Hello, my name is Emma, I’m 39 and a single mum to three gorgeous children aged 18, 13 and 10.
I was just 35 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 2/5/14. Five days later I was told that it had spread to my bones. I had secondary breast cancer.
Secondary breast cancer is also known as stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer. The cancerous cells break away from the original tumour and travel through the body via the blood stream or lymphatic system and lodge in the bones, liver, lungs or brain.
I have no family history of breast cancer and if I’m honest, I had no idea that younger women could even get it! I certainly hadn’t heard of secondary breast cancer.
The rest of 2014 passed in a blur of hospital appointments, scans, chemo and radiotherapy. I was very poorly at first which saw me spend 3 weeks in hospital and whilst there I had 12 blood transfusions and 3 platelet ones. I later found out that I wasn’t expected to make it past Christmas.
But, almost 3 and a half years later, I’m still here and living my life in six month chapters, between scans. I don’t really like to plan anything out of this time frame as I feel it would be tempting fate. I’m due scans (MRI and CT) at the end of November so I’m starting to slow life down. There’s a 2 week wait for results and I dread the appointment as it could be the day my world comes crashing down – being told my disease had progressed.
Having a cancer diagnosis can be tough at times. And lonely. It changes you as a person. You have to find a new normal. You almost grieve for the life you had yet it’s so hard to look forward as the future is so uncertain. You just live each day as it comes. You have to deal with the waves of emotion that sneak up and overwhelm you. The emotions, thoughts and feelings that go around in my head can be exhausting. You also have to deal with the side effects from the medication that you have to take to stay alive – the fatigue, the pain, the loss of appetite, numbness in your hands and feet, hot flushes and night sweats thanks to the medically induced menopause you’re in and the worst one of all – losing your hair.
I found my new normal and it’s not too bad. In fact I feel extremely lucky in my cancer journey so far. Physically I get tired much more than I used to and have to be mindful not to overdo it. I have to have rest days where I literally do nothing. Mentally it’s a battle of wills, trying not to let the dark thoughts in. But mostly, I live my life oblivious to my illness and keep things as normal as possible for the children. Every so often the fact I have cancer creeps up on me but I’ve learnt to deal with it, shove it back in its box and carry on regardless!
Secondary breast cancer is treatable but not curable. I will never be clear of it, instead, I will be treated until all treatment options have been exhausted, and then………I’m sure you’ve got the idea.
While my disease cannot be cured, I do have hope that one day secondary breast cancer will be curable, and that women like me won’t have to live with the constant fear of the disease progressing. The only way that day will come is by the amazing research that is being done right now, and that needs to be done in the future. It’s because of research that there’s medication which keeps my cancer at bay, and it’s because of research that my children still have a mum. I know this research will eventually beat this disease.
Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity. To help support their world-class research targeting incurable secondary breast cancer, visit breastcancernow.org/getinvolved
To find out more about the signs and symptoms of primary breast cancer, click here.
For advice on how to tell your children you have cancer, click here.
To find out how scientists are working to stop secondary breast cancer, click here.