Ballycastle born nurse Katrina Turner is determined to encourage young women to check their breasts after she was diagnosed with cancer
When nurse Katrina Turner, from Ballycastle, was told she had breast cancer just a few months ago, her world fell apart.
The 35-year-old, who is also a talented singer, was devastated by the diagnosis and dreaded the thought of breaking the news to her parents, who had already lost a son in a car crash in 2007.
The future looked daunting as Katrina underwent test after test – biopsies, mammograms, ultrasounds and a lumpectomy. Katrina readily admits now she was petrified of what lay ahead and struggled to compute all the information coming at her. The thought of the festive season left her cold and she didn’t want to think of how 2017 would unfold.
But just a few weeks before Christmas the Ballycastle-born woman was told the positive news that her cancer – grade two invasive lobular carcinoma – was contained within the one lump Katrina had found in her left breast and that she wouldn’t need to have chemotherapy or a mastectomy but would receive radiotherapy and hormone treatment instead.
“When that news was broken to me and my mum, we were crying tears of joy,” Katrina says. “It was a weird dynamic. Yes, I have cancer, but once I heard the word ‘contained’, I felt so relieved. The fact they were looking at radiotherapy and hormone treatment were the things I tried to focus on. My consultant seemed positive and everything I was hearing was encouraging.
“I’m starting 2017 feeling a lot more optimistic that I was a few months ago. Everything has happened so quickly and it’s been hard to process all the information but I am determined to kick cancer. The prognosis is good and that’s what I’m holding onto.”
Katrina, who works as an orthopaedics nurse in Musgrave Park Hospital, was lying on the sofa, watching television one evening, when she started, almost subconsciously, to feel her breasts for lumps.
“I’ve been checking my breasts for years now, maybe not every month, but sometimes in the shower or when I’ve been lying in bed” she says. “I was watching television with my left hand behind my head and started to have a feel. I found something, but wasn’t sure if it was a lump or not. It was quite deep and I really had to move my fingers around to feel it. I knew it hadn’t been there before but to be honest, it was my time of month and I thought it might just be lumpy tissue.
“With hindsight I should’ve gone to the doctor straightaway but I decided to leave it and see if it went away.”
A few months later the lump hadn’t changed or increased in size but was still there, so Katrina went to see her GP. She was referred to Belfast City Hospital and within a fortnight, had received an appointment. A friend accompanied her to the hospital on October 18 and by the end of that day, Katrina had been given the shocking news that she did, in fact, have breast cancer.
“Once they started doing lots of tests, an ultrasound, mammogram, I had a feeling something was up,” she says. “The consultant came into the room and expressed concern about the lump and said I’d have to have a biopsy. I was in hysterics. I kept thinking ‘I’m going to wake up from this’. It felt like a bad dream.”
Although Katrina was told she definitely had cancer, she had to wait on the results coming back from pathology to determine what stage and what type of cancer she had. She was also told to return to the hospital two weeks later for a lumpectomy to check if the cancer had spread. As the medical staﬀ had also detected something small in her right breast, Katrina was told she would have to come back two days later for a further biopsy on that breast. It was a lot to take in.
“Those few days after the diagnosis were just awful,” says Katrina. “I’d gone down home to my parents’ house and was dreading telling them the news. I lost my brother Stephen in a car accident so all sorts of thoughts were running through my head - ‘I can’t do this to my parents’, ‘we can’t have another wake in this house’, ‘what if I’m not here next Christmas?’. Telling my family was horrible.
“I just felt so lost and scared. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I had two days to wait for the biopsy on my right breast but a week to get the results back from pathology. It was a very long week.”
The following Tuesday – a week to the day she received her diagnosis and ﬁve days following her right breast biopsy - Katrina and her mum travelled back to Belfast City Hospital to hear the results. The ﬁrst thing the consultant told her was positive – the right breast was cancer-free. They also discovered that Katrina’s cancer was caused by a faulty gene, that it fed on oestrogen in her body and that it appeared to be contained in that one lump. Katrina was booked in for an MRI scan at the Mater Hospital just to ensure the cancer hadn’t spread and was also given an appointment for surgery to have lymph nodes removed. But Katrina just concentrated on the positives – her cancer was treatable. She still had to wait for the results of the MRI scan but things were looking up.
“Mum and I came out of that appointment a lot happier than we went in, that’s for sure,” says Katrina.
On November 30, Katrina was given the results of the lumpectomy. Her type and grade of cancer meant chemotherapy and a mastectomy weren’t required. She was booked in again for further surgery to remove more breast tissue (to ensure they had got enough of a margin for clearance) and told her hormone treatment would start in December and the radiotherapy in the new year.
“I had mentally prepared myself for chemotherapy as I’d been told it was a strong possibility,” she says. “I didn’t want to have it but I was prepared to cut oﬀ my arm if it meant I was cancer free and if it reduced the risk of the cancer coming back. It took me a while to get my head round the fact I wouldn’t need chemo. I was relieved, of course, but at the back of my mind I was thinking ‘are they sure?’. “My oncologist told me I had low risk cancer so I just had to trust them. They know what they’re doing and I have to say, the medical staﬀ who’ve looked after me have been absolutely amazing.”
Katrina is now determined to share her story with other young women, to encourage them to regularly check their breasts and seek help immediately if they ﬁnd anything unusual. And she also wants to try and help reduce the fear associated with self-checking.
“I understand that many women are afraid to check in case they ﬁnd something but isn’t it better to ﬁnd something early, get it treated and come out the other side?
“My consultant said I was lucky to have found my lump because it was quite deep. But I know my own breasts. I knew what had changed.
And if women know their own breasts, they’ll recognise if anything’s changed too.”
To that end, Katrina has set up an aptly- named blog, www.katrinakickingcancer. com, which she says is also proving
therapeutic for her. The support she’s received so far has been ‘heart-warming’ she says and she’s encouraged by the number of private messages she has received from women saying they have now been inspired to go and check their breasts too.
The blog’s not her only outlet though. Over the last few months Katrina, a gifted songwriter, has penned an album’s worth of songs, which she now plans to record. Being able to write and express her feelings openly has helped her on her cancer journey.
“It has been a journey and I know it’s not over yet,” she says. “But as far as I’m concerned, the worst of it is behind me.
Finding out I had cancer, worrying that it was going to kill me, was awful.
“But I know now that what lies ahead for me is nothing I can’t handle. Yes, there are days I’ll feel very tired and not great, but that’s nothing compared to the alternative. I’m ready for 2017 and to take on cancer, to win.”
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