Catherine was determined to stay positive during her breast cancer treatment. She filled her time with friends and family, and now uses that same drive to raise money for others.
Nobody thought it would be cancer
In March 2019, I felt some sharp pains in my right breast, almost akin to the sort of pain I experienced when I started breastfeeding. I wondered whether it was perhaps linked to menopause, but I didn’t think much more about it.
However, it happened another few times over the following weeks, and at one point almost took my breath away. Then I found a lump while I was in the shower. It was only small, and I’d had cysts before, so I thought it was just that. After thinking about it for a few days, however, I made a GP appointment.
I was immediately referred to the breast clinic for further investigation, even though the GP agreed it was likely a cyst. I had various scans and biopsies, but the consultant hadn’t marked me down as someone who was likely to have breast cancer. I was young, I’m fit and healthy, and I had no family history of breast cancer.
When I went back and got the news in May, the consultant admitted that she was surprised to find I had HER2+ breast cancer. She told me it was only stage one but grade three, so I would need to start treatment immediately.
I was lucky to have caught my cancer early
I was shocked. There was a lot of information to take in. I hadn’t expected to get this news, either, so I'd gone on my own before school (I work as a secondary school teacher).
The consultant had been very clear that I would need chemotherapy followed by an operation and radiotherapy. Thankfully, it had been caught early and hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, but it was clear that there was no time to waste.
I didn’t want to go home and just sit around worrying about things, nor did I want to start scaring myself by Googling things, so I thought the best thing to do was just get myself in the classroom and get on with my day. After all, there’s nothing like dealing with a room full of teenagers to distract you from your own thoughts.
I continued to go to work up until starting chemotherapy a couple of weeks later, only taking a day off to have my PICC line put in.
I set myself challenges to get me through treatment
During treatment, I was in hospital every three weeks for chemotherapy, but also needed appointments for blood tests and heart scans and my PICC line. My calendar was suddenly full of hospital appointments.
I was fortunate to be supported by my family and friends, so I went into it with an ‘it is what it is’ attitude. I knew that I just had to stay positive, put my blinkers on and crack on with it.
To help me through, I set myself mini-challenges, one of which was to get to the top of one of my favourite fells between every chemotherapy session. I live in the Lake District, so I’m often out hill-walking or cycling anyway. I told my friends I was determined to do it, even if it meant they had to drag me up there.
It sounds weird, but I actually quite enjoyed that time. I got to spend more time with my kids, I was well enough to go to yoga a couple of times a week with my mum, and hospital appointments became opportunities to go shopping or get a coffee with friends.
I also tried to ensure my appointments were between 10am and 2pm so that I could see the kids in the morning and be done before they were home.
My return to normality was cut short by lockdown
I felt like I had so much drive to do things during treatment, and I was so eager to get back to work when it was over. However, only a couple of months after my return, the UK went into lockdown.
I suddenly had to teach online using Teams and try to home-school my kids at the same time, and I couldn’t do the sorts of things that had helped me through treatment. I still had to go to hospital to continue treatment with Herceptin and pertuzumab, but that was no longer followed by a meet-up with a friend.
Then, in February 2021, in the midst of another lockdown, I found myself needing to get out of the house. However, I had a lesson coming up in an hour – there was no time for my usual walking route. So, I decided to run it.
I have never been a runner. In fact, it’s something of a joke in my family that I’m the only one who can’t run. I’ve just always preferred walking: I like taking in the sights and not coming home looking like a tomato.
But when I went for that run, I found I enjoyed it. It actually made me feel really good! So I started running as a way of getting through lockdown.
I realised how lucky I had been
By the time it got around to October 2021, it had been a year since I finished treatment. However, it was also two years since I had my operation, which had coincided with one of my best friends dying very suddenly due to a bleed on the brain. She was only 42 years old.
When I thought about all this, I realised I'd been so lucky to have my chance of survival.
It was quite serendipitous that I then saw something about running 100km in a month pop up on Facebook from Breast Cancer Now. I decided to sign up – partly because Breast Cancer Now provided me with so much information when I was diagnosed, but also because I know my friend would have found it hilarious if she’d still been alive to see it.
Within half an hour of signing up, I had about £200 in sponsorship. I was amazed – especially as I hadn’t even realised my friends could see that I had signed up! Having that sponsorship meant I definitely couldn’t back out though.
People were so generous, I kept having to increase my target. I made sure to personalise my page with my story to raise awareness at the same time, because I think people still don’t understand some things about breast cancer.
So many friends, family and colleagues reached out and supported me, even some who I hadn’t seen for years. That was amazing and made me feel happy and determined to complete the challenge.
If you'd like to join Catherine in raising money for Breast Cancer Now, you don't have to be a runner. No matter how you choose to get involved, we'd love to have your support.