26 October 2022
October is the month of solidarity and awareness about breast cancer since the chances of a cure are higher when it is detected early.
This year we have the honour of sharing the story of our very own Charmaine, GO’s Fraud Prevention Officer, an outgoing cyclist, baker, and a great colleague with a huge smile on her face, always championing our Values. Charmaine is a survivor and is passionate about raising awareness and helping others understand the importance of getting tested and early detection.
Here’s her inspiring story, unfiltered as she shared it with us:
Since I was a child, I never had the patience to wait for results of any kind. I never minded doing the exams, but I was kind of expecting to get the results there and then. Then as I grew older, I somehow learnt to wait and manage to distract myself while waiting for the results to come.
In September 2021 I went for a routine mammogram and the result was instant, all was fine. Same for the breast ultrasound, all seemed fine, until what the radiologist called a shadow prompted a biopsy. Waiting for the result seemed like a very long 5 days, with my mind thinking about it all the time. I kept telling myself it will be ok, reminding me that I don’t feel anything, I feel strong and healthy, I have no lumps and no other symptoms. When I finally managed not to think about it, the phone rang, and the radiologist gave me the news that I have breast cancer. “It’s just a small lump, less than 1cm; it will be removed, and you will be okay” he said. Two days later, I met with the surgeon, who also confirmed that the lump is so small that it cannot be felt and there shouldn’t be any further problems.
”How can I ignore what I was scared of?”
I was told to keep going with my normal life and do whatever I liked; the message was simple “Just stick to your plans”. How can I ignore what I was scared of? I always thought of cancer as something deadly, with no way out.
My first reaction was to treat myself, so I went for a day at the spa, spent a fortune on creams, which I thought I would not live to see them finish, and did some retail therapy. Then I realised that this is totally not me. I work and fight hard for whatever I want to obtain, so I told myself this is how it is going be this time too. The support was there, help was offered from people I never ever imagined would help and the reactions of those around me were so mixed that they kept me going even more.
Six weeks after the news I was in hospital being prepped for the operation. When the radiologist marked a 3cm area, that’s when I realised things were not going to be that simple. I remember asking her if it’s possible that it could have grown so much in 6 weeks, and her reply was “You are in good hands, don’t worry and good luck”. Waking up from the operation, I was told they removed an area of 6 centimeters.
”Being active and feeling well boosted my morale.”
Despite having the medical team telling me that all went well, deep down I was still scared and not confident. Physically I felt good, in fact I was on my feet in a few hours and back at home the same day. The following day I was working again and the day after I was out and about as usual. I even did a presentation at a virtual conference where no one knew a thing about what had just happened to me. Being active and feeling well boosted my morale but still, I had that nagging sensation because I had to wait for the results of the histology tests and weeks had to pass before I got them.
Fast forward 6 weeks, the surgeon informed me that the removal of the lump was not enough. The cancer had spread further, and we needed more tests and most probably another intervention. All this was in December; Christmas being my favourite time of the year yet there I was, going in and out of hospital. Still, thanks to many people, I managed to enjoy a very happy holiday season. Earlier in September I was convinced I won’t see Christmas, yet I was still here and ready to make the most of it. The only drawback was that Covid restricted travelling.
In February I got a definite conclusion, which ended up with a mastectomy, an operation that lasted less than 2 hours. As usual, I was chatting as soon as I opened my eyes, prompting the doctor to allow me to go home the same day if I felt well. Needless to say, I made it a point to be well, and was dismissed in the afternoon. This time recovery was tougher; I had a bigger scar, a drainpipe and a canister I had to carry around for 6 days. Despite that, all went well and I started physiotherapy immediately to regain movement in my arm, which was badly affected. I had to undergo three long weeks of radiotherapy, going to the hospital every day, for 90 seconds of treatment. It’s going to hospital daily that gets to you, being placed under a huge machine in a cold room. They tell you radiotherapy might make you feel tired, and you need to rest but not to be lazy so I cycled, every single day of treatment; after work I sat on the bike, reminding myself to keep turning my legs.
”It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.”
However, it’s not what you go through physically that matters in these things. For me and my experience as they say: it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. I couldn’t help not thinking that I am going to die, I feared a long painful death and I was worried that my family would pass from a lot of pain. I found that exercise, going out and meeting other people helps. I made new friends and got to know people in a way that I never imagined I would.
I am sure that if I didn’t work at GO it would have been a different story. Having a job that can be done remotely and working in a company that supports hybrid working made all the difference. I am not the type of person who considers work the only thing in my life, on the contrary, I have too many hobbies and not enough time, but work is important for a load of reasons. In my case work kept me busy and my mind engaged so I could forget what was going on health wise. The fact that I was back to work so quickly made me feel good and useful. It was important seeing how my work contributed daily to the Purpose of GO and there was that feeling of normality. The support from the colleagues was overwhelming, sometimes I couldn’t believe how much people were willing to share from their experiences.
Too many things happened in a year, and I choose to remember the nice moments without ignoring the bad ones. Sharing my story is a wish to raise awareness about the importance of getting tested. Never ever underestimate something that does not feel right in your body, a pain that doesn’t go away or changes you see in your body. And most importantly, get yourself tested and don’t let appointments become overdue. Mine was a simple routine test, with even the surgeon not feeling anything wrong. Do whatever tests are due and get your loved ones to get tested too. No one enjoys going to the doctor, myself included, but I am at peace with myself that I went for my test on time and removed what could be removed as quickly as possible. And if anything needs to be done, do it as quickly as you can, seek help and do your research.
”I always try to remember that whatever we do, we must do it with passion!”
A year has passed, I am not out of the woods and will never be. Yet, I am still breathing, being active, enjoying life and actually being the usual pest I am, leaving others breathless. I always try to remember that whatever we do, we must do it with passion; it’s not all good fun, but almost and that’s enough.
Visit Hospice Malta hospicemalta.org and The Action for Breast Cancer Foundation www.actionforbreastcancer.com official websites for more information about their services and ways you can support them or seek help.
We would like to thank Charmaine for trusting us with her story. Her vulnerability, honesty and braveness are truly inspiring us and we feel lucky to have a colleague like her within our One GO Team.