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Emma's New Normal - Living with Secondary Breast Cancer

I was just 35 years old when I was diagnosed de novo with secondary breast cancer on the 2nd of May 2014. Five days later, I was told that it had spread to my bones, and it was incurable.

Secondary breast cancer is also known as stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer. The cancerous cells break away from the original tumour and travel through the body via the blood stream or lymphatic system and lodge in the bones, lungs, or brain.

I have no family history of breast cancer and if I’m honest, I had no idea that younger women could even get it. I certainly hadn’t heard of secondary breast cancer.

The rest of 2014 passed in a blur of hospital appointments, scans, chemo, and radiotherapy. I was very poorly at first which saw me spend 3 weeks in hospital and whilst there I had 12 blood transfusions and 3 platelet ones. I later found out that I wasn’t expected to make it past Christmas.

Last year, I found out that after being stable for 7 years, my cancer had spread to 5 of my organs; my spleen, lining of my stomach, one ovary, the lining of my uterus and my liver. It was one hell of a shock! Scans have gone from 6 monthly to 3 monthly and I’m back on chemo – an oral one called Capecitabine. I take if for 2 weeks then have a week off before starting the next cycle.

Have a cancer diagnosis can be tough at times. And lonely. It changes you as a person. You have to find a new normal. You almost grieve for the life you had, yet it’s so hard to look forward as the future is so uncertain. You just live each day as it comes.  You have to deal with the waves of emotion that sneak up and overwhelm you. The emotions, thoughts and feelings that go round in my head can be exhausting. You also have to deal with the side effects from the medication that you have to take to stay alive; the fatigue, the pain, the loss of appetite, numbness in your hands and feet, hot flushes, and night sweats that to the medically induced menopause you are in and the worst of all – losing your hair.

I have found my new normal and it’s not to bad. In fact, I feel extremely lucky in my cancer journey so far. Physically I get tired much more than I used to and have to be mindful not to overdo it. I have to have rest days when I literally do nothing. Mentally it’s a battle of wills, trying not to let the dark thoughts in. But mostly I live my life oblivious to my illness and keep things as normal as possible for the children. Every so often the fact I have cancer creeps up on me, but I have learned to deal with it, shove it back in its box and carry on regardless.

Secondary breast cancer is treatable but not curable. I will never be clear of it. Instead, I will be treated until all treatment options have been exhausted and then ……. I’m sure you’ve got the idea.