A mum of two who beat breast cancer is supporting the efforts of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month across North Wales this month.
Glenda Burke, from Porthmadog, was diagnosed with grade 3 breast cancer on 20th September 2017 after discovering a lump on her right breast and she is now speaking out to encourage other women to check themselves for the disease.
Following a lumpectomy, Glenda underwent a course of chemotherapy at the Alaw Unit in Ysbyty Gwynedd followed by radiotherapy at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s Cancer Centre.
Glenda said: “I discovered the lump while I was in the shower at the beginning of September last year and rang my GP the same day to get it checked out.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I didn’t really know how I felt, it was all a bit of a blur and it felt like it was happening to someone else.
“I was scheduled for my lumpectomy on the 13th October at Ysbyty Gwynedd with my wonderful surgeon, Mr Ilyas Khattak, who I cannot praise enough and was incredibly kind throughout this part of my treatment.
“He removed 36 lymph nodes from my right armpit and I was told that luckily the cancer had not spread further, which was a huge relief.”
Most women with breast cancer will be offered more than one treatment and Glenda underwent a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy following her surgery to ensure she had the best chance to beat the disease.
“The chemotherapy was the most gruelling part of the whole journey for me, I began to feel unwell and started to lose my hair.
“I never thought hair loss would be something that would have an impact on me but when it started coming out in clumps it really did start to upset me, mainly because, for the first time, I looked like someone who had cancer.
“To make getting through this stage that little bit easier I made the decision with my husband to shave my hair off, this was very upsetting for both us but it helped me by not seeing my hair fall out each day.
“I had my chemotherapy in six sessions every three weeks and even though this was the most difficult part for me it was made easier by the amazing staff on the Alaw Day Unit and my fantastic oncologist, Dr Catherine Bale, who were all so supportive.
“I was determined to beat the disease throughout and my last part of the treatment was at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd to have 20 sessions of radiotherapy which was a walk in the park compared to the chemotherapy!” added Glenda.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the UK and over 55,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year.
Dr Catherine Bale, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Ysbyty Gwynedd, said: “One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
“Breast cancer is thought to be caused by a combination of our genes, lifestyle choices and surrounding environment – in a small number of cases, breast cancer genes run in the family.
“The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment. I would encourage all women aged 50 and over to attend their free breast screening appointments which are extremely effective in detecting early signs of breast cancer.
“I’d like to thank Glenda for speaking out about her experience to raise awareness and for her kind words about the teams who were involved in her treatment.”
Glenda hopes her story will provide hope to others who are currently undergoing treatment to beat the disease. She said: “I have now received the all clear and it’s surprising how normal I feel again post cancer.
“If by sharing my story helps one person going through what I did then I will be very happy.
“It is a gruelling journey and you do go through very dark times but the important thing to remember is there is life after breast cancer.
“This experience has given me a whole different perspective on life, you appreciate the small little things now. I was very grateful for support from friends, family and neighbours, but was also amazed at support from many people who I hardly knew, who contacted me as fellow cancer survivors and offered advice and encouragement.
“I can’t thank the staff in Ysbyty Gwynedd and the cancer centre enough for the support they provided along the way, especially the breast cancer nurses who were only a phone call away if I ever needed anything.
“We are truly lucky to have such a fantastic health service here in North Wales.”
Photos: Glenda with her daughters, Ffion (brunette) and Caryl (blonde).