I ’LL never forget the day I had to tell my daughters I had cancer.
Fighting back tears I explained to Lois and Darcey, who were five and four at the time, that I was very poorly and my hair was going to fall out.
“Are you going to die, mummy?” they asked. I promised them I would do everything in my power to get better.
I had no idea how to break the news to my daughters
Yet deep inside I wasn’t sure I’d live to see them grow up.
It was May 2011 and I had just been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I had battled for a diagnosis for five months after my breast turned hard and a rash the size of my palm spread across it.
I’d read about inflammatory breast cancer online and was convinced that’s what I had but I knew it was often confused with other illnesses, so I was terrified I wouldn’t be diagnosed until it was too late.
It took nine misdiagnoses before a doctor finally referred me to the hospital in Wigan for a biopsy, followed by an ultrasound and a mammogram.
They then delivered the news I’d been dreading for months – I had been right all along. Mine was a very rare form of the disease which only one in 10,000 women with breast cancer have.
Inflammatory breast cancer is extremely aggressive, meaning there’s no cure and it often spreads to the internal organs before it’s diagnosed.
If it had spread, I would have had just months to live. It sounds odd but when I was diagnosed, at first I felt relieved that somebody was finally taking my illness seriously.
My mum and my husband Carl came with me to the hospital. When we got the news my mum broke down but Carl stayed strong.
I had no idea how to break the news to my daughters. After I told them I gave them a big cuddle and tried to reassure them that everything would be okay. Yet over the weekend my brain kicked into overdrive and I couldn’t sleep for thinking about the cancer.
In darker moments I thought about what might happen if I didn’t live to see my daughters grow up. Yet thankfully the following week I found out the cancer hadn’t spread to my organs.
I cried with relief and begged to start treatment as soon as possible. My chemotherapy began soon after at The Christie hospital in Manchester, which made my hair fall out. I was constantly nauseous and tired.
Yet although I felt dreadful, knowing I had a life-threatening illness made me determined to live every day to the full.
Before my diagnosis I was constantly stressed and felt like a hamster on a wheel. When I dropped my daughters off at nursery before going to work they would cry because they didn’t want to go.
Carl and I owned a salon together but weren’t getting on very well. I never took a day off so we had no time to do anything fun. Yet after the cancer diagnosis everything changed.
I stopped working to spend more time with the girls, taking them to dance lessons and on day trips in the school holidays. I’d always wanted to be a dancer so I started having private lessons too, which gave me so much joy.
We began to take more holidays together as a family and three or four times a year went to visit Carl’s mum who lives in Spain.
Meanwhile, although the chemotherapy initially got rid of the rash on my breast, it came back and I was advised to have a mastectomy.
I was frightened but the consultant reassured me. “The only cancer that will be left after the mastectomy will be in the bin,” they said and my surgery was scheduled for October 2011, the day following one daughter’s birthday.
I was determined to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible. Yet all through the birthday celebrations I was sick with worry about what would happen the next day.
Thankfully the surgery went well and I had lots of support while I recovered. My mum and my friends took the girls to school and Carl managed the salon by himself. Yet a week before Christmas a red patch appeared above the scar.
Although I tried not to worry over the holidays I feared the cancer was back in my skin. I had a biopsy and when I went back for the results, the doctor was sat with his head in his hands. The tests showed I had cancer again.
While I was devastated, I was more determined than ever to beat it and had radiotherapy, followed by a tablet form of chemotherapy.
In January 2013 I went to Brazil for a spiritual healing treatment to ward off the cancer and then in the October I flew to Florida for a treatment which involved eating raw foods to starve the cancer of toxins.
Although the methods were unusual, I’d lost faith in traditional medicine and was willing to do anything it took to get better. When both remedies failed, I had more chemotherapy. Yet nothing could stop the cancer.
It spread across my back and neck and I started having to wear high-neck jumpers and scarves to hide it. After three gruelling years of treatment I became depressed.
I was prescribed antidepressants but they made me too sleepy to look after the girls so I decided I’d rather be sad and awake.
The determination to get better for my daughters kept me going and I ploughed on with more treatments.
Then in November 2016 I was put forward for the clinical trial of a new drug at The Christie.
“Do you think this could get rid of the cancer for good?” I asked the doctor. I hoped the new treatment would mean I was finally well enough to do the school run without feeling exhausted.
I stopped chemotherapy and started having one session of the trial treatment every six weeks. At first the cancer under the skin turned black and I was terrified but after my second treatment it all seemed to melt away.
Amazingly, after just a few sessions there was no detectable cancer in my body. My hair has grown back and although I still feel tired, I’m better than I have been in years.
Because the cancer is so aggressive I’ll never be able to stop the treatments but I’m finally well enough to lead a normal life.
My marriage with Carl is stronger than ever and he’s been my rock over the last six years. I’m looking forward to taking my daughters on more holidays and seeing them start secondary school.
Although the future is uncertain, for the first time I feel hopeful that I’ll be with them for milestones such as first boyfriends and learning to drive.
I didn’t think my girls would ever see me without the cancer. But now they possibly will – and that’s the best feeling in the world.