Havering women tell of breast cancer fight

Nearly 46,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, which is the equivalent to one person every 11 minutes.

But many doctors believe with earlier and regular checks, many more of the 12,000 or so people – increasingly women under 35 – who lose their lives to the deadly disease could be saved.

To highlight the start Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Recorder has spoken to two brave women whose stories offer hope and inspiration to others.

Not many people battling an aggressive form of cancer for the second time around would say “they are one of the lucky ones” but Michelle Adams is a woman with a positive message.

The courageous mum-of-two, from Upminster, was prompted by Breast Cancer Awareness Month to tell her story – in part to encourage younger women to get regularly checked.

But her long struggle, which started in 2007 when she discovered a painful lump in one of her breasts, may offer hope to others in a similar position.

Despite cancer having affected other members of her family, she admits the news still came as huge and unexpected blow.

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The 38-year-old said: “When they broke the news, it was a complete shock. I was gobsmacked. There was no other word for it.

“They had to act quickly because it was huge – it was an enormous tumour.”

Michelle was given chemotherapy to shrink the tumour straight away after being admitted to Queen’s Hospital, where she says she had “amazing” care from the doctors and nurses who she says saved her life.

Aggressive chemotherapy, some of which was new and being trialled, was followed by a mastectomy and, later, reconstructive surgery.

Though shadows appeared during the next two years, it wasn’t until 2009 that cancer was spotted for the second time.

Michelle said: “Unfortunately, a tumour had jumped and hidden behind my spine. Cancer is very clever nowadays, it disguises itself.”

Now she has been referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital and is coping with weekly treatments for secondary breast cancer, which is along the spine and causes considerable pain.

But Michelle, who runs a construction business with her husband Dennis, is finding strength thanks to her family which includes children Billy, seven, and Chloe, nine, and stepchildren, Laura, 22, Katie, 21, and Charlie, 17.

Her advice? “In a nutshell, get the cancer located early, never give up, always keep positive, never let the cancer take control and fight till the end – after all, life is really precious.”

‘Screening are so vital’

For Gwen and Doug Whitehead, who are looking forward to their golden wedding anniversary early next year, 50 years of happy marriage is not the only thing they have to celebrate.

Six years ago, Gwen, now aged 72, was diagnosed with breast cancer, after a screening at the Victoria Hospital, Romford.

Following surgery and radiotherapy treatment, she is clear of the disease, but she still has regular mammograms, and advises other women to do the same.

Gwen, who lives in a retirement complex in Romford, said: “Quite a few of the ladies here have taken my advice and have regular breast screening.”

Currently mammograms are offered every three years to women aged 50 to 70, but women over the age of 70 can still attend for mammograms if they request them. Havering achieves the highest rate of breast screening in London.

When Gwen was diagnosed with breast cancer, the upper age limit for screening was 65, but has since been raised.

She said: “I had always been for the screenings when I was called for them. After I passed the age limit I was told that you can ask to continue with the mammograms every three years, and I thought it was a good idea to go on having them.

“I did feel scared when I was diagnosed, but my treatment was wonderful, and the breast cancer nurses were so good and explained everything to me. They also involved Doug all the time so he knew what was going on.

“I would always tell women to have the screening. The NHS is there for you, and things can be done if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, especially if you catch it early on.”

For more information about breast screening in Havering call the screening office on 01708 504823/4.