PUBLISHED ON: 15 July 2015

Update: 12 January 2016

We are deeply saddened to hear the news that Rashpal Sidhu Thomson passed away last week. 

Rashpal has been a big part of Breast Cancer Now and we’re hugely grateful and appreciative for her incredible contribution. Back in June 2015, she helped launch the charity when she took part in The Last One campaign, and in October, Rashpal shared her story in The Mirror to help launch our secondary breast cancer treatment guidelines – to name just two examples.

Rashpal will be greatly missed – her sense of humour and vibrant personality was infectious. Rashpal was an inspiration to us all here and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this very sad time. Here is her story. 

One of the women in The Last One is 43-year-old Rashpal, who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2012. Here, she tells her story by explaining what it’s like to live with secondary breast cancer and why Breast Cancer Now’s research work is so vital.

First diagnosis

I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer when I was 35. And I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in August 2012. I didn’t think it would come back.

I think when you have primaries they look to cure – they take the cancer out. So I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and I was given the all clear. About a year after I’d stopped treatment I started getting lower back pain. It turned out to be secondary breast cancer.

I never thought it would be cancer, even though I’d had it before. I didn’t ever imagine it would come back because I was just busy getting on with my life. It’s been really hard.

Initially it was like a bombshell, but as time’s gone on I’ve come to accept a new normal. You have bad news and you adjust to it - you just carry on. So it’s a cycle of accepting what you have and then if things progress; accepting that and then just moving on. So it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. I have a lot of support from my family and my husband, and that’s really helped. And I’ve had good news in between scans and that keeps me going.

Breast cancer and the Asian community

Breast cancer isn’t really spoken about in the Asian community; it’s a bit of a taboo subject. So when I was diagnosed very few people knew in my extended family. I think people just assume the worst. It’s quite difficult for them to understand and it’s kind of viewed in a very negative way.

My mum died a while ago but I think if she was here it would be a bit easier to talk about. You’re a bit more open with your mum. But with my dad, he’s quite a private person. He does really care a lot, but I think he finds it hard to talk about it with me. So I volunteer information but I make it sound upbeat, to try and save his feelings. As a Sikh, it was hard for him to see my hair falling out when I had chemotherapy.

My husband is very strong – he’s my rock. He comes to all my appointments so he always knows what’s going on. He finds it hard to see me having treatment and having side effects from treatment. He wants to help but he feels like there’s nothing he can do. We have a cry together now and again to clear the air. He’s there when I get the results so if they’re good, we’re really upbeat and we celebrate and I call my family and tell them. I like giving that sort of news to my family and friends. When they’re not good scan results it’s really hard to tell people.

A few months ago I was diagnosed with small brain tumours. I kept that from my family for quite a while. I also had cancer in my spine. Radiotherapy worked really well, but it weakened my bones and messed up my back, so I had to have surgery to have that corrected. I’ve got titanium rods and screws in my back, just to keep it stable. It’s been amazing – before that I couldn’t walk; I was on crutches or in a wheelchair.

The positives

I try to look at the positives. I just try and make as much as I can of the time I have. I feel more content in myself. If I want to do something, I’ll do it. I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to.

I recently gave up work so I could just go out and do things that I’ve always wanted to do – spend time with family and friends, socialise, go on holidays, you know, all the fun things. I’ve just come back from Barbados, which was great! Before I had cancer I used to put things off, but now I know all too well that life’s quite short and you have to make the most of it.

2050 – a reality

Hearing that Breast Cancer Now is working towards stopping women dying from the disease by 2050 fills me with positivity. I feel happy that something can be done and there’s more research to make this a thing of the past. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through this. It’s horrendous, having cancer. So to get rid of it once and for all would be amazing.

Advice for other women with secondary breast cancer

My advice for other women who have secondary cancer is for them not to think they haven’t got much time left. Doctors give prognoses all the time and they can be wrong. I’m an example of that. I’ve had secondary breast cancer for nearly three years now and even with brain tumours I’m still going. There are many other women who are still carrying on with a secondary diagnosis, still working full time, bringing up children.

You’ve got to take the positives from it. You have to accept what you can’t change and just make the most of life.

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