Monique Bareham was 37-years-old when she found a lump on her breast. She wasn’t doing a breast self-exam, and she had no family history of breast cancer, but some instinct pushed her to get it checked straight away. It was lucky she did. In a whirlwind few days, Monique had a mammogram, a biopsy, and a breast cancer diagnosis.
From then on, Monique was on what she calls the ‘cancer train.’ Doctors took over. They made decisions that led to surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapies, and other drugs. Then it all ended. She was cancer-free, and it was time to return to life as normal—but that’s easier said than done.
Before cancer, Monique had been a busy person with a management position in a government department and hopes for a family. When her treatment ended, she expected to take a couple of months to recover (if that) and then get back to work. When that didn’t happen, she thought something was very wrong with her.
Monique soon discovered that she couldn’t do her job anymore. She struggled with ‘chemo brain,’ fatigue, and other side effects. She would forget words and lose track of her thoughts. Then she was diagnosed with lymphoedema. Her employer kept saying, ‘You need to tell us what you need.’ Monique didn’t know what she needed. She was in a situation she never expected and didn’t understand. Soon enough, she was also facing a tough financial situation made tougher by the realisation that she wouldn’t be returning to work.
‘I lost my sense of self and purpose,’ Monique explains. It was like she’d been shoved off the cancer train and stranded at an unknown station, with no idea of which direction to take. Later, she would discover that many people struggle with the same issues. She would learn about cancer survivorship. But at the time, she felt very alone.