Karen Lee MP lost her daughter to triple negative breast cancer at the age of 35. She shares their story and explains why she supports Breast Cancer Now.
I’m Karen Lee, Labour MP for Lincoln. Before I became a Member of Parliament I was a nurse and a local councillor. I’m also a Mum, I had four children; I only have three now because my eldest daughter Lynsey died at just 35 of triple negative breast cancer.
It turned my whole world upside down, I had her when I was still a teenager and we went through a lot together to get by, we were very close. Lynsey left a husband and three small kids behind her; at my son’s wedding last weekend we looked like any other happy and close family, but for us there’ll always be one person missing.
I was at her side when she was diagnosed, as a nurse, once they sat us down and shut the door I had that feeling of dread when you know what is coming next. I was always close to her whilst she was ill and she deteriorated so quickly I had no time to adapt to what was happening. She was always positive though, she was working (alongside looking after her 2, 4 and 7 year old kids) and was always optimistic.
At times, we found its funny side in an ironic kind of way too. She always wanted me to drive her into Nottingham to the doctor if she became ill; me who was absolutely terrified of driving in big city traffic, but she wanted her Mum and that was enough to make me brave too.
Many people are lucky and they go into remission; Lynsey used to hate the phrase about people who ‘beat cancer’ because she said it made her feel that she wasn’t fighting hard enough. But she sure was. She hated everyone knowing she had cancer; she didn’t want her illness to define her.
I always felt that the worst part about it all was her fear, and she was a brave girl. I found Lorazepam, a drug given for anxiety and insomnia, in her cupboard after her death. It broke my heart that she had been so scared. She kept her hair until the final three weeks, after radiotherapy made it fall out. Her beautiful red hair.
We’re all affected by it, we’re all frightened by it
Lynsey had wonderful care at Nottingham City hospital, and I cannot thank the staff enough. There were things though that I felt could have been better. When I was elected as an MP one of my aims was to be an ambassador for breast cancer charities. I want to try to improve care and show people that cancer affects all kinds of people. We’re all affected by it, we’re all frightened by it.
I’m writing this now for my daughter, because I’m proud of who she was and if I can make the journey she travelled just a bit easier for just one person it will have been worthwhile. I hope that if I can help anybody else with breast cancer that they come to me, if they are my constituent or even if they are not.
What you can do
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of breast screening, please, do have your mammograms when they are due and always check out any unusual bumps or breast changes. Don’t think that breast cancer only affects others – it affects us all.
Most important of all is supporting charities like Breast Cancer Now so that we can achieve their aim, that by 2050, nobody will die of breast cancer again. It’s too late for my precious daughter, but not for those who go after her.