What has been your experience with breast cancer?

 

I was diagnosed in 2005 and I was 48 years old. I had a long discussion with my oncologist about whether I needed chemotherapy. I had one positive lymph node, I was grade 3 and I would do anything to increase my chance of survival – so I did.

It’s very difficult to talk about chemotherapy because human beings are exceptionally good at forgetting horrible experiences. It was just awful. Alongside the fatigue, fear of infection and sickness it induced, I had premature menopause so hot flushes, sexual dysfunction... it was debilitating. I couldn’t work in my condition, which as a freelance scientist was tricky. I then went onto hormone therapy because my cancer was strongly hormone sensitive.

Five years later, I developed metastatic breast cancer, which is incurable. I’m still alive eight years later, just on that treatment, and although we will never know, I do believe now that I didn’t need chemotherapy back in 2005.

 

How has this affected your quality of life to date?

 

I believe my severe menopausal problems were as a result of the chemotherapy – which bought on such a sudden and dramatic menopause and totally shot my ovaries. I still have symptoms now, 15 years since the treatment. haven’t been able to work full-time since, due to the overwhelming fatigue and depression.

Some people suffer from peripheral neuropathy – they lose feeling in their fingers and toes, which, thankfully I’ve not experienced. But these are the potential long-lasting effects of chemotherapy treatment.

 

Why is personalised treatment so important for future breast cancer patients?

 

Personalised treatment could inform patients properly on the value of chemotherapy treatment to their condition. With Prosigna testing, I would have been tested in 2005 and there would have been a genetic basis for strongly indicating whether I should have had chemotherapy.

Allowing patients to decide whether or not they need to go through the hell of chemotherapy could lead to huge improvements in patient welfare in the long run.