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Dealing with the unthinkable

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A breast cancer diagnosis is devastating. Here, a mother-of-two tells her story.

Television presenter Michaela Strachan revealed this week that she was forced to have both breasts removed after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

In an interview, the 48-year-old said: “The tears started to roll as my doctor tried to tell me what would happen next, but I only took in every fifth word or so. The one word that registered was ‘cancer’.

“I couldn’t get my head around the fact that on Monday morning I’d been apparently healthy, by Tuesday I had cancer, and by Wednesday I was
talking about a double mastectomy.”

The Springwatch presenter’s story is remarkably similar to that of Cove mum-of-two Kathleen Fromholc, who also underwent a double mastectomy within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer.

“I was 50 and hadn’t yet received a letter from the NHS inviting me to have a mammogram,” said Kathleen, 54.

“I’d been widowed a few years before: my husband David had died of a heart attack on the day we returned from a holiday in Florida, but he’d always reminded me to check regularly for any unusual lumps or bumps.

“On the Friday, I found a lump while having a bath.

“By Sunday, I had contacted G-Docs who, suspecting mastitis, sent me away with antibiotics, but I was in pain, so, on the Wednesday, I managed to see a doctor at my local surgery who then sent me to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

“Unsure of what was wrong with me, they admitted me to a surgical ward. At this stage, cancer hadn’t been mentioned.”

After being examined, the doctor suggested Kathleen attend a breast cancer clinic in a week and half’s time.

“I put my foot down and said I was refusing to leave the hospital until they found out what was wrong with me,” said Kathleen, who, prior to becoming ill, worked as a retail manager with John Lewis.

“All that was going through my mind was that the kids, who were then 18 and 20, had already lost their father and I didn’t want them to lose their mother.”

Exactly one week after finding the lump, she had a mammogram and cancer was diagnosed.

“I was taken into a room and told I had grade-three cancer; grade four is the worst you can get,” said Kathleen.

“It came as a shock, as there’s no history of cancer in my family.

“I was different to some people in that, with losing my husband, my attitude was that I was in a win-
win situation: I’m either here with my kids or there with my husband.

“My daughter doesn’t like to hear me saying that, but it helped me cope, knowing that if I had to go, he would be there.

“I think I’d have fallen to pieces if he’d still been here.”

Eleven days after finding the lump, Kathleen started chemotherapy, but this had to be stopped when it
was found to be affecting her heart.

However, the chemo had reduced the lump enough to allow the doctors to operate, removing the left breast and lymph nodes.

“As a precautionary measure, I decided to have the right breast removed a few months later,” said Kathleen.

“I’ve no idea as to why I had cancer, as I was fairly fit and had a good diet, but I’ve read a great deal about it and discovered that bereavement can trigger it, while at the same time I had a hysterectomy aged 44 and was on HRT, which some say is linked to cancer.”

Kathleen’s daughter, Ranatta, has been checked out and is thankfully showing no signs of the disease.

By way of a thank you, Kathleen organised a ladies fundraising night which raised £1,300 for Ward 42 and Ward 15, where she was treated.

“Aberdeen is second to none in dealing with cancer. If I hadn’t been treated as quickly as I was, maybe mine wouldn’t have been treatable,” said Kathleen, who has a two-year-old grandson, Ethan.

“Celebrities such as Michaela Strachan and Angelina Jolie speaking about have double mastectomies is a good thing as it raises awareness of breast cancer.

“What I’d like to see is screening introduced at an earlier age. If I’d had a mammogram before I was 50, my cancer might have been found sooner.”