Living with the ‘C’-word

by Sep 19, 2011 No Comments

Recently I attended the wedding of a colleague and although, sadly, it rained all day, it didn’t dampen the warmth and happiness of the day. As always, big events in life can bring sharply into focus earlier losses. The groom and his brothers made sure that during their speeches they remembered their mum whom they had lost to breast cancer several years earlier. I had met them before at our supporter wall event last year when they raised a fabulous amount and honoured their mum’s memory by putting her name on a dedicated wall at the research unit in Edinburgh.

I was moved then by what they had done – and feel sure she would have been so proud of them. It was evident on Saturday that losing their mum had resulted in the forging of a close bond between them. That also links so much to a conference I was part of recently. Sir Harry Burns, the Chief Medial Officer in Scotland, spoke of research that looked at what helps people survive adversity and what it found was that having a sense of control and purpose played a big part. It made so much sense to me. It’s partly why I am writing this blog and doing what I do in my day to day work. It’s about turning my own experience round to create something positive.

At the wedding, I found myself thinking of my own father.

He died now almost 17 years ago. I haven’t mentioned him yet in the blog and my reflections are in part because it still is painful to recall. When I was first diagnosed, almost 17 years ago, my father was also being treated for prostate cancer. During my treatment, his condition became terminal and he died two weeks after my radiotherapy ended, probably my lowest ebb. I am sure I don’t have to describe how hard that was for everyone. It’s also probably what gave me the drive to do what I do, not only for breast cancer but also in my wider work, trying to make a difference. I see it in others too in our sector where their experiences lead to fantastic efforts to improve things for others.

The experience for families affected by breast cancer, across and through generations, is hard to describe – the combination of fear for those you love and if, like one mother and daughter I met, you end up being treated at the same time, it’s also not being able to help just when you want to most. I know from my own experience how cruel this is. What we know currently is that 80 per cent of breast cancers are not inherited but Breakthrough’s research has certainly opened up more understanding and treatments further down the line for those who have. I have wondered, of course, about the link with prostate cancer – some of the treatments are even the same – again, it’s why our Breakthrough Generations study is so important to further understanding. Like so many of you, I really want to do what I can to stop more generations of my family experiencing what we have had to.

Reasons to be cheerful There are many just now. I have taken a break and I write this from a beautiful setting where I am bewitched by nearby mountains and the smell of the rose field in front of the house. The neighbours are largely goatherds and shepherds. One shepherd is a regular visitor. With a beer in hand, he will regale us with tales in a language we don’t understand.

The tales are peppered with names like Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron. He clearly has an opinion on both and I consider asking his view of the health reforms in England but I am not confident I would grasp the nuances of his reply. No mention of Alex Salmond to date but give him time!

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