Maureen was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer at the beginning of 2019. She reflects on the suggestion that she's been unlucky – and why she doesn’t think it’s so clear-cut.
It’s instinctive to feel you’ve been unlucky
I wasn't shocked or surprised when I was diagnosed, but I felt terribly, terribly sad that it had happened so soon after finishing treatment for primary breast cancer in 2016.
Understandably, a lot of people get upset when you tell them you’ve been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. My boss was one of the first people I told. We chatted and she said, sympathetically, that I’d been so unlucky.
She and I both know how serious any type of secondary cancer is. If you’ve been diagnosed early enough, it will be treatable and can be controlled – in some cases for many years – but, ultimately, it’s incurable. What treatment does is buy you time.
Instinctively I agreed with my boss. To find out at the age of 55 that your likely prognosis is in years not decades felt unlucky to me.
I have not had a hard life, despite my diagnosis
Almost immediately, though, it occurred to me that wasn’t actually the case. In fact, I said to her while trying to hold back tears, I’ve been incredibly lucky.
What do I mean by that?
Well, there have been some very sad and difficult times but, broadly speaking, I have not had a hard life.
I have an amazing partner I’ve essentially been with since I was 21. We’ve had and are continuing to have lots of good times together.
My family and friends are wonderful
I have two lovely, healthy and seemingly happy young-adult children. They are away at university and I'm hoping they don't worry about me too much. My husband and I are being honest and open with them about my diagnosis and we'll take each stage as it comes.
I had a happy childhood with loving parents and five great brothers. My dad died just a few years ago but my mum is alive and kicking and clearly loves me to bits. My brothers and I are all still very close.
I have two aunts out in the US, one of whom is also my godmother. I’m very close to both despite the distance between us. I visited them last year with my brother, and while I know the term 'joy-filled' sounds schmaltzy and cliched, I can’t think of a better way to describe the few days we were all together.
My husband’s parents thought the world of me. We were lucky to have them in our lives for as long as we did.
Outside of the family, I have a godson and goddaughter I’m incredibly fond of.
I have numerous wonderful friends and lots of different friendship and acquaintanceship groups.
I have things to be grateful for
We’re financially secure and I have great colleagues and a job I love. I’ve been able to travel extensively, both on a personal and professional level. I’ve been responding well to treatment; there was no guarantee I would.
Physically, most of the time, I really don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me over and above the standard things any woman my age might expect to have. I’m cycling, running and playing tennis.
Other treatment options will be available once the specific treatment that I’m on stops working. I hope it’ll be a long time before that happens but I’m aware it could happen sooner rather than later.
I try to be easy on myself
So, have I been lucky or unlucky? Maybe it’s not a question of one or the other. We’ve had our share of troubles and no one would ever choose to have what I have. Regardless of how well I feel physically, living with an incurable disease is tough emotionally. Among other things it’s hard not to feel guilty for bringing this upset into everyone’s lives.
Healthwise, I can but hope for the best and take the coming months and hopefully years as they come. In the meantime, I’ll try to stay calm and be easy on myself and keep appreciating and making the most of this life – lucky or unlucky – that I have.
To read more about Maureen’s experiences with secondary breast cancer, check out her blog.
If you’re living with secondary breast cancer and feel like you need some extra support, you can join one of our meet-up groups.