West Ham fan from Harold Hill talks living with breast cancer as she completes charity swimming challenge
- Credit: Siobhan McKeon
Harold Hill resident Siobhan McKeon has just finished a 22-mile swimming challenge for Breast Cancer Research Aid.
Swimming the length of the English Channel in 21 sessions is impressive by anyone’s estimation, but the 43-year-old has achieved this whilst living with secondary breast cancer.
As proud as she is of raising more than £3,000 for her chosen charity, the avid West Ham fan is more driven by a desire to show that it is possible to live with cancer.
Secondary breast cancer — or HER2-positive — is an incurable form of the disease which has already spread from the breast to another part of the body.
As Siobhan explains, it’s quite rare: “I think it’s only something like 5 per cent of people find out straightaway that the cancer has spread somewhere else, and I was in that category.”
Diagnosed in 2016 at 38, the mum-of-two is now four-and-a-half years down the line with treatment. Since that point her life has been an endless cycle of chemotherapy — 78 sessions in total, with three weeks in between — all undertaken at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.
This would be enough to wear down the strongest of individuals, but Siobhan remains admiringly positive: “I am actually quite grateful to have continued treatment, because I know the only time it stops is when it isn’t working anymore.”
Siobhan is accepting of her reality — because there is no cure, she will be in treatment for the rest of her life.
Though the frequent trips to Queen’s are not easy, Siobhan affords a smile as she reels off the “special ladies” at the hospital who have become part of her life over the years.
Paying tribute to the nurses on Sunflower ward, her consultant Dr Quigley and stage four nurses Deana and Linda, Siobhan is grateful that her most recent appointments show that everything is stable.
With this the best-case scenario, Siobhan is determined to live life as normally as possible for as long as possible, which is where the swimming challenge comes in.
She started off by swimming at the Central Park Leisure Centre, but when word spread about what she was doing, a friend of a friend got in touch to offer her the use of her pool in Brentwood.
Touched by the generous offer of a relative stranger, a grateful Siobhan completed the remainder of her miles in this private setting.
The scale of this challenge — which began on October 19 and finished on November 24 — can be brought into focus by the treatments Siobhan has undergone during this period.
“Since starting the challenge I’ve had two sessions of chemo, a CT scan, a mammogram, a blood test and an Electrocardiogram (ECG).”
Though Siobhan explains that she’s currently having a less aggressive form of chemotherapy, the number of procedures is enough to put pressure on anyone’s body.
When asked what drove her to undertake this swim, Siobhan answers: “I did the challenge for myself, to feel that sense of achievement.”
Because of her illness she can no longer work, but that hasn’t quelled her appetite to have other things to focus on.
Even before this challenge Siobhan’s story has impressed many. Just last month she was surprised by the captain of the West Ham Ladies team, Gilly Flaherty, who brought Siobhan her winnings from a competition run by the club for Wear It Pink Day.
The football club has always had a special place in Siobhan’s life, and in her journey with cancer. It was on the day of the Hammers’ final game at Upton Park (in May 2016) that she decided to cut her hair, an act which acknowledged what was to come.
Siobhan says the average prognosis of secondary breast cancer is between three and five years, though she has read of women living for much longer.
Now approaching the five-year mark, she is determined to be one of those women, both for herself and her children (aged 20 and 13 respectively).
But to do that Siobhan must continue with the same three-week ritual, including a chemotherapy session on Christmas Eve.
Despite the unfortunate timing, Siobhan refuses to complain: “It does make me sad sometimes that I’ll never ring the (cancer) bell, I want to show that people do live with cancer.”
To donate to Siobhan’s fundraising page, visit this link.