Breast cancer treatment
After undergoing surgery for breast cancer, 66-year-old Jane Mills jumped at the chance to use deep inspiration breath hold – known as DIBH – which allows radiotherapy patients to use their breathing to actively participate in their treatment. The mother of four daughters didn’t let the need to travel from her home on the Isle of Wight to the mainland stand in her way, instead using her time on to reflect and relax.
"I lead a healthy and active life, I hadn’t felt unwell or had any symptoms so was surprised when a routine mammogram showed I needed a biopsy and further investigations. I was referred to the breast care centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Newport on the Isle of Wight and was completely shocked to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was a strange time. I did feel very scared. I didn’t want to tell my girls as I didn’t want to worry them, so at first I kept it to myself. My instinct was to be very pragmatic and try and be as positive as possible, and I felt I needed to protect those around me. I think cancer can actually be harder for family and friends to cope with than the person with it.
I had surgery at the St Mary’s NHS hospital. The general anaesthetic made me feel ghastly, but thankfully the operation went well. I was subsequently referred to consultant oncologist, Dr Jenny Marshall, who recommended 15 sessions of radiotherapy.
At first, I was worried about the radiation, the possible side effects and the damage it might cause but I did some research, and Dr Marshall explained everything and reassured me that radiotherapy had come along way in recent years.
Dr Marshall then asked if I’d be interested in a new breath hold treatment at the Genesis Care centre in Southampton. She said it was particularly good for people with left-sided breast cancer as it reduced any risk of the radiotherapy affecting the heart. I went to find out more and try out the equipment. I had to hold my breath for forty seconds at a time which I got on fine with, despite suffering from asthma.
They measured my breathing so that they could plan the treatment around my natural breathing, so nothing felt forced or difficult.
During the actual treatments, I had to breathe through a mouthpiece and wear special goggles which used a green and red light to show me when to take a breath in, and how long to hold it.
I’d already practised with the equipment so there were no surprises. I simply had to take a breath and hold if for forty seconds while the treatment was carried out. The team were very encouraging and positive. I always saw the same people and nothing were too much trouble for them.
During the first week of treatment I had a streaming cold and had to cough and sneeze during one of the sessions, but even that wasn’t a problem. As soon as I let my breath out the whole caboodle stopped, and they were straight to me. As soon as I’d recovered, they just picked up where we’d left off.
This type of radiotherapy was definitely the best, most effective way of dealing with what might be left after my surgery.
Now I’ve had it, I don’t know what I was worried about; the treatment itself is absolutely fine and only takes a few minutes. Although living on the island meant I had to do a lot of travelling – leaving at half past nine in the morning and not returning until around three o’clock in the afternoon!
I’m delighted to say I haven’t had any side effects from the radiotherapy. I did feel tired but think this was probably as a result of the surgery. I’ve been able to continue enjoying everyday life – my college course, working with fabric and stitching, and gardening. I still met up with friends and walked the dogs, just shortened the walks a bit and avoided the hills!
Even the travelling to and from the island wasn’t a problem, it gave me time to relax with a book or my iPad, or I took my sewing to do on the ferry.
Both the teams at St Mary’s and Genesis Care have been absolutely brilliant, I couldn’t have wanted for more. I’m very glad I was in the right place at the right time to have this treatment - I’ve gone from worrying about it to wishing everyone with breast cancer could have it."