We asked Mary, who’s living with secondary breast cancer, and Tobias, who is researching it, to tell us what a day in their life is like.

Thursday 17 November 2016      Guest blog Research blog
Secondary breast cancer - Two sides of the story

Dr Tobias Zech (left) and Mary with her daughters (right)

Mary with familyThe patient

Mary Huckle is a personal trainer and pilates teacher. She lives in Enfield, Middlesex with her husband and three grown up children.

“I liken secondary breast cancer to playing Russian Roulette. You know that it's incurable, and you pray that it's treatable for a very long time. You pray that you keep dodging that bullet.

To the outside world my typical day is pretty much the same as it was before my diagnosis, and that's partly due to my determination to carry on regardless. As a family, we try to live our lives as normally as possible.

I don't talk about waking up in the night with claustrophobia, nausea and night sweats all at the same time. I don't talk about the times I cry myself to sleep through the worry of possibly leaving my family behind. I don't talk about having to face my scars on a daily basis and mourning what's been taken away from me. It’s easier just to say I’m fine.

It would be amazing if we could find out why some men and women go on to develop secondary breast cancer and then to find the cure which stops it killing so many."

Dr Tobias ZechThe researcher

Dr Tobias Zech is a researcher at the University of Liverpool. His team are finding new ways to prevent the spread of HER2 positive breast cancer, a more aggressive type of the disease.

“I get into the lab around 8.30am. As my team consists of two postdoctoral scientists and four students, I work closely with them throughout the day to support their progress. We always start by discussing our latest data and planning our next experiments.

With help from Breast Cancer Now funding, my team and I are studying HER2 positive breast cancer, and trying to stop it becoming resistant to treatments like Herceptin. Tumours that become resistant to drugs can develop into secondary breast cancer, so we need as many of us working together as possible to find ways to stop this from happening.

That’s why I often spend a good part of my day collaborating with clinical colleagues at the Institute of Translational Medicine, and we have regular strategy meetings to coordinate our research.

Every step, even the seemingly small ones, provides a piece of a very intricate puzzle which furthers our understanding of the big picture – how to stop breast cancer spreading. But it takes patience and hard work, not to mention vital funding from supporters like you.

On top of all this, I also teach students at the University of Liverpool, and have a lot of administrative duties and meetings to attend to. My day is always busy, but when I get the chance I try to spend an hour or two developing my own experiments. This often involves using advanced microscopes to look at the movement of live cancer cells.

If everything goes to plan, I tend to finish about 7 - 8pm.”

More information

Read about our research into secondary breast cancer 

Learn more about secondary breast cancer