Breast Cancer Awareness Month
13 October 2020
Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day (13th October)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I’m sure that you'll have seen various campaigns about it across companies and social media. But maybe you weren't aware that today is the only day that’s specifically about secondary breast cancer? (13th October)
Image from Make 2nds Count
Secondary Breast Cancer is also known as metastatic, advanced or stage IV breast cancer, and it means a cancer which has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. It happens when the initial breast cancer cells (primary breast cancer) are spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Out of 55,000 women in the UK diagnosed annually with breast cancer, 30% will also receive a secondary diagnosis. In about 5% of those women, the breast cancer will have already spread by the time it’s diagnosed. Secondary Breast Cancer kills 31 women every day and while it can be treated, it isn’t curable. The aim of treatment is to control and slow down the disease as much as possible, enabling patients to have the best possible quality of life for as long it's achievable.
Lisa Fleming is the founder of charity Make 2nds Count. We met through a friend as I took over from Lisa as an events manager at my previous role. Lisa was diagnosed ‘de novo’ which means that her primary & secondary breast cancer were diagnosed at the same time back in May 2017. She had been to the Dr several times to discuss a loss of feeling in her right arm, alongside crippling back pain. She also noticed that one of her stretch marks from carrying son was looking a bit wrong.
She really had to persevere to be seen and was repeatedly told that there was nothing to worry about. The moral of this story is never dismiss your feelings if something doesn't feel 'right' - you know your body better than anyone else and if you feel that something is wrong your gut feeling shouldn’t be ignored.
Lisa was given a non-urgent referral however a week later was undergoing tests and biopsies only to be told that she had breast cancer.
48 hours after that, she was told the breast cancer had made its way to every bone in her body, including her skull. The cancer had essentially eaten through her neck & spine and she spent a month in hospital as they tried to stabilise her and prevent paralysis. They also needed to ensure that her body was strong enough to undergo chemotherapy.
“...I went through an initial 15 rounds of Paclitaxol (IV chemo) alongside Herceptin and Perjeta (HP sauce!), denosumab for the old bones and zoladex (which was to shut down the power house that was my ovaries). In February of 2018, we were thrown yet another curve ball when we were told that the cancer had spread to my brain. I still struggle to find the words to explain how that felt. Brain surgery and radiation (cyberknife) took place and I was moved onto Capecitabine, an oral chemotherapy treatment which I am still on (touch wood!). Since diagnosis I have undergone a total of 13 surgeries ranging from brain, to spine and breast and I am now waiting for number 14 which was initially postponed due to COVID. I thank my lucky stars every day for my brilliant medical team who work so hard to keep me going! Living with stage 4 cancer is tough! Regardless of the pictures we post of ourselves looking funky at chemo or leading a relatively ‘normal’ life between treatments, of course it changes your life in a way that you can’t explain but learning to live with that new normal is something that slowly you do learn to do.
Without doubt, the best advice I think I could give is Do what is right for you! Life can be overwhelming and some days it's hard to imagine how you are going to get through the day, never mind life with an incurable diagnosis. Everyone has their own unique journey and there's no right or wrong so don’t feel under pressure to do what seems to be right for someone else.”
Not content with being a badass cancer battler, Lisa founded the charity Make 2nds Count in 2018 which just blows our minds. It's a patient and family focused charity based in Edinburgh, dedicated to giving hope to women and men who are living with secondary breast cancer.
The mission of Make 2nds Count is:
- To fund secondary breast cancer research that contributes to advancing an increased quality of life for patients.
- To establish a community that supports and educates patients & families affected by secondary breast cancer.
- To inform & facilitate access to patient trials.
- To increase overall awareness of secondary breast cancer.
Lisa’s cancer is currently ‘stable’ and hopefully her treatments will be able to keep her stable for as long as possible so she can continue to make memories with her husband Euan and lovely son Cameron.
If you would like to know more about Make 2nds Count and the work they do then you can find them here and if you are in a position to make a donation please donate at Make 2nds Count.