Breast cancer patient
Content provided by Institute of Cancer Research
Targeted treatments are helping cancer patients live longer and with a better quality of life. Christine O’Connell lives with advanced breast cancer and takes a new class of targeted cancer drug with fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
At the age of 40, breast cancer was not top of my mind. One day in December 2012, I casually asked my doctor about a pulled muscle. A few days later, I learned it was actually a seven centimetre tumour in my left breast.
In the months that followed, it felt as if a huge tornado had swept through my life. I started the new year with chemo, then a mastectomy and radiotherapy.
The treatment was just exhausting. I couldn’t think straight, I lost my hair, I lost my appetite and eventually I had to stop working – it was really quite hard.
But after intensive treatment over the better part of a year, I had no evidence of disease and gradually regained a normal life. I was fit and well, I developed a passion for cycling, and nearly five years after my diagnosis, I thought cancer was well and truly behind me.
Cancer research is progressing at such a speed, but we need to stay one step ahead to improve and extend the lives of patients like myself with advanced disease.
“I thought the cancer was well and truly behind me”
Then in February 2018, I was cycling into London for a meeting when I had a seizure and collapsed. A scan confirmed that the breast cancer had returned and had spread to my brain.
I was in total shock – it was hard to accept how one minute you could be seemingly cancer-free, and the next be facing an incurable disease that could progress at any stage.
Following surgery and a targeted form of radiotherapy, I needed a new drug treatment regime to keep my cancer at bay.
Fortunately, a new class of targeted cancer drug had been approved for use on the NHS just months before, following UK trials led by the Institute of Cancer Research, London. If I had been diagnosed much earlier, I wouldn’t have benefited from this drug.
Currently my cancer is stable. I take my pill every day, three weeks on, one week off, and I get on with my life. I’m in the clinic just once a month to have my bloods checked and I have scans every three months to check the status of my disease. I cycle 200-300km a week – which I could never have done had I been on conventional therapy – and it’s become my lifeline.
“I know at some point, my treatment will stop working”
I know at some point my current treatment will stop working, and my cancer will progress because it will have developed a resistance to the drug. At that point, I hope there will be more new treatments in the pipeline that will buy me more time.
Cancer research is progressing at such a speed, but we need to stay one step ahead to improve and extend the lives of patients like myself with advanced disease. My hope is that one day, we will be able to say cancer is a chronic disease that you can live with.