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Rosie on holiday

I have secondary breast cancer, but I try to make the most out of life

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. 

Smiley photo of Rosie on holiday

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.  

Know the signs of secondary breast cancer

Most breast cancers don’t come back after treatment, but sometimes they can, and they can spread to other parts of the body. This is called secondary breast cancer. 

Learn the signs to look out for and raise any concerns with your breast care nurse or GP. 

Secondary breast cancer symptoms

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