Tom and I returned to London on a mission. I called the Breast Cancer Care helpline and the nurse who took my call recommended I seek a second opinion. She told me there are women who have been living with secondary breast cancer for years. Then, as if to reinforce the message, that night my brother texted me from Australia; ‘It’s not over yet, let’s get a second opinion. I’ll be there in a few days.’ Slowly we were recovering from the initial shock and we were now thinking of ways to deal with the damage.
I then posted on the Breast Cancer Care website and the response nurtured those initial shoots of hope I had felt in the church in Suffolk. There were women who had secondary bone cancer who’d been living for ten years with the disease. For a third time, now by the women on the forum, I was urged to get a second opinion and so Tom and I gathered our strength and began to research the internet, write lists and compile emails. We worked like my life depended on it.
We found out who the best oncologists were in London and emailed them, emailed their secretaries; even their colleagues. We wrote a list of questions about treatments that might be available: chemotherapies, Cyberknife, trials and studies. Words and names I’d never heard of offered further hope.
I thought back to what the consultant said – we could try chemo if I wanted to. Wanted to. I’m 28, of course I want to try chemo, I’d try anything to give me more time. In the days following the consultation I struggled to comprehend why I wasn’t offered a course of action. To this day I still can’t understand what happened in that room. I run it over and over in my mind; how could I at 28 be written off? How many other people are told the same thing as me and don’t have the support or will to challenge that verdict?
I’m a person with a partner I love, with friends that I cherish, with a life that in my view is pretty fantastic, but to me it seemed that to the people I was relying on to make me better I was just a hospital number; the treatment didn’t work on that one, she’ll be one of the statistics that doesn’t make it. Is it a funding thing? I guess the NHS has to draw the line somewhere. Sorry, we couldn’t fix her, next please.
Yet amidst all these dark thoughts, our fight back was beginning to yield results. One Professor who had been recommended by a member of the Breast Cancer Care Forum replied to my email immediately. I’d explained my situation and he said he’d be happy to see me, so we made an appointment to see him on Harley Street that week. Insurance wasn’t an option but we were willing to pay to get another opinion. For the sake of the blog I’ll call him Professor Hope. Meeting him would transform my outlook and I believe ultimately my outcome.