Filling the void when treatment ends

At age 47, Janine Keyhoe was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in April last year. The next eight months felt like an endless cycle of appointments, check-ups and treatments. Yet, when she finished her treatment, she was left facing a new challenge. There was an unexpected void and a sense of ‘now what?’

‘From the moment I was diagnosed, it felt like my life was consumed by breast cancer,’ says Janine. ‘It occupied my time and my mind from my diagnosis in April, to my lumpectomy in May, to five months of chemo from June to October and, ultimately, my double mastectomy and reconstruction in November.’

Janine was also coping with having treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an intense time and then, all of a sudden, it was over. It felt like she was expected to just go back to her normal life.

‘When I finished chemo, it was hard to pick up the pieces and be expected to look after myself’, Janine recalls. ‘It was like, bang! Finished, all the best, try to be healthy’.

Apart from check-ups with her oncologist every six months and the final procedure to complete her reconstruction, Janine’s life was no longer all about her breast cancer.

‘It was an interesting time,’ Janine says. ‘I felt really alone and lost in the sense of not knowing what to do.’

The message from her medical team about trying to be healthy was one she took to heart. And, like she had when she was first diagnosed, Janine turned to the internet for help. Early in her diagnosis, her breast care nurse had cautioned her about some of the information she might find online which could be, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, dangerously inaccurate.

Janine says she found BCNA’s podcasts were helpful and informative, and BCNA’s Helpline answered some questions between her appointments with her nurse and oncologist.

Post-treatment, though, Janine found herself going down what she describes as the ‘online rabbit hole’.

‘I cut out sugar and alcohol, and then I experimented with some more extreme diets because I believed what I was saw online. At one point, I started to feel worse than I had before,’ she says.

Finally, Janine’s mum said to her: ‘Enough is enough – you have to live your life.’

‘I realised I had to stop searching. While I think it’s natural to want to do everything you possibly can to avoid a recurrence, there comes a point when you also need to protect yourself.’

Instead, Janine filled the void she had been feeling by taking time to slowly reconnect with herself, after feeling completely disconnected to her body after all the poking, prodding and procedures. She decided to see a dietitian who has since helped her come up with a more realistic and manageable plan for her health.

‘I feel like I have adjusted now. My priorities have changed and I am not the same person I was,’ she says. ‘I have always been a worrier but I have trained myself with mindfulness to worry less. I meditate and take things more slowly and less seriously.’

One thing that Janine remembers fondly from 2020 is the incredible kindness of people. She is now supporting others who are navigating their breast cancer diagnosis and sharing what she has learnt along the way.

‘I have constant reminders of what I’ve been through and scars which will be with me forever, but I also have incredible gratitude for my friends and family, for my breast care nurse, and for the advances in our medical system. Ten years ago, my type of cancer did not have a great outcome, but thanks to research that has changed.’

You can listen to Janine Keyhoe and her friend Kath Elliot discuss what they wish they had known when they were first diagnosed with breast cancer, in BCNA’s Upfront About Breast Cancer podcast episode: What I wish I knew.

Issue 88
Winter 2021