In January 2003 I lost Sheila, my best friend of 36 years to secondary breast cancer.
We met on our first day at secondary school, just 10 years old and new to the area, we didn’t know any other girls at the school. Straightaway we knew we would have a strong friendship.
Our friendship continued through teenage trials and tribulations, boyfriend’s, marriage and eventually children.
Nothing could prepare me for the shock I felt when Sheila found a lump in her breast at the age of 41. Breast cancer to me was something people got when they were older not when they were still raising children.
I was devastated at the thought of losing my friend. Her husband had left her when their youngest son was just 18 months old and she had worked hard to raise her two sons, never relying on benefits or child maintenance from their absent father. Myself and two other friends, along with her father were her support network.
Her surgeon recommended removal of the lump along with several lymph nodes to check if the cancer had spread. We all sighed with relief when we were told it hadn’t.
A course of treatment was started and life went back to normal, or so we thought.
Three years later we found out that the cancer had spread to her bones, so Sheila started a course of radiotherapy which we hoped would slow down the secondary spread and ease the pain she was experiencing.
In 2002 she had two wishes. Her first was to share Christmas with her family and friends and the second was to stay at home surrounded by the people who loved her.
The first wish was easy to grant. We had Christmas in November that year as time was short. Everyone pulled together, buying presents for her boys and grandchildren and we even managed to get a Turkey.
The second wish was a little harder. Although one of our friends was a Nursing Sister in a local hospital, we had to apply for her to have permission to administer the morphine to Sheila at home. With the help of the Consultant, and our nursing friend moving into Sheila’s home, we could grant her second wish.
I miss her every day and hope that one day families will not have to experience the heart ache of losing a loved one to breast cancer.
Having worked in the charity sector for several years, I took a vacancy at Against Breast Cancer in 2010. Fast forward to 2018, I am the Gifts Manager for the charity and I feel so passionately when I talk to Trusts and Foundations about the exciting research that they could help us continue to fund.
I don’t know if it would have saved Sheila’s life, but I believe that advances in treatment due to research would at least have given her more time to spend with her sons, to see the men they have grown into and to enjoy making memories for her grandchildren to hear about.