12 years after her primary diagnosis, Rosie got the news she had secondary breast cancer.
How did your primary diagnosis come about?
In 2005, age 58, I found a tiny lump on my left breast. But I wasn’t too worried as I’d had benign cysts removed before. After seeing the GP and getting a biopsy, I found out I had breast cancer and needed a lumpectomy, lymph node removal and 3 weeks of radiotherapy.
Did the hospital tell you about secondary breast cancer and its symptoms?
I was never told to look out for any symptoms that could be secondary cancer. And I knew nothing about secondary breast cancer other than it could come back anywhere in the body.
When did you first notice symptoms that led to your diagnosis?
When I was 70, 12 years after my primary cancer, I noticed my left arm looked bigger than my right one. I thought I might be imagining things, so I did nothing for a while. But to be on the safe side, I made an appointment with my GP. They told me it was lymphoedema and they referred me to an oncology department.
I went in for a biopsy of a lymph node in my left axilla and it showed cancer. Luckily, the tumour could be removed, but I needed an MRI to make sure the cancer wasn’t anywhere else.
What happened next?
I walked in for the result and just knew there was something wrong - the breast care nurse was sitting on the chair next to mine. I was told they’d found cancer in my lungs and that it wasn’t curable, but they could treat it. I had an appointment with a senior oncologist a few weeks later.
I was devastated as I thought I had lung cancer and I’d known someone who had only lived a year after being diagnosed. I went home and sobbed at the thought of leaving my family - my 3 lovely granddaughters and their children.
After seeing the oncologist, I felt so much better as he told me there was a difference between lung cancer and secondary breast cancer in the lungs, and I have the latter. He said that I’d be taking a drug called Letrozole which could shrink the tumours or keep them stable. When I asked him my options, he said that I had 6 to 12 months without treatment, or 5 to 10 years with. So, of course, I had no option.
Where are you now?
In March 2024, it will be 7 years since my diagnosis, and I’m still on . Many of my multiple large cancer nodes have completely disappeared, and there are just a few tiny ones left. And I go for annual X-rays and CT scans.
Unfortunately, nobody told me I should be taking calcium, and the drug has given me osteoporosis, piriformis syndrome and aches and pains in my muscles. At the moment, there seems to be a supply issue - they can’t give me the brands I need as I’m intolerant to maize starch. I’m hoping the situation will resolve itself soon. But - it's keeping me alive!
I try to make the most of life, although I need to rest every other day. I consider myself to be very fortunate, as I know others with this awful disease aren’t so lucky.