Sandra's making the most of life with a secondary breast diagnosis and enjoys showing people it’s possible.
How did your primary diagnosis come about?
In February 2015, I found a lump in my breast. Despite telling myself I wouldn’t, I looked online and decided it was probably a cyst, so I didn’t need to worry. Unfortunately, 2 visits to the clinic showed it was a cancerous ER positive tumour. And I needed a mastectomy and lymph node removal.
The tumour was bigger than they thought, so I had 2 types of chemotherapy and 21 radiotherapy sessions. At this stage, it felt like every appointment revealed worse news.
What support did you get from people around you?
Friends and family were amazing, but I wanted to talk to someone who’d been through it. I came across Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me service, and they linked me with a lady who just understood, and she supported me through my treatment. And I used the helpline to speak to a trained nurse.
What happened next?
In 2021, I felt unwell and came across a small lump on my arm. So, I asked to be referred to the breast clinic. My cancer had come back and spread to my bones, lungs, brain and lymphatic system. The outlook was bleak - we thought I might only have a few months.
I had 2 sessions of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, and the results were incredible - the cancer shrank and became stable. I again turned to Breast Cancer Now for support - I used the forum and joined monthly calls for people with secondary.
Where are you now?
In May 2023, we found a tumour in my neck. Unfortunately, it was pressing on my spinal cord, which caused permanent paralysis. This means I’m in a wheelchair, which has changed my life considerably. But with the right help, I can do things I enjoy, like family days out, paid work, and volunteering with Breast Cancer Now.
What volunteering have you done?
After my first treatment in 2015, I wanted to give something back. So, I became a Someone Like Me volunteer. It felt like a real privilege to support other people facing breast cancer.
When my cancer returned, I got involved with the Service Pledge, helping improve local breast cancer services. And I joined Breast Cancer Voices, a network where people affected by breast cancer can shape breast cancer research and support.
What opportunities have you enjoyed most, since joining the network?
At the moment, I’m a patient representative on an early-stage research trial, looking into spinal implants for people at risk of spinal collapse, due to secondary breast cancer. I love being able to share the patient's voice.
I’ve been involved in other research studies too, and I reviewed Breast Cancer Now’s information on secondary breast cancer, which I really enjoyed.
What does being a Voice mean to you?
There are 2 things that mean the most to me. The first is feeling part of a community sharing their breast cancer challenges while being realistic, honest, positive and hopeful. This is through the online stories we share, and through projects too. Our contribution to projects is often sharing our views and experience. And it’s great to open up to other Voices on the same project.
And the second – in my projects, I like to show people that you can have a great quality of life with the right support, even when the cancer has spread significantly.