions, and not just the br*asts but all around the chest such as under the arms and around the collarbones.
Fern said when she had biopsies on her br*asts it was when ‘the penny really dropped’.
‘You kind of realise that you’ve got cancer at that point, and all of a sudden, you are just a piece of meat on the table,’ added Fern, who is mum to Presley, 12, Isabella, 10, and Matilda, 5.
‘I resigned myself to the idea that this is going to be terminal straight away. I started thinking about my children and what I’m gonna get to see, and then you have that horrible wait for scans.
‘So I went for about two weeks thinking I’m going to have to get used to the fact that I’m not going to be here very long. I saw my little boy’s leavers’ service in Year 6, and wondered if I’d get to see my girls’ ones.’
But thankfully it hadn’t spread and was locally advanced which means the cancer is likely to return – so they took Fern straight in for a mastectomy.
‘Women don’t worry about this so much because they think they can just have a boob job,’ Fern said. ‘But that’s not the case. I can’t have a reconstruction because of the medication I am on for at least two-and-a-half years.
‘I don’t have a boob on one side and there’s no other way of saying it – it looks really horrific.’
Fern received her diagnosis in July 2022, the day before her mum started chemotherapy.
‘The night before I started chemo I was just laying on the settee crying – partly because they give you steroids and they make you a bit wired – but I would have been awake all night thinking about Fern, anyway,’ Jan added.
‘When your kids are ill all you want to do is look after them, but the thought of not being able to because I might be ill myself is… really difficult.
‘But we did juggle through. My husband, Colin, is around a lot and we were able to fully support each other as families – but we’re so lucky we were in a position to be able to do that.
‘Obviously I would never wish for my daughter or myself to have cancer, but having it at the same time was weirdly comforting in a way because I know exactly what she’s going through – I’m not on the outside trying to understand.
‘She had a rougher ride than I did but my hair fell out and I had that gruelling chemo, so I do know what it’s like. It’s a strange kind of silver lining.’
‘If Fern hadn’t had the genetic test, I wouldn’t have had it and I’d be sitting here now with another quite big cancer growing. So Fern has kind of saved me from having to go through this all again as well.’
When Fern finally started her chemotherapy, she had a reaction to one of the drugs and went into anaphylactic shock.
‘As the medication started going in, the nurses that were in the room were dealing with another patient facing the other way,’ she said.
‘The only way I could describe it is it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I could barely get any words out and I thought, this is it. I actually thought I was going to die in that chair.
‘Luckily the nurse heard me and she turned around, cut it all off and stopped the chemo. Then it felt like I had to go back to the beginning.’