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Secondary breast cancer: With a little help from my friends

Ismena Clout

Ismena and Jennie 300x225 Secondary breast cancer: With a little help from my friendsI could not walk this secondary breast cancer road without my family and friends supporting me and holding my hand. They are the people I cry on, the people who accompany me to appointments and the people that I am fighting to stay alive for.

I remember that fateful day in June 2004 when I was diagnosed with my primary breast cancer, I was alone as I had been called into the hospital last minute and hadn’t had time to rally the troops. Being told you have breast cancer at 29 was bad enough, but to have to pick up the phone and tell your mum and dad was even worse. Knowing they were about to hear that the daughter they loved so much was ill was a huge responsibility and pressure on me, the fact they are divorced meant I had to do it twice which really didn’t help.

After telling my parents, best friends and brother I really didn’t have the strength to tell anyone else – I couldn’t face ruining anyone else’s day so I sent an email to everyone. While this might not have been the most sensitive way of sharing such huge news the reality is, it was all I could cope with.

Telling any family and friends bad news is horrible, it’s like a piece of you dies each time you do it. You have to explain where the tumours are now, how big, what the doctors have said this time. In one way you just want to move on and start dealing with it but in another you want to spend the time letting these important people in your life understand. This process is much easier in 2012 than it was in 2004 with Facebook, Twitter and blogs being such a big part of our lives now!

It’s impossible to live with secondary breast cancer on your own. You need people by your side. For me I need them as I develop the worst nervous verbal diarrhoea and sense of humour while I’m waiting for a results appointment. If I don’t have a friend with me at these appointments then I’m the one talking to herself in the corner. There is a lot of waiting around in general with appointments, treatments and blood tests. You need company, someone to distract you and share your fears with. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m this super woman called ‘perfect Issy’ who can do anything and is tough like a character from a novel but really I need company like everyone else and frankly they make it more bearable.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for them standing on the side-lines of this horrible disease, unable to do anything but watch me suffer and fight. I think I have the easier part of the deal as I have something to do! I can focus the mind, I can change my diet (again!), I can get an early night, I can rest, I can fight, I can meditate and I can take the drugs. And in the end I won’t be there to see the sadness they will feel when I die, I won’t have to see their grief and tears and I won’t be the one with a lifetime of missing someone.

That still feels a long way away but unfortunately I have taken another step with this disease. While the eye scare of two weeks ago turned out to be nothing, the scan results and blood test results tell a different story and the bugger is growing in my liver again. They are small still but there are quite a few. So I have been whacked straight into an oral chemotherapy and I’m off to the United States to see my father and stepmother.

This has been a shock as I had been in remission for 18 months, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, which is why I became so anxious over my eyes! I feel strangely calm about it though as I knew this would happen eventually and I know I can still have years and years in me. It’s not a great development but it is the reality of the situation – and I can tell you one thing – I need my friends and family now more than ever! My mum jumped on a train to help me pack as I quite frankly couldn’t get my head working at all.

So during this festive holiday period I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who is making my journey easier. From sorting my house out (my best friend Jennie), to providing acerbic wit (best friend Ross), to appointment company (Rach, Mimi, Dad, Ed, Mum, Debs, Sars, Liz, Cathy, Caroline, Kat et al), to everyone else who sends me messages on Facebook and Twitter – in particular most recently to Peter, Fran and Sarah.

This journey has to be seen as an endurance race rather than a sprint, I’m going to need the support for a long time. At each major hurdle there is an outpouring of love and support that always dissipates as time goes on, as we all have busy lives and it can be hard keep up. But I’d like to make a plea for all of us who are living with cancer, if you are a friend of ours then please take the time to pick up the phone and see how we are doing, it will be most appreciated.

Merry Christmas everyone and here’s to a happy and healthy 2013.

For more information on secondary breast cancer visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/secondary

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