Can you introduce yourself and tell us how and when you got your diagnosis?
My name is Vibeke, and I was born in 1966. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer (2017). I discovered a lump in my left breast, so I went to the doctor. The very next day they called from the hospital and gave me an appointment for a mammography. My doctor had no doubts about the diagnosis breast cancer, but she doubted if I either had a large cancerous nodule or three small nodules.
How did you react?
It is a terrible thing to be told, because basically, I didn’t know how bad it was and what kind of breast cancer I had. I had to wait 14 days to get the results from the biopsy. There are many different types of breast cancer, mine was the hormone-sensitive kind. My doctor told me, that they have to remove my left breast. It’s a horrific thing to be told and it feels like your whole life starts collapsing, after all, cancer can be a deadly disease.
How did your family react?
My husband has been outstanding. Of course, he also shut down at times and was scared, but he always maintained the hope and belief that I would become cancer-free and get through this. He has been there for me the whole process and has accompanied me to almost all my appointments at the hospital.
All our 5 kids have been amazing, and have been actively involved in the process, and they also believed that we would get through this. The only thing they have required was that we would not keep any secrets from each other. They wanted to know, how it was going. Of course, they have been worried, especially my own parents. I am still their little girl.
How long have you been in treatment?
I was operated on in August last year, afterwards I got chemo therapy and in the end radiation therapy, which I finished in February. The operation was the least in this whole process, the chemo therapy was hard to get through, but suddenly the radiation therapy was over as well, and the treatment finished.
How do you feel now?
My everyday life works well. I’m physically capable, and I do not have any serious problems. However, the worry never leaves you. To get removed my breast was the least part of it, but the emotional part was really hard in the beginning, for example thoughts about death, children, husband, family and friends.
The way I handled it was to create a lot of drawers in my head. That way, I could decide which drawers I wanted to close. The drawers concerning thoughts about death and funeral and this kind of things are closed for good. Otherwise I can’t live. Fortunately, I have a beautiful family, an amazing husband and children, good friends, whom I have been able to talk to. It also helped me a lot to be a part of the “Krop og Kræft” program.
How do you live your life now?
I must feel that I’m alive and that I love life. That is most important thing. It’s not like I’m filling myself with red steaks every day, I’ve never done that before either. I may not drink as much alcohol as I have done before. Otherwise I live my life the same way as before I got diagnosed with cancer.
Are you afraid that the cancer will return?
Yes, the risk is there. If it should return, it would be nice if it could wait 25 years. 97% of women who have breast cancer are still alive after the first year. After 5 years, it’s 87%. Of course, I assume that I’ll be part of the 87% in 5 years’ time. So, let’s take it from there. Fortunately, the doctors get better and better and it is important to invest in research to fight cancer.
Do you think it is a choice to let the disease define you?
It is very different from person to person. How you choose to live your life and whether you let the small things get you down. It is both the emotional and the physical aspect. It was important to me, to have normal everyday life, as much as possible, to work out, to cook, to work, to clean and other things like that, that has been important to me.
Advice for cancer patients:
My most important advice is to become a member of “Krop & Kræft”, which is a training program for cancer patients who are treated with chemo therapy. It is a 6-week program with training 4 times a week. After receiving chemo therapy at the hospital, I stumbled out of bed, (which was literally the case sometimes), I went directly to the “Krop & Kræft” training, where I met some amazing and wonderful women, we’ve all been diagnosed with breast cancer, so we knew exactly how the other was feeling.
Furthermore, you must make sure that you are open and talk about it, especially the difficult things, make use of your network, make sure you exercise, try to live life in the moment and live life with the cancer. You have to focus on living in the moment and living life with the cancer, because the disease will always be a part of me. For me it has also been important to take care of myself, to look after myself, to cancel things, to have me-time.
Every third Dane gets diagnosed with cancer and every ninth Danish woman gets diagnosed with breast cancer – far too many. I think it is important to point out all the great research options and that the Danish organization “Kræftens bekæmpelse” needs to be supported.