I am a 41 year old woman with secondary breast cancer. My primary was diagnosed in 2011 and my secondary in 2012. I have aggressive triple negative disease giving me skin and lung metastases. I have been on chemotherapy constantly since May 2012.
I never dreamed that I would get cancer or be ill; I always assumed I would live a long full life. I remember the shock of being told I had terminal cancer. Walking out of the consultation felt so unreal, it felt like walking through treacle.
Cancer has taken away so much including my chance to be a mother and my chance to give back the care my mother gave me. I have had to retire. I was a GP (and loved my job), but because my only treatment option was chemotherapy, I wasn't safe to see sick patients. I have had to build a new set of roles for myself in order to repair the loss of self-esteem, loss of body confidence and loss of my vocation.
Mostly I feel desperately sad about leaving my husband who I love to bits. He is such a wonderful man, yet he will be widowed so young. I feel terribly guilty for the pain that my cancer inflicts on people that love me.
I have had great treatment in Sheffield, but I have had to repeatedly request help for symptom control and have found this frustrating. I felt that I was making a fuss and not being listened to. For example, I mentioned itching in my skin metastases every time I went to clinic for two months until I reached a crisis point when I contacted a Breast Cancer Care nurse via email. She gave me great advice, and I was then able to ask for the right referral to palliative care.
It's a tricky balance between knowing you have terminal cancer and living life. I spend about 95% of my life really living it to the full. We've had wonderful holidays and seen the people who matter most. My best friend has been amazing. Somehow she always knows just exactly the right thing to do or say, and she totally understands that I'm all about the living!
Breast Cancer Care's Living with Secondary Breast Cancer monthly meetings are fantastic. I always feel so positive when I leave. We spend our time laughing and talking about our holidays, talking about how to look good despite missing boobs and large tummies thanks to treatment. Everyone there understands what life is like with secondary breast cancer because we are all in the same boat.
It's sometimes hard to get friends to understand that I don't really want to talk all about my latest scan or treatment, and especially not the nitty gritty of my symptoms. I want to talk about their lives and get some gossip. My husband and I live secondary breast cancer 24/7, we don't really want to talk all about it in the pub.
Basically I treasure everything and everyone that makes me feel normal. I am still me, I just happen to have secondary breast cancer.
Find out more about Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day by visiting; www.breastcancercare.org.uk/secondary