PUBLISHED ON: 13 October 2016

Dear breast cancer,

We read the letter that Lesley sent you. It takes a lot of strength to say the things she did – how you’ve turned her life upside down, the shock, the grief, the people she will one day leave behind – and we thank her immensely for sharing her letter with us.

Sadly, Lesley’s story will be all too familiar for so many people. There are far too many people that know you’ll always be with them. Far too many families trying to carry on in your shadow. And far too many people without mothers, sisters, partners, friends, and daughters – all because of you.

But despite the fear of what her future holds, Lesley has held onto the joy in her life. She hasn’t given up hope, and neither will we.

So we’re writing to you today to tell you how we will stop you.

Our researchers are finding ways to catch you in your earliest stages and make sure our treatments eliminate you first time around. But they are also continuing to expose how you move throughout the body, and are developing new ways to stop you in your tracks. We spend almost a fifth of our research funding on secondary breast cancer research – to stop you spreading and taking lives.

Our scientists are already making great advances. Prof Clare Isacke and her team have uncovered how you ‘radicalise’ your normal healthy neighbours to help you on your way. And through our Catalyst Programme, researchers will have access to £10 million and over 14 existing and experimental drugs, which will help them find new treatments to stop you with.

When new treatments come along, we need to make sure that patients can get access to them. Though researchers across the world have worked hard to develop treatments to control and contain you, we are worried that these drugs may not be made available to patients who need them.

Because these drugs are increasingly sophisticated, they are sometimes very expensive meaning that the NHS can’t afford them. They’re also being blocked by inflexible and outdated systems for measuring their worth. And if that wasn’t enough, cheap and effective drugs that have been around for years are not being used to defeat you, thanks to bureaucracy. All this must change – and we’re leading the way.

We continue to call for reform of the way the NHS assesses drugs so more patients can access and benefit from medicines old and new, as soon as possible. And we recently published a report with Prostate Cancer UK on how other countries give better access to cancer medicines, and what the UK could learn from them.

You certainly do not care about the lives you touch, but we do. We are listening to the people you have affected, people like Lesley - after all, they know all too well the problems you’ve caused, and we want to work with them to find the best solutions.

We’re working with Breast Cancer Care to deliver our Secondary Breast Cancer Pledge programme to hospitals across England and Wales – bringing patients and hospital staff together to identify local challenges in how to tackle you and drive improvements in care.

And we’re giving the people you’ve affected practical and easy-to-understand information that they can trust. Our online guide to Secondary Breast Cancer has been viewed nearly 60,000 times, giving women a personalised resource that explains what they can and should expect from their treatment and care.

We’ve already achieved a great deal – 40 years ago, only half of the women you affected lived for five years or more, but today that figure is well over 80%, and rising all the time.

However, Lesley’s story reminds us all there’s still a lot left to do. She finished her letter by asking you, begging you, to leave her alone and let her live. No one should have to do that – and yet too many people feel that’s all they have left.

But know this - we will not stop until you are stopped. Every day, our supporters are donating towards our work and fundraising in their communities. In their hundreds, our scientists are revealing your weaknesses and finding new ways to outsmart you. And with their help, and many others by our side, we will ensure that by 2050, every person you attack will survive and live on, either without you or in spite of you.

Yours sincerely,

Breast Cancer Now