A mother has revealed how she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer just 12 weeks after giving birth to her daughter – and the treatment meant she couldn’t hold her.
Vicki Keating, 29, from Kings Heath, Birmingham, revealed how she was devastated to get the diagnosis in November 2018, becoming angry, then breaking down in tears at the thought of her daughter possibly losing her mother.
She first realised something wasn’t quite right when she found a hard lump in her breast whilst lying in bed. After a biopsy, mammogram and ultrasound she went in for what she thought was a routine check up – but she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She had to have an aggressive form of chemotherapy, plus 15 rounds of radiotherapy. Then she made the decision to have a double mastectomy – and for three weeks she couldn’t hold her daughter – in case she ruptured her scars.
Vicki Keating (right), 29, from Kings Heath, Birmingham, pictured with her daughter Rey (left) was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in November 2018, just three month after having her daughter
Vicki speaks about how she initially found the lump: ‘I’d given birth to Rey just 12 weeks earlier, and I was facing the usual challenges that every mum with a new-born faces, like late nights, lack of sleep and heightened emotions.
‘I first realised something wasn’t quite right when I found a hard lump in my breast whilst lying in bed. I didn’t breastfeed Rey and it was only when I was no longer producing milk that I could feel the lump.
‘Initially, I didn’t think anything of it because I was young, have no family history of the disease, and like many other women have lumpy breasts anyway.
‘My GP performed a physical examination and couldn’t feel the lump and suggested that it could be a blocked milk duct, but I was referred to the breast clinic for further tests.
Vicki started chemotherapy on 21st December, however at the last minute she was that she would need a more aggressive form of chemotherapy
‘At the breast clinic, I underwent a biopsy, mammogram and ultrasound in the November’.
Vicki, who also has an eight-year-old son Grayson, reveals that a few weeks after having the tests a letter come through the post calling her into the clinic and she went alone thinking it was a routine appointment.
‘When I got there, I was asked if I had anyone with me to which I replied “no”.’ She knew something was wrong when they suggested that she should call someone to come into the consultants room with her.
Her partner Gavin, 27, and a three-month-old Rey joined her to hear her diagnosis.
Rey (pictured) -and Vicki – she said she felt guilty that she couldn’t soothe her and pick her up when she was crying
Vicki tries to keep positive and said that she has decided to live in the present – not to look back but also not to look to the future because you ‘never know what’s around the corner’
‘Hearing the words, “it’s breast cancer” sent my world into a spin and I saw red. I didn’t cry at first, I just felt really angry – “how could this happen to me? I’ve just had a baby”.
‘I remember looking at Rey who was sat on Gavin’s lap and thinking that I’m going to die and not see her grow up. I was so angry that I stormed out of the consultation room and left a calm and collected Gavin to arrange my appointments. It wasn’t until the news sunk in that just I broke down in tears.’
She started chemotherapy a month later,on 21st December, however at the last minute she was that she would need a more aggressive form of chemotherapy.
‘I had triple negative breast cancer, and the treatment I was supposed to have, wouldn’t have been as effective.
When Vicki got the diagnosis she remembers looking at Rey, who was sat on Gavin’s lap, and thinking that she was going to die and not see her baby grow up
Vicki (pictured) while she was having treatment – she had to have a mix of intense chemo and radiotherapy
‘I still had chemotherapy that day, but I had to have a combination of Carboplantin and Docetaxel through a PICC line to shrink the tumour in my breast ahead of my surgery four weeks later.
‘Although my right breast was affected by breast cancer, I made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy with expanders, rather than a lumpectomy. This was a personal decision for my own peace of mind.
Vicki (pictured) after her initial treatment, when he hair started to grow back
‘Psychologically I couldn’t have it there; I was scared that it would come back or spread to my other breast. I still feel quite anxious, even though I no longer have breast tissue.
‘I also endured 15 rounds of radiotherapy to the chest wall. I think this was the easiest part of my treatment but the side effects are uncomfortable to deal with.
‘The radiotherapy made the expanders in my breasts quite hard and uncomfortable, so I’m due an exchange surgery in February 2020 to have them replaced by silicone implants to make them a bit squashier.
She said that due to double mastectomy she couldn’t pick up her daughter: ‘It was heart breaking not being able to pick Rey up for 3 weeks, as I could have ruptured my scars. She would raise her arms and try to get me to pick her up but I physically couldn’t.
‘I felt so bad as I couldn’t soothe her in the middle of the night and just made me feel inadequate. She needed her mummy and the only way I could hold her was to have Gavin or my mum put her on me with a pillow across my chest as a cushion between us.
Vicki, during treatment, with her partner Gavin – she had 15 round of radiotherapy, as well as chemo
Vicki, with her freinds and family, congratulating her with a cake as she had finished her chemo
‘While Vicki’s treatment is still ongoing: ‘After my chemotherapy and surgery, I didn’t get a complete response and a scan showed that there were still some residual cancer cells in my breast.
WHAT IS TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER?
A type of cancer that tests negative for the three most common receptors which normally fuel breast cancer, making them harder to target.
These results mean the growth of the cancer is not fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or by the HER2 protein.
So, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines or medicines that target HER2 protein receptors.
It means more radical treatments are needed to target the cells.
About 10-20 per cent of breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancers.
‘I’m now on oral chemo tablets called Capecitabine to almost ‘mop up’ any residual cancer cells. I take six tablets in the morning and six in the evening for 14 days and then have seven days off for eight cycles.
‘I also take anti-sickness medication and B6 to help with the side effect of painful blistered skin and I finish the course at the end of January 2020.
‘I still get anxious and it’s hard to keep positive when you’re bombarded by stories of people losing their lives to triple negative breast cancer but I know I need to keep optimistic.
‘I’ve decided to live in the present – not to look back, but also not to look to the future because you never know what’s around the corner.
‘My little Rey of sunshine and I are closer than ever, she’s such a happy baby and her cheeky face is enough to light up the whole room.
‘I feel so fortunate to have my two beautiful kids – they are my whole world and their love spurs me on, and motivates me every day.’
Vicki is supporting Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink on 18 October, raising money for vital breast cancer research and support. For more information and to register visit www.wearitpink.org
For more information about triple negative breast cancer visit Breast Cancer Now.