When Detrice Matthews was diagnosed with breast cancer, she started an award winning blog. Interview by Catherine Scott
It might seem strange then that she has spent the last 18 months writing about some of her most personal and private details and thoughts in a blog read by thousands which is now up for two national blogging awards.
“I know it doesn’t really make sense that I don’t normally like talking about myself but I felt that I just had to raise awareness about the dangers of breast cancer to other young women and also as a legacy for my children.”
Detrice started what was initially a diary in May 2015 as a way of helping her cope with diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
At the time she was 32 and life was good.
She had two gorgeous children, a good job and a happy marriage.
Then she found a pea-sized lump in her breast and her world changed forever.
“I was only 32. I thought I was too young to have breast cancer. I was in good health. I didn’t really think that much of it, it didn’t hurt so I thought I would just keep an eye on it,” says Detrice from Leeds. “I’d breast-fed two children and as a result had pretty lumpy boobs. But then I noticed that it had changed shape and size, only slightly, from a pea to a kidney bean shape.”
With encouragement from her husband, Detrice went to her GP.
“Even then, it felt silly and irrational, slightly embarrassing too but I decided firmly in my head that it was better to have someone tell you everything was all right than to make a mistake that could cost you everything.”
She is so thankful that she listened to her husband that day as the GP referred her to St James’s Hospital for tests which confirmed that the lump was breast cancer.
In January 2015 she underwent a mastectomy, reconstruction and chemotherapy after doctors discovered the grade of cancer was higher than they originally thought. That changed everything again.
“Someone suggested writing down my experiences as a therapeutic way of dealing with the treatment and in a lot of ways it really help. In the beginning it was a personal things and I also included observations about my children. Somehow it helped.
“I never really thought about anyone else reading it, but then I kept getting messages of support from people who said they found my honesty had really helped them.”
She was also inspired after watching BBC drama The C Word, about the journalist Lisa Lynch, played by Sheridan Smith, who wrote a blog and then a book about her battle with breast cancer. Lisa died in March 2012 aged 33 – a year older than Detrice.
“Of all the admirable things that Lisa wrote, the thing I felt most akin to was the question she posed shortly after her initial diagnosis: ‘Where are all the other women my age who have also been diagnosed with breast cancer, surely I can’t be the only one?’
“I too asked the same question after my diagnosis. Endlessly scrolling through the internet, looking for real accounts, by real people.
“The truth is, there are thousands of women out there, but to write an honest account of something so difficult is no easy feat.
“There were quite a lot of women writing about their experience with cancer and quite a lot of mummy bloggers talking about bringing up young children, but I sat somewhere in the middle. I had all the experiences of going through cancer treatment, but I still had to get up and get the kids’ breakfast.”
However it has been her children, Noah, six, and Isla, four, and the need for a type of normality for them that Detrice says has really helped her through the last 18 months.
“They kids knew that mummy was poorly but they were too young to really understand what was happening.
“Luckily I didn’t lose my hair as I think that would have been harder for all of us. I used a cooling cap which in a lot of ways was more painful than the chemotherapy but it worked,” says Detrice.
“When you have small children in particular you really just have to get on with it no matter what happens and that is very much how I feel about it. I never think of dealing with cancer as a ‘fight’ or a ‘battle’. I have no choice I just have to get on with it.”
It is just over a year since Detrice started her blog, A Young Mum’s Journey Through Breast Cancer and Beyond, and she has been stunned by the response.
As well as accolades from other women going though a similar thing, she has received plaudits from the blogging community.
She was a finalist in the recent Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards and will find out next month if she has won the MAD (Mum and Dad) Best New Blog and Best Blog awards.
“It is such a surprise,” she says. “I do love writing but it really set out as something personal for my and my kids and other young women with breast cancer and it has grown into so much more.
“A couple of times during my treatment I did think twice about writing about something so personal. But then I had messages from people who were going through a similar thing and how my blog was helping them. It made me realise that it was worthwhile.”
Detrice still has to undergo regular check-ups at St James’s Hospital to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
“I just want to raise awareness of cancer in young people. People need to realise that it can happen to them as it happened to me.”
For more on the awards visit: www.tots100.co.uk/awards