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Martim’s wife, Celina, passed away in 2020, just one year after being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Suddenly a single dad to four young children, he had to find a way to adapt to his situation.
Celina was first diagnosed with breast cancer about six months after our eldest was born. She initially hadn’t been too worried about her symptoms – not just because she was young, but also as she had experienced fibroids in the past. Even the GP thought it was most likely a blocked milk duct.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be triple negative breast cancer.
That first round of treatment was horrendous for both of us. It was very emotional and incredibly hard, but – following chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiotherapy – there was no evidence of disease. The doctors were really positive about the result.
One thing we had been told during her treatment, however, was that the chemotherapy meant it was very unlikely she’d be able to have more children. So, we were quite surprised when she got pregnant with triplets.
It was already a challenging pregnancy to start with, but then she started to experience bleeding from her nipple. She went to get it checked out, and again the diagnosis came back as triple negative breast cancer.
She had a mastectomy and chemotherapy while pregnant, but they couldn’t do the test to see if it had spread elsewhere.
All things considered, she managed to get through treatment quite well. Immediately after the birth, though, she got really sick and was in intensive care for almost three weeks.
The scans at that time showed no evidence of the cancer anywhere else, but when she went for a follow-up three months later in January 2019, that scan showed it had spread to her lungs and peritoneum.
However positive we wanted to be, that news was obviously devastating. We still had hope, of course, and she tried to get into a couple of clinical trials, but the cancer kept spreading. It was just blow after blow.
She died in February 2020, about 11 months after receiving her first treatment.
COVID lockdowns began about a month later, and I was grateful to have still been able to visit Celina when she was in the hospice before restrictions came in.
Quite early on, we had a chat about what I needed to do after she passed away, and I realised I had to come back to Portugal where my family live. Doing that meant that I would be able to get some help looking after the kids, and I really don’t know how I’d have got through this period without other people’s support.
I was grateful to be able to have those big, important discussions with Celina. I still can’t believe we actually had them, but I’m glad we did.
The kids and I moved to Portugal in May 2020, which made things a little easier for us. I was also fortunate enough to find a good job here in a supportive workplace, and they understand that I have four small children to take care of.
Since then, it’s been a process of adaption for us all. It’s been difficult, of course, but – in more recent months – I can see that we’ve all mostly settled into life here. We hate the reason we ended up here, but, now we’ve dusted ourselves down, we’re doing OK.
I set up a Fund in Memory because I knew it was really important to Celina to raise money for other people like her. There aren't enough targeted treatments for triple negative breast cancer, or breast cancer in general. Celina got the best possible standard of care, but it can only get better with more research.
The kids all know about their mum, and we talk about her very often. Things are a bit different for Ellie, my eldest, as she remembers her mum in a different way to how the triplets do. They have pictures of her, but they were very young when she passed away.
One of the organisations I found really helpful in helping the kids deal with their loss was Winston’s Wish. They gave me some amazing advice, and were there to suggest things that I never would have thought of doing.
I personally sought help, too, and have been speaking with the same counsellor throughout this time. Even though I have moved to Portugal and she to New Zealand since we began counselling, we still have our sessions over Whatsapp.
It’s still been a rollercoaster of emotions but, given all the possible outcomes, my children and I were incredibly lucky to have a support network we can rely on.
If anyone else reading this is going through a similar situation, just know that there are resources out there. It’s incredibly tough, but it is possible to get through it.
Triple negative breast cancer needs targeted treatment so that young mums like Celina have a better chance to live. The best way for that to happen is through research, and the key component of that research is funding.
By setting up or donating to a Fund in Memory, you’ll be able to cherish memories of a loved one while raising vital funds to help others affected by breast cancer.