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Breast Cancer – What Does it Feel Like?

Article by Dr Kathleen Thompson


what is it like to have breast cancer image

As a doctor I found having breast cancer a difficult challenge. But at least I knew ‘the system’. It made me realise how hard it must be for people without the benefit of a medical background. So I wrote an award-winning book. My aim was to provide all the key information for people embarking on this bewildering journey, in an easily absorbable format. So I mingled my story with factual information. The chapters are short but pertinent, with a summary and further information box. Amongst many other things, I talked about what it feels like to have cancer.

Here’s an excerpt, I hope you find it helpful:

The ensuing weeks and months after my diagnosis were an emotional roller-coaster.

Looking back, I was mainly in denial. There were certainly dark times. Would I die? If so, how soon? I experienced moments of fear, and acute panic. But most of the time, I was encased in a strange euphoria. My senses were heightened, and colours appeared intense. I was very conscious of nature. I became extremely observant, acutely aware of the tiniest object. I noticed the delicate features on the smallest insect, the rainbow reflections on the tiny wings, the graceful movement of its head; the wonderful perfume of a flower. The world just seemed so beautiful. Maybe I was trying to experience as much as possible, because my time might abruptly end; maybe it was just a state of shock? I don’t know, but it was a definite effect.

Coupled with this, I felt a bit of a fraud. Everyone who’d heard my news was devastated. To some I was a heroine, to some a martyr, and yet it seemed there was nothing wrong with me. I felt and looked fit and well. Yes, there was this small bit of cancer, but the nice surgeon was going to remove it all, and everything was going to be fine. So I didn’t really deserve all the fuss and sympathy. It wasn’t as if I had proper cancer, not like some poor souls.


And then I began to feel ‘special’. I had CANCER (a bit like a platinum card).

‘I’m sorry, I have cancer, I really can’t queue up with everyone else, could you see me right away?’

‘I have breast cancer, how about giving me your seat?’

‘How dare you shout at me? Don’t you know I have cancer?’

In truth, I rarely used this trump card, but when I did, it was powerful. The word “Cancer” opens an encyclopaedia of feelings, associations, memories, and fears in everyone’s mind.

Sometimes denial switched to anger. I’d like to apologise to all the sweet old ladies who I glared at, wondering what exactly gave them the right to have achieved a ripe old age?

You can find more information on breast cancer and read her personal journey as a doctor with breast cancer in Kathleen’s book, From Both Ends of the Stethoscope: Getting through breast cancer – by a doctor who knows 

Note: This article express personal views. No warranty is made as to the accuracy or completeness of information given and you should always consult a doctor if you need medical advice


Dr Kathleen Thompson is a physician, specialising in drug research.

Her life changed completely when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She learned a great deal from having cancer herself, and is keen to provide this insight to others. It became the inspiration for her book, ‘From Both Ends of the Stethoscope’.


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