My Story: Elizabeth Conlon

I’m Elizabeth Conlon, I have been married to my husband Gary for 52 years and we have five children, including OMGTea founder, Katherine Swift. I am a very hands-on grandparent to nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren! Family is everything to me.

I am quite a private person so sharing my story like this is taking me out of my comfort zone, but when asked to take part in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I felt compelled to do so and hope that it helps to raise awareness for breast cancer and, potentially help others going through a similar experience to mine.

How I felt when I received my breast cancer diagnosis

When I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, I was in a state of disbelief. I had always been a very fit and active person who prided herself on healthy living, so my diagnosis came as a real shock.

I had a malignant melanoma removed from my leg a few years prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Following the melanoma, I went to see a geneticist around family history of cancer. She informed me of a link between melanoma and breast cancer. This was always at the back of my mind so you might wonder why my breast cancer diagnosis came as such a shock however, whenever I was screened for breast cancer, I would mention the link and it appeared to fall on deaf ears. Besides, as a family we had always eaten healthily - I was a stay-at-home mum so had lots of time to make nutritious meals, I had never taken the pill and had not taken HRT. It appeared that I was worrying unnecessarily. It was never going to happen to me.

Like many women I had experienced anxiety around screening and finding small lumps and then in those cases, I was given the all-clear. However, the breast lump which turned out to be breast cancer was extremely large and easily visible and literally seemed as if it had come out of nowhere. Alarm bells immediately rang, and I made an urgent appointment to see a breast surgeon.

My youngest daughter (who is an anaesthetist) came with me for the biopsy appointment. We didn't speak about it - given my daughters medical background I knew that it would be difficult for her - besides what could she say? We both sat in silence with our own inner thoughts and continued to think it must be a false alarm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

My biggest self-discovery after being diagnosed

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can change your perspective on things or even how you perceive yourself, and for me, the realisation that I was not invincible was probably the biggest self-discovery I had following my diagnosis. I felt that if it could happen to me, it really could happen to anyone.

Taking back control

Once the diagnosis was given, the gauntlet was thrown down and I was determined to go for it and do whatever I could do to try to get through it.

A lumpectomy was an option for me, but I decided on a mastectomy and not only that, I wanted all lymph nodes from under the arm removing. I was on the waiting list for my operation and was concerned about how long I might have to wait, I was in daily contact with the surgeon’s office enquiring around the possibility of a cancellation. I was extremely lucky as I managed to have my surgery within a few days.

Chemotherapy was not easy physically or psychologically; I remember each time I had the chemo I would fixate on my hand into which the canula was delivering the toxic chemo drugs - MY BODY that I had tried so hard to keep fit and well!! Nonetheless, I continued to try to keep as fit as possible throughout the whole course of treatment. The fitter you go in the fitter and quicker you will come out the other end. Things like a gym membership were no longer an option because of a compromised immune system. If I felt well enough, I would go for a daily jog or in bad weather, I would even run up and down the stairs to get my heart pumping. It was also during this time that Yoga became part of my daily routine and continues to be to this day. I have a lot to thank Howard Napper and Penny Smith for - their yoga video was played incessantly. Often, I wasn’t physically able to do yoga, but it was still good to watch and absorb all the details and practice the breathing. I have even convinced my husband of the benefits of Yoga!

Poor appetite was another challenge. My Matcha green tea was central together with foods that were often rather bland. The bland food was out of choice, my appetite wasn't great but, I knew I had to eat, and it was a case of eating to live - eating to give myself the best chance - it was something I could do myself to take back some control over my life.

On being the inspiration behind OMGTea

My daughter (and OMGTea founder) Katherine was an inspiration. She fought as hard as me and did everything she could to ensure the right outcome. She changed careers and worked tirelessly for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. The detailed research she did led to her leaving the charity, finding matcha green tea and founding OMGTea and her own charity, The Healthy Life Foundation. I was and am very proud.

Katherine is the true inspiration behind OMGTea. I am just so happy to have played a part.

Matcha continues to be a big part of my health regime, I drink OMGTea matcha every day – in fact, it is my first drink of the day. I truly believe in its overall benefits; it works for me, and I feel that it has helped me in many ways during the current pandemic.

Advice for others going through breast cancer

Everyone’s experience is different so it can be hard to give advice that will be relevant for all but here are a few things that really helped me.

• A routine mammogram can be a false negative. If you’re not 100% convinced, be persistent.
• Try to stay positive and take control of your exercise, diet, etc. to support your immune system. This not only helped me stay strong enough physically so that my chemotherapy treatments weren’t delayed but it also helped me emotionally as I was taking back some of the control that my cancer diagnosis had taken away from me.
• Use the resources and support that are available, if I was ever uncertain about something I contacted the Macmillan nurses at the Christie, where I had my treatment, for advice. A key part of this was self-administration of white blood cell boosters to strengthen my immune system before each chemotherapy treatment.
• Cancer brings both mental and physical stresses with it and treatment can be incredibly challenging at times. I found it helpful if we planned some sort of a reward when a course of treatment was successfully completed, it gave me something to look forward to.