Shirley was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2016, but sadly passed away in 2020. Her husband, Bob, tells us about how one of her last wishes was to meet her grandchild.
Shirley dealt with her treatments independently
In December 2012, only a few weeks after our daughter, Anna, had started her first nursing role in a neonatal intensive care unit, we got some bad news. My wife, Shirley, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Shirley had a lump removed and in early 2013 had six rounds of chemotherapy and 15 treatments of radiotherapy. She was quite independent and wanted to attend most of her appointments alone, so I didn’t know much about what was happening.
During her first lot of treatment, she got very sick. I remember her cocooning herself on the sofa and watching Last of the Summer Wine. She said she never wanted to have the treatment again.
Her cancer returned a few years later
Jumping forward to March 2016, Shirley noticed a change in her skin on her breast and contacted the local breast unit. She got an appointment the next day and found out she’d had a recurrence.
A few weeks later, she had a mastectomy. After that, she still needed about four more minor operations as the cancer cells kept presenting in scar tissue at the mastectomy site.
She was eventually diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.
She still had plenty of things to enjoy
Between then and 2019, she had a lot of treatment, and would sew to keep herself busy. During 2016/17, Shirley’s nephew, Lewis, was also going through chemotherapy treatment and the two of them became ‘chemo buddies’.
I bought her some chickens for the garden so that she could have a walk and see them; they were a good distraction.
When Anna came home, the two of them would spend the afternoon’s binge-watching horror movies.
I was able to take Shirley to take every appointment because of the support I had from my colleagues and employer, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. Having that level of support made the difficult times a lot easier to manage.
We faced such a whirl of emotions
Sadly, in June 2019, she was told that the treatment options were very limited.
By this time, she’d had four different forms of chemotherapy since 2016 and had been told she had a build of fluid around her lungs. That very same month, our daughter discovered she was pregnant. We were overjoyed at the news, but my own emotions were up and down, as Shirley had only been given about six months to live.
In July, she started the fifth form of chemotherapy. The treatment lasted all the way up until November 2019. In early December, her consultant decided to give her radiotherapy to try to slow the cancer so that she could meet the baby.
Shirley was able to meet our granddaughter
On the 17 January 2020, Anna went to the maternity unit feeling unwell and with extremely high blood pressure.
The following day, Shirley and I became grandparents, and later in the evening we got to meet our new eight-week premature granddaughter, Florence.
When we got home in the evening and I had helped Shirley get to bed, I asked if she was ok. She looked at me with a big beaming smile and said, ‘What do you think?’
Shirley got to see Florence on another two occasions, and the last time she saw her she got to hold her.
I want to keep her memory alive
Sadly, Shirley died four days after the picture in this blog was taken. She was at home with Anna and me at her side.
On the day Shirley died, my daughter and son-in-law were told that Florence has cystic fibrosis, but thankfully she is doing fine.
I wanted to share my story because, in everything Shirley went through, she took it on the chin and never complained. She was a very shy and reserved person on the surface, but to her friends – once she’d got to know them – she was confident and funny.
She always loved to have cut flowers around. Lilies, daffodils and tulips were her favourite, and I still buy them every week. I want to keep her memory alive for Florence.
To anyone else who has lost someone to secondary breast cancer, I want to remind them that life goes on, and your loved one is no longer suffering - try to take comfort from that. There will be sad times and difficult times, and you’ll never stop missing them, but it’s so important to remember the good times.
If you have a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer or know somebody who does, you can find information and support on our webpages.