Women's health

Breast cancer: “We can be braver and stronger than we think”

Lynette Jackson from Switzerland, shares how she coped with the difficult time of diagnosis and treatment and the journey out of her disease.
5min
Santina Russo
Published on 4. Oktober 2021

Three women, three countries, three individual breast cancer stories. In the first part of this three-part series, Lynette, a breast cancer survivor from Switzerland, meets up with our journalist and a photographer on the shores of Lake Zürich. Lynette’s story is augmented by quotes from her personal cancer blog, Silver Linings[3]: a happy tale of cancer treatment.

As Lynette Jackson looks out at Lake Zürich, her face lights up. The 49-year-old former synchronized swimmer is in her swimsuit and ready to take the plunge. On this perfect July day, the lake in Meilen, a village near Zürich, is around 20 degrees centigrade.
“Swimming and diving in the water, I feel at home,” Lynette says. Comfortable in her swimsuit, she is not bothered by the small, faintly visible scar below her right collarbone. “From the port-a-cath for the chemo,” she explains. The more apparent scar from surgery to remove the tumor in her left breast is safely hidden under the swimsuit.
Lynette Jackson
It was a year ago, at the end of July 2020, when Lynette first felt a pain in her breast a few days after diving into the lake. This plunge and the pain that followed it would save her life. She felt her breast and found a pea-sized lump. Immediately, she contacted her gynecologist.
After an ultrasound and a mammogram, things looked good. Her doctor was not concerned, therefore neither was Lynette, as she wrote in her blog:

Breast Cancer

But with the results of the biopsy came the bad news. It’s malignant. Worse: it’s triple negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form. “I was extremely lucky to find the tumor early,” confides Lynette. Triple-negative<sup>1</sup> means that the tumor cells do not possess estrogen and progesterone receptors, and that there is no excess <a href="HER2" target="_blank" data-ste-link-id="3282069932.on/cp-text-image-4da48af5:0002213853.HER2:0003198909">HER2</a> protein — three characteristics that serve as points of attack for commonly used anti-cancer drugs. This way, only limited options remain for therapy.
HER2 proteins are receptors for growth factors, meaning proteins that prompt cell division resulting, in the case of cancer cells, to tumor growth. They can specifically be targeted and blocked by anti-cancer drugs.
However, the hardest thing for Lynette was not facing therapy but telling her close friends and family about the cancer — especially her children, a girl and a boy, aged 13 and 15 at the time. “I wanted to tell them the truth but at the same time, I didn’t want to upset them,” Lynette tells me. “But their response was both very grown up and sweet.”

Breast Cancer

From the start, Lynette wrote about her experiences in a blog that she did not publish until the last day of her chemo treatment. As a communications pro — Lynette is the head of global communications at Siemens AG — writing comes naturally to her. “Putting down my thoughts and feelings was cathartic. It helped me to process,” she reflects today. Overall, her blog is surprisingly positive and encouraging. On top, it features the quote “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain”. “I am lucky that my outlook is generally positive,” says Lynette. “I was determined that I wouldn’t let the illness shape me.”

Breast Cancer

After diagnosis, a treatment plan was established. First item on the list: surgery, more accurately a lumpectomy, meaning the removal of the tumorous tissue, along with a lymph node check to establish if the cancer had already spread. This happened within two weeks of Lynette finding the lump. Then, the long, hard months of chemotherapy.
New cancer cases Switzerland
To prepare herself, Lynette, who grew up in Surrey, England, spoke with people who had had cancer or were going through it at the time, among them women from an English-speaking support group, but also her aunt who had had breast cancer as well as colleagues from work and women she knew from her children’s school. “I would recommend this to everyone who has to face this disease. It just helps to know that you are not alone in this,” Lynette says. Plus, she got some simple but useful tips for going through chemotherapy, such as: use a soft toothbrush and no-alcohol toothpaste, buy non-perfumed lip balm and soft hair coverings, like scarves. “Also, my chemo nurse was wonderful, a Dutch lady. We went through the possible symptoms together and she encouraged me to share details of side effects so the team can help.”

Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy is tough: “When you have some other sickness like the flu, you don’t feel equally awful all the time. You rest, and then you feel a bit better. But with the chemotherapy sickness, there is no relief,” says Lynette. While for several months, she chose to continue to work to maintain ‘normality’, the effects are cumulative. Right at the end, after 18 weeks of chemotherapy, Lynette was so weak, on some days she could barely walk 100 meters.
Lynette Jackson swimming
What helped her at least in the first few weeks was being in the lake. Having been a swimmer since infancy and later a synchronized swimmer for Great Britain, water had always been Lynette’s safe space. “The water gives me such energy; this helped when I felt really ill from the chemo,” she recalls. “Also, under water you can scream without anybody hearing you.” Lynette would scream only there, not wanting to upset anyone, especially not her children. “Having cancer and going through this treatment is really horrible and scary, and you have to find a way to let out your emotions.”
During this time, her colleagues, friends and family, especially her “rock of a husband” Mark, were nothing short of amazing, Lynette says. “The love I got from my friends who sent care packages, who called and wrote after every chemo session saying they were proud of me that it would be all right; it makes you see the special people you have in your life.”
As a final measure to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, Lynette went through a few weeks of radiation therapy, which was “nowhere near as bad as chemo”. In January 2021, less than a month after the last chemo treatment, Lynette went for her first run since diagnosis.
“It makes me proud to know that I was strong and brave in facing this horrible situation,” Lynette says today. She is just back from her swim, dripping, and happy. Has the illness changed her? “I think so,” Lynette says. “I have a broader perspective now. One piece of advice I would give to women is: If you have your health, don’t be worrying about little things, like body image for instance. Love yourself as you are today. And don’t wait for the next holiday or for good weather to enjoy life, but take pleasure in every day as it is.”
Lynette Jackson

Breast Cancer

Lynette also emphasizes that the reason she could be so positive facing treatment was that the tumor was caught early. In fact, she has since made it her mission to remind women in her acquaintance not to put off their yearly gynecologist check-ups. “I understand if women are nervous about getting checked because of a possible negative outcome. From my own experience, I would tell them to trust themselves. We can be braver and stronger than we think.”
Lynette Jackson is standing at the Lake Zurich

Breast Cancer


By Santina Russo
Santina Russo is a freelance science and medical journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland.