'My hair came out in huge clumps': Kate's emotional battle to beat breast cancer
Breast cancer survivor Kate Fowler tells James Campbell about her battle against the disease ...
SHE was just 27 when she received the news that would change Kate Fowler's life.
Her doctor had dismissed the lump in her breast as a benign cyst.
But instinctively, Kate, now 32, knew there was something more to it.
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"I went back to my doctor because I was genuinely concerned," she said.
"I am not the sort of person to run to the doctor. Eventually, I was sent to see a specialist.
"He thought the lump was harmless but could see the emotional effect it was having on me.
"I had surgery to remove it in September 2007, which was a relief.
"But ten days later, I was asked to come back in."
The niggling doubts Kate had in her mind were about to become a devastating reality.
"The specialist told me he had really bad news," she said.
"They had found I had an aggressive form of breast cancer. I had a tumour two-and-a-half inches long.
"They got me into surgery really quickly and had it removed."
Not one to get downtrodden, Kate put on a brave face.
"I had a laugh about it," she said. "But when they took the dressing off, I was really upset.
"About a third of my breast had been removed.
Receiving chemotherapy was a problem for Kate. She suffers from Raynaud's Syndrome, which affects the circulation.
This meant they couldn't find a vein to put the tube in, meaning they had to fit a "passport" – a tube mechanism that bypasses the vascular system so chemotherapy drugs can be administered.
"The chemo made me very sick," she said.
"I lived off strawberries and ice lollies because they were the only things that still tasted the same.
"After my third chemo session, I ran my hand through my hair and it came out in huge clumps.
"I initially took it all in good humour but it really affected me.
"I have never been a very confident person but my hair was the one thing that did give me some confidence.
"I felt like I had completely lost my femininity.
"I was even mistaken for a lad. I laughed but underneath it really hurt.
"Luckily, I had massive support from hairdresser Claire Willie who really helped me so much.
"She cut my hair short before hand to soften the blow."
By her sixth chemotherapy session, Kate had lost a lot of weight and the doctors were concerned anymore would kill her.
They decided to put her the hormonal drug Herceptin.
"Life was becoming very hard," she said.
"It was taking all my energy just to get out of bed.
"At that point, if someone had offered me an injection to put me to sleep, I would have taken it."
After eight treatments of Herceptin, Kate's passport needed changing.
It was at this point, Kate nearly lost her life.
"Changing the passport should be five to ten minutes of surgery but I came to a few hours later not knowing what had happened.
"The surgeon told me he had managed to take out the metal bit but couldn't retrieve the tube which remained.
"Not long after, I was having trouble going up the stairs. I was struggling with my breathing and having chest pains.
"I had an X-ray and they discovered the tube had gone to my heart and had got coiled up, causing small embolisms on my lungs.
"Another surgeon, who viewed the X-rays said he was amazed it hadn't killed me and said he'd never seen anything like it.
"I was given anti-coagulant drugs to stop the clotting.
"It was so annoying as I had made such progress battling the cancer.
"I had surgery to pull out the tube but it got snagged and all the machines began beeping. I started crying but they managed to sort it.
"I felt mentally scarred by the whole process.
As well as the trauma surrounding her treatment and recovery, being diagnosed with cancer has caused other problems.
"Getting cancer has put me in so much debt," she said.
"Just before I was diagnosed, I had taken out a mortgage.
"It all went wrong because I couldn't work.
"When I finally got round to thinking about suing the hospital for the first operation possibly the time limit had passed.
"I didn't trust anything anyone said anymore.
"I have just tried to get on with my life and not let anything affect me.
"But I have to admit it has."
Kate has since been told she was eligible for reconstructive surgery.
"Unfortunately, the radiotherapy had damaged my skin which meant any implant would be rejected," she said.
"They tried lip-modelling by taking fat from another part of my body to put in my breast but this was also rejected."
Despite the endless setbacks, Kate has come out the other side with a positive outlook.
"I think it's time I came to terms with the way my body is," she said.
"I am lucky to have a boyfriend who loves me for the way I am and a strong network of family and friends.
"Over the last 18 months, I've tried to rediscover my confidence.
"I have been able to put the cancer behind me now and recently had the five years all clear."
From her own experience, Kate believes it is vital women don't ignore the signs and ensure everything is checked out.
"My best words of advice, particularly to young women, is not to be brushed off if you think there's something wrong," she said.
"The sooner the cancer is detected the better.
"You also need to maintain a sense of humour – that's incredibly important.
"The worst thing is watching the people round you feeling so helpless."
A Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust spokesman said: "We cannot comment on an individual case and we do not have a formal complaint or PALS enquiry from Mrs Fowler.
"If she would like to contact us, we can respond to her concerns directly."
• October is breast cancer awareness month.