I was diagnosed with stage II Breast Cancer in July 2011 having just turned 44. I had a lumpectomy, FEC chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I managed to keep working two out of three weeks, only taking the week of the actual chemotherapy off. This was just as well, because there is no financial help/benefits available unless you are considered terminal.
When I came to the end of my treatment in February 2012 we decided to have a family holiday to celebrate. The first time I had been on holiday with both my children since they had grown up and married/had families of their own. At that time only my eldest grandson Tyler had been born, he was 4 years old. We went to Egypt and had a fabulous time.
Unfortunately only one year later, in February 2013, my cancer returned, it had spread through my blood stream to my uterus. At this point I was told it was considered incurable, but treatable. They did a hysterectomy, and followed up with Docetaxel chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was much worse than the previous one. I was off work for 9 months while having treatment. It left me with lasting side effects of fatigue, and problems with my feet due to nerve damage. I was told the cancer will come back, as it always does when it has spread through the blood stream.
I was then put on hormone therapy (a pill a day at home) From this time I have used a mobility scooter for all but the shortest distances. Over the next 5 years my range did increase a little. However any physical activity exhausts me. I worked out what my limits were, and got on with my life as best I could. Making the most of what I could do rather than dwelling on what I had lost.
In March 2018 I developed a dry cough I couldn't shake. Scans revealed the cancer was back and was now present in my lungs, adrenal gland, liver, spine, shoulder, left hip, thigh and wrist. At the same time my oncologist was taken I'll and is yet to return to work. This meant I never saw the same oncologist twice over the course of the next year. I was started on capecetabine chemotherapy, this was purely to try and relieve the coughing and extend my life as far as possible. Unfortunately after 4 months scans showed the cancer was still spreading. They then put me on a stronger chemotherapy, but told me it was purely to improve my quality of life, it would not extend my life much if at all.
I stayed on it for three months, October to December 2018. While my cough did improve, I was in bed until 4 pm on a bad day and 11 am on a good day. The next scan revealed that the lungs had improved, in fact the collapsed part of the lung had re-inflated. However the cancer in my bones had continued to spread. I decided to stop chemotherapy to enjoy Christmas with my family.
In January 2019, I then started having sinusitis, vocal cord, swallowing and and aspirating issues. I finally saw an oncologist who is really trying to improve my quality of life. She has put me on steroids, which has relieved the sinusitis. I feel better than I have in at least 7 months!
She has also found a hormone therapy for me, which I feel very positive about as my cancer responded very well to hormones in the past. We have just had the results of a chest and pelvis CT scan that show there is further spread of the disease, but hopefully the hormone therapy may be able to stabilise it.
The scan also showed no indication that the cancer was responsible for the choking, swallowing and vocal cord issues. So I have been referred to a speech and language therapist.
I am now just waiting for an MRI scan on the 10th of June, to check if there is any spread to my head. Is the cancer causing the sinus and throwing up issues?
Having acquired a larger mobility scooter and a wheelchair accessible vehicle, combined with the steroids relieving my sinus issues, I feel like I have a new lease on life. It's time to make one of my dreams come true.
I dream of taking my children and grandchildren to Kruger National Park in South Africa. I had the privilege of visiting Kruger in March 2018 just before my cancer resurfaced. It was amazing, and an experience I would love to give to, and share with my family. It would be a wonderful thing to share and for them to remember.
My children were born in South Africa, but have not been back since we returned to England in May 1998. My son Nick was 15, and my daughter Cassandra was 13.
I know they would love to show their families a little bit of Africa. My grandchildren are Tyler now age 11, Lily aged 6 and Alfie aged 5. Old enough to enjoy the experience, and I hope have memories for life.
The expensive part of the enterprise is getting me out there with them. I feel confident I could manage the 11 hour flight if I flew first class. My travel insurance will be at least £2,500 and I will need to hire a wheel chair accessible vehicle for my scooter.
I have earmarked the October half term for a family holiday together, and asked the kids to put the time aside but have not mentioned Kruger to them, as I don't know if I can make it happen. I would also like to take my step-son Richard, he would love it and gets on so well with my family.
In order to make the most of the first class flight I thought I might go for a month, so I can spend some time with lifelong friends out there before meeting up with my family at Kruger.
Fly into East London, South Africa via Johannesburg.
Spend a week with my friend Sharon
Fly to Durban and spend a week with another lifelong friend Tersia
Fly to Kruger, and have my friend Dawn fly over from the UK to meet me. She is able and willing to fund herself. Spend a week with her.
When Dawn flies home, my family arrive for their family holiday of a lifetime!
Can we make it happen?
October is quite a short deadline, but time is not on my side.
If there is any money left over I would like to buy two life size giraffe statues I saw recently, and donate them to the Pilgrims Hospice in Ashford, Kent. They have supported me since 2013, and will provide palliative care to me in the last two weeks of my life. I would love to bring a little bit of Africa to the wonderful pilgrims hospice gardens. I feel it would give my family somewhere to go to remember me, that is so much better than a crematorium or graveyard. The link back to family holiday and the happy memories will I hope bring them comfort.