Every October, people around the world show their support to those affected by breast cancer. In the UK alone, a women is diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes and one in seven women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime .
So to raise awareness of breast cancer, Network 25 spoke with Azmina Airi, Group Financial Controller at Colt, about her experience.
As crazy as it sounds, in some ways, cancer saved me. I went through an awful thing and came through the other end a better person and still smiling. I am not a big fan of the ‘J word’, but this really has been a journey for me and one I’ll be on for a very long time. Cancer doesn’t stop the moment you finish treatment. For me, the psychological impact of the illness manifested after I had finished treatment.
There are four things that I learnt from my experience:
- You can overcome almost anything with positivity, self-belief, and sheer stubbornness
- People genuinely love and care, so let them support you
- Faith pulled me through my darkest days
- Trust yourself implicitly – you know yourself better than anyone else
In April 2016, I had just celebrated my 40th birthday and was planning on partying my way through the year. In the shower one day, I felt a lump in my left breast. I didn’t think much of it, but then couldn’t shake the feeling I should get it checked out. I went to the GP and was referred for a mammogram and ultrasound. It didn’t look good. I had a biopsy there and then and was diagnosed within the week.
My initial thought was that I don’t want to die… How could I die? I hadn’t finished living. What would happen to my kids and husband? How would I tell my mum and dad? Then some sort of survival instinct kicked in. Without anger or bitterness, all I could do was accept it and fight it.
I had a mastectomy and reconstruction, followed by 16 rounds of chemotherapy, lasting six months. I tackled cancer the best way I knew; like a project. I had a wall chart where I crossed off appointments and had timelines for everything. This meticulous planning of my treatment helped, but really, faith and hope kept me going.
I continued working around my treatment days. I packed our family’s weekends with fun activities, even when feeling awful, because I didn’t want my kids to feel they had an ill mummy, and I spoke very openly about what I was going through.
Early 2017, I completed my treatment but I felt rubbish. I had gained weight, I was bald, my body didn’t look or feel like my own, and I was put on cancer meds for the next ten years. But at the same time, I felt like I’d been given a new lease of life that I should be grateful for. I threw myself into everything and anything, signing up for a half marathon, volunteering as a parent rep, and asking for more responsibility at work. On the surface everything was fine, but I was putting myself under immense stress and pressure.
I had been trying constantly to protect everyone else and not taken time to process what I’d been through, both physically and mentally. Fast forward a year, and these unprocessed emotions came to boiling point. I had a complete meltdown and the wall I’d built tumbled down.
My biggest turning point was admitting I needed help. Seeing a therapist weekly for a year was life changing for me. Beyond the cancer, therapy showed me I was living in fear; of being a disappointment, of getting things wrong, of not being perfect. My therapist and I devised a plan of daily journaling, practising gratitude, and yoga to break me out of this mindset.
I’m still a work in progress, but now I’m thankful for my experience. It stopped me in my tracks and made me realise how high my internal expectations were. Now, I am more measured, balanced, and less controlling because I know that there are certain things in life out of my control. I get a little nervous before check-ups, but I don’t even live in fear of the cancer returning because I can’t be fearful of something out of my hands. All I know is to make the most of everyday.
By letting go of that fear, I’ve improved my relationships with those around me. But most importantly, I’ve learnt to love and respect myself for everything that I have been through. I realise I am enough.
There are two things I hope I’ve shared with you. The first is to watch out for your health and never take it for granted. The second is that there are positives to be found in every experience, and even on your darkest days, a little bit of light can always break through.