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Living with metastatic breast cancer

From Mrs Morris-Merchant in Farringdon

On Boxing Day morning 2000 I found a lump in my left breast. I was 40, with a daughter aged 11 and a son of 8, and it was the start of a long journey for me and my cancer.

I was 'officially' diagnosed on Feb 13th 2001 with a 2cm lump in my left breast and evidence of spread to the lymph nodes. I had a lumpectomy and 'node sampling' and spent my 41st birthday in hospital surrounded by beautiful flowers sent by friends and colleagues.

6 out of 10 lymph nodes were cancerous so I had to have a mastectomy 3 weeks later followed by chemo and then radiotherapy. Not a pleasant experience, although I coped well with being bald and was considered 'cool' by my son’s friends.

Life returned to some sort of normality and I was 'clear' for 3 years. Then, in July 2004 on our first 'fly away' holiday since my diagnosis I found a lump in my neck. I didn't dare tell my partner at this stage as he had only just recovered enough to fly again after being very badly affected by everything I had been through and it bringing back his claustrophobia that he had suffered as a child which meant that going on planes was a real no-no.

When we got home I made an appointment with my surgeon who did a biopsy and it was confirmed that the cancer had returned and it had mutated to become HER2 positive - not good news. However, there was no evidence of further spread so I had radiotherapy on the lump and was put on Herceptin.

I could go on for pages about all the problems such as pleural effusions (fluid around my lungs), cardiac tampanade (fluid around my heart - 3 litres!) and side effects that have been caused by both the cancer and the various treatments I have been on over the past 4 years but that wouldn't serve much purpose.

I am just grateful that due to medical science and a will of iron, I am still here - that's my motto! I have seen my daughter grow into a young woman (she is approaching her 19th birthday), and witnessed her success at both GCSE and A level and her fulfilling a dream that I had for myself at her age by getting into music college to study singing.

My son is now 16 waiting for his GCSE results and I enjoy his commitment to the band he plays with even though he is the drummer and I am the 'roadie'.

Last year I was well enough to organise our triple celebration. My partner of 23 years and I got married and we celebrated his 50th birthday and my daughter's 18th at one huge bash with friends and family.

I have been close to death at least 3 times in the last 2 years but my oncologist and I refuse to give up and I am currently in the best health I've had for a couple of years due to a combination of Taxol and Avastin, which has caused my many tumours to shrink markedly and my breathing is almost normal.

I am hoping that this combo will remain effective for a good while so that I will be here to see my daughter graduate, my son pass his A Levels and for me to have a big 50th birthday party, which is only 2 years away. Fingers crossed!

To all those living with the realities of cancer: Think positive - I KNOW it works; have a cry now and again but don't live in the 'dark'. Grab any opportunity to try something different and tick the 'I've done that' boxes; and above all don't give up hope or faith - God and science do go hand in hand!

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Updated: 28 September 2009