Four brave breast cancer survivors have spoken with heart-wrenching honesty about the emotional and mental struggles they have faced since beating the disease.
In exclusive interviews with FEMAIL, mothers from across the country described how they have battled with anxiety, body confidence and chronic fatigue in the months and years since ending their treatment.
Their deeply personal stories highlight how often the invisible scars of cancer can linger long after the tumours have gone.
It comes as Breast Cancer Care warned women are not receiving the support they need at this crucial point in their recovery.
Candid confessions: Mother-of-three Kelly Hutchins, pictured with children Caleb, 12, Isaac, 10 and Everly, four, is one of the breast cancer survivors speaking out about their experiences
A recent survey by the charity revealed 26 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer believe ending their hospital treatment was harder than having a breast removed or going through treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
More than half of the 800 women surveyed reported struggling with anxiety at the end of treatment while one in three battled depression.
David Crosby, of Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘These shocking figures show that, for the majority of women, breast cancer doesn’t stop when hospital treatment ends. Getting back to “normal” can feel like a huge mountain to climb, and many find that leaving hospital after their last appointment is the hardest moment of all.’
Here, four deeply personal stories that highlight this struggle…
‘I worry every day about the cancer coming back’
Anxious: Katie Catterall with her husband Clive and their two children aged six and four. The mother-of-two said she has struggled to accept that her cancer has really gone
Mother-of-two Katie Catterall, 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017 and was given the all-clear after undergoing surgery in April. She is married to husband Clive and works full-time for a construction company.
Katie said: ‘In some ways I’ve been lucky as I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy after my surgery.
Constant worry: Katie Catterall
‘But that has also meant I’ve struggled to accept that all the cancer has gone. I worry about it all the time, even though the doctors have explained that they know there’s no way they could have left any cancer behind.
‘Every little ache and pain, I start thinking “I’ve got cancer again”. My doctor is tired of seeing me because I go back so much for him to check things.
‘I didn’t know anyone my age who had cancer, so that has made it more difficult, too. There isn’t really anyone I can talk to who understands what it’s like.
‘I’ve got two children, who are just 6 and 4, so I have worried that I won’t be around for them. But they also give me a reason to keep going.
‘I’m now on the waiting list for CBT to help me deal with my anxiety. I don’t know if there’ll ever be a time that I don’t think about cancer, but I want to be able to control the anxiety.’
‘Reason to keep going’: Katie, pictured with her family, was diagnosed in February this year
‘Ten years on, I’m only just learning to be confident again’
Growing confidence: Kelly Hutchins, 39, with her husband James and children Caleb, 12, Isaac, 10 and Everly, four. The mother-of-three said breast cancer affected her body confidence
Research nurse Kelly Hutchins, 39, from Mevagissey, Cornwall, found a lump in her breast a week before Christmas Day in 2007 while she was on maternity leave with her second son. She has three children with husband James, Caleb, 12, Isaac, 10, and Everly, four.
Recalling her diagnosis, Kelly said: ‘It was a hugely emotional and uncertain time. I didn’t know if treatment would mean I wouldn’t be able to have any more children, why I had breast cancer so young or how I would look after my family while I was going through treatment.
‘My body image changed a lot – I was very self-conscious of undressing in front of others. I don’t think I was happy or confident until very recently.
Honest: Kelly, pictured during treatment, left, and when her hair started to grow back, right
Support: Kelly, pictured with husband James, said she still does not wear certain types of clothing due to her scars, even though they have ‘faded’ and ‘settled down’ over the years
‘My scarring has faded and things have settled down, but I’m still unable to wear certain things as I have lots of scars from surgery.
‘Unfortunately cancer will always be part of our lives as there is always that doubt in the back of your mind whether it will return.
‘It has been hard on my eldest son especially as he has been on our journey the whole time – he was just two when I was diagnosed. But now I finally feel that, as a family, we are able to move forward with our lives.’
‘I felt panic-stricken’
Extreme anxiety: Katie Ackerman, 46, with her daughter Ella, who is now 14. The mother-of-two described how she felt like ‘nobody was looking out for her’ once her treatment ended
Katie Akerman, 46, from Chichester, West Sussex, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 when her youngest child, Henry, now four, was just seven months old. She is married to Jeremy and also has a 14-year-old daughter, Ella.
Speaking out: Katie said women need more help coping with the ‘aftermath of cancer’
Katie said: ‘After attending hospital on a weekly basis for treatment, you’re just sent on your way and it feels like nobody is looking out for you anymore.
‘Even family find it hard to understand that, for you, cancer is not over.
‘I couldn’t put a name to it but I just felt panic-stricken. It was extreme over-reaction to things going on around me.
‘I’d worry about my family getting killed in a car crash, or my young son choking in the night.
‘I’d been overseas a lot for work, but suddenly I couldn’t breathe at the thought of getting on a train to London.
‘My anxiety was controlling me and I didn’t have anywhere to turn.
‘There needs to be more out there to help women understand what they’re going through and cope with the aftermath of cancer.’
‘Every time I get a cold, I’m in bed for days’
Chronic fatigue: Mother-of-four Rachel Bruce, 47, pictured with son Morgan, described how it took her ‘a long time and a lot of energy’ to get the help she needed
Rachel Bruce, 47, from York, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. She had a mastectomy and reconstruction, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and is taking hormone treatment Tamoxifen for 10 years. She still struggles with chronic fatigue.
Rachel has four children, aged 20, 18, 15 and 13, with her husband.
Coping mechanisms: Rachel, pictured with son Tom, said it has affected her self-esteem
Rachel said: ‘I had the normal fatigue you have through treatment and had a couple of months away from my job as a primary school teacher to build myself back up.
‘But about a year later I got a cold and it really knocked me back. I tried to struggle on, but I just got worse and ended up off work for six months. Every time I’ve had a cold or infection since it has knocked me back again.
‘It took a long time and a lot of energy to get the help I needed. I kept getting told it was a normal part of life after breast cancer, and it could be that I was depressed because of what I’d been through. I felt like my physical symptoms were being dismissed.
‘Now I have been to a fatigue clinic and have coping mechanisms, but it’s still frustrating and it has affected my self-esteem. I have to plan how I use my energy very carefully and can’t be spontaneous. I can’t be the mum I was before, especially to my teenagers.’
Breast Cancer Care has launched a new app, BECCA, which offers women instant access to support from the moment they finish treatment for as long as they need it. For more information click here.