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Kerry urges you to know the signs of secondary and follow your gut-feeling

After getting clued up on secondary breast cancer, Kerry noticed some of the symptoms, but these became dismissed. Learn about Kerry’s experience, how her diagnosis came about, and the advice she'd give to others.

Kerry is hiking

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?  

I’m a small animal vet with a husband called Steve and 2 teenage stepsons. Steve and I met through mountain biking - a firm hobby of mine. 

I think running is the activity that defines me best - more specifically, ultra-running. Most of my runs have been after my primary diagnosis, but I’ve just completed my first 50 miler since my secondary diagnosis, and that feels amazing. 

Can you tell us about your primary diagnosis? 

In 2013, I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer at age 39. I went through a left-sided mastectomy with no reconstruction (but an amazing tattoo), chemo, radiotherapy and more. 9 years later, I got my secondary diagnosis. 

Did your hospital talk to you about secondary breast cancer, and its symptoms? 

After my primary treatment, there was no information given or said from my hospital team. I wasn’t told that breast cancer could come back. Luckily, I decided to do my own research.  

What symptoms of secondary breast cancer did you notice? 

In late 2021, 8 years after primary treatment, I had back pain which came out of nowhere. I knew it was a symptom of secondary, so I spoke to my GP. They did an X-ray that was apparently all-clear. Around 9 months later, the pain was still there, so I saw the GP again for pain relief. Although I should have stuck with my gut feeling, at this point, I thought it was a sporting injury.

A few months later, I went to the GP again, but for fatigue. I was used to feeling tired from training, but this was like nothing before - I was bone tired and could fall asleep by sitting down. I knew fatigue was a secondary symptom too, and I should have put 2 and 2 together and chased for an answer, but in my mind, I didn’t have it at that point - my X-ray was clear. 

Can you tell us about your diagnosis? 

Eventually, I had blood tests which showed issues with my bone activity, and I was sent for a bone scan which confirmed I had secondary breast cancer. I should have had blood tests sooner, not just an X-ray. My GP didn't use the right diagnostic pathway, and the false negative delayed my diagnosis.

After my bone scan, I was due an urgent CT, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I felt like no one was helping me to do anything. I started organising a private CT when a nurse happened to ask how my back was, while writing notes. I said I was in agony with back pain and pins and needles in my left foot. Next thing I knew, she got advice and they sent me an ambulance. 

At the hospital, it took 15 hours before I was properly seen, which involved being pushed between A&E and a short stay ward. I had an MRI and was told I would be transferred to a specialist hospital for emergency spinal surgery. I had a pathological fracture of T12 and needed 8 screws and 2 rods to stop me becoming paralysed. And then I finally received a CT scan which confirmed the extent of my disease – it was in my spine, ribs, pelvis and lungs. 

I was so angry that I wasn’t listened to and diagnosed sooner, especially as I was very aware of the symptoms - I felt let down. My GP, the hospital, palliative care… everyone thought someone was doing something and no one was. I felt completely abandoned.  

What would you say to someone who has had primary breast cancer? 

Make sure you know the signs of secondary and follow your gut-feeling if something feels off. Make sure you get an answer, and if you don’t feel comfortable with the advice you’ve been given, ask for a second opinion.  

Most breast cancers won’t return, but sometimes they do. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, know your body, and trust when something isn’t right

Secondary signs and symptoms

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