Fran was diagnosed with secondary (metastatic) breast cancer this year. She shares why she wants to raise awareness of cancer in younger people, and why she is determined to live her life.
I thought I was living without a risk of cancer
‘It’s cancer’: two words you never think you’re going to be told, let alone at the age of 25.
Of all the things they say that helps to prevent cancer, I pretty much ticked them all. Don’t smoke? Tick. Drink under the limit? Tick. Plant-based diet? Tick. Lots of fruit and veg? I aim for 10 a day - tick. No family history? Tick. Wear sunscreen? I have tattoos, so I wear factor 50 - tick.
Active lifestyle? I’m a personal trainer and train twice a day, as well as walking 25,000 steps - big tick.
You can imagine my confusion when the lump I found turned out to be trying to kill me.
I was told I was too young for breast cancer
In January 2019 I had just adopted my cat, Zazu, and we were chilling in bed one evening. He was padding away at me as cats do. However, he was incessantly padding on my right breast. I was thinking I’d just adopted a right old pervert of a cat until I went to move his paw and felt a lump.
I was pretty panicked and barely slept that night. At 8am the next day, I called the GP and made an appointment. I was then referred to the hospital to have an ultrasound the following week. However, that didn’t quite go to plan.
I was examined for all of two seconds. still remember the exact words: ‘You are very young. At 24, you are hormonal at this age, the scan isn’t needed. It’s normal.’
Normal. For 18 months I went around thinking that my lump was just ‘normal’.
I didn’t think I had a reason to be worried
Fast forward to July 2020. I was in the shower and I noticed a puckering of my skin. I knew this wasn’t ‘normal’.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a two-week delay, so I booked a private clinic and got seen straight away. I saw the consultant and he examined me. He sent me next door for an emergency ultrasound and biopsy.
At the time, I wasn’t worried. I thought this was all routine. Even to the point that, after the biopsy, I apologised to him as if I had wasted his time. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Frances, I will have the results in three days' time. For that appointment I need you to bring a chaperone.’
I asked what he meant. Why would I need a chaperone? Is that what everyone does? It was when he said to me that both himself and the radiographer had voiced their concern about my scan that I knew in my gut it wasn’t ‘normal’.
Everything came crashing down around me
Three days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Then, when reviewing the results of my CT scan, a lump was discovered in my liver. To investigate further I had a PET scan, which thankfully showed the mass to be benign. However, it also showed activity in my brain. After having a brain MRI, it was confirmed I had a brain tumour.
My oncologist at the time told me that, if this was caused by the breast cancer, I would be looking at a prognosis of about two years. Everything felt like it was crashing down around me.
Four days after that, I was getting brain surgery to have the tumour removed. The majority was taken out, but the residual left is attached to muscle. The lab confirmed the tumour was secondary breast cancer.
All I could hear were the words, ‘you have two years’ circulating in my head.
I didn’t want to give up
I didn't want the negativity and I didn't want to give up. I changed hospitals and my new treatment team don’t talk about numbers or years.
I was more scared about chemotherapy than I was brain surgery, but I have just finished my 4 rounds of EC chemotherapy and will be starting 12 weeks of paclitaxel to reduce the breast tumour. Then, next year, I’ll be having surgery and radiotherapy.
I’m determined to get stronger
Before my diagnosis, during the first lockdown, I had an accident that left me with paralysis in my left leg and required emergency spinal surgery. As a personal trainer living alone, this was tough - but recovery was going well.
Chemotherapy is unfortunately slowing my progress down, but I am determined to keep the rehab going as best I can. I’ve adapted my training considerably, but I still use resistance training, cardio and daily walking to fight the chemo fatigue. I aim to keep as strong as I can whilst still rehabbing my spine.
If there is one thing I aim to get from speaking out about my diagnosis, it’s to change the procedure and the opinion on age. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the medical system.
To find out more about Fran and her story, make sure to follow her on Instagram.
For more details about secondary breast cancer, please visit our information pages.