Zdena’s family hope to harness the resilience and strength she found during her treatment for secondary spread as they undertake a challenge in her memory
After recovering from a primary breast cancer diagnosis, Zdena was stunned when she found out six years later it had spread. Her courage during her treatment for secondary spread was inspirational for her large, supportive family after she lost her battle with the disease. Here her husband Dominic tells her story in his own words, and what they are doing to raise funds in her memory.
Zdena’s history with breast cancer started when she discovered a lump in her breast in December 2015. We were very grateful to her surgeon, who dealt with it very quickly. He carried out a lumpectomy within a few weeks of finding it. He also had to do a full node clearance under one arm some weeks after.
Zdena then had several sessions of gruelling chemotherapy, two weeks of radiotherapy and put on a course of Tamoxifen tablets for the next five years followed by inhibitors. She came back from the treatments amazingly. She really went through it, with every side effect known, including being rushed into hospital with neutropenic sepsis.
After Zdena had fought all these battles she found a new zest for life and set up her own cake making business called White Rabbit Cake Studio which she was very proud of, as was I. She produced some outstanding work, won awards at national cake shows and built her brand and a large customer base. We particularly loved delivering and setting up her wedding and celebration cakes together at amazing venues like Leeds Castle.
Then in February 2022, she went for a routine check-up at one of the hospitals locally to us. It wasn’t the usual surgeon that she saw, it was someone that was working under him. She said everything seemed fine but Zdena happened to mention that she’s got these pains in her lower back. She bluntly said to Zdena “we’d better get you a scan then just to check the cancer hasn’t spread!”
That was probably the worst way she could have put it! It was a bombshell. She did have a few problems with her back, but she put it down to overdoing her exercises or her posture when making cakes.
They said they would put her on an urgent pathway to have a scan and results within two weeks. It was an excruciatingly long wait to get the scan. Two weeks came and went, three weeks came and went…
EIGHT long weeks later she finally had a scan. A few more weeks later we got a phone call basically to say, “can the surgeon see her?”
We knew that we would have got a letter If everything was OK, so we were expecting to hear something not too good. And then when the surgeon saw her, they explained to her and me that the cancer had spread to the ribs, the bones around the pelvic area, the lower back, liver and lung. We were all shellshocked by this.
Looking back, if they had scanned sooner and got her results within the two weeks urgent pathway as was necessary, and as we were told would happen, Zdena could have been diagnosed a lot sooner. She could have started her treatment plan sooner and likely have much more time. We realise there were some backlogs following Covid, but even the surgeon was livid it had taken so long for the scan and results, and said this would be investigated.
We’d had a long-awaited trip to Italy all booked up for June. Zdena had been wanting to return to Italy for most of our married life. We had such a fantastic trip to Tuscany in 2001 for our honeymoon, in particular our favourite place San Gimignano. After we heard the diagnosis from the surgeon, one of the first things Zdena asked was, “can we go on our trip to Italy in June?” No, he said quickly, you’ll have to cancel that.
Instead we took a trip to North Devon in a luxury motorhome our good friends lent us. The weather and scenery was so beautiful. We took both our daughters Katie and Rebecca and we had a very memorable week altogether. One of Zdena’s sisters Jana and her family who live in Devon brought a little slice of Italy to Zdena and I for a night. ‘San Gimignano private dining’ they called it with a proper menu and all. An amazing three course meal laid out beautifully on Italian theme decorated plates, with an Italian sightseeing photo board of San Gimignano, Siena, and various other places we’d visited. There was also plenty of Chianti wine and a Dean Martin CD playing. It was an evening I will never forget.
Zdena’s mobility was deteriorating at this point, but she was just about managing to walk short distances. Literally about a week or two later, she was wheelchair bound and not long after that, she was bed bound in our downstairs living room. There were a lot of adjustments to make at this point.
They hadn’t started any treatment yet. They were recommending targeted chemotherapy tablets, to the bones particularly, in conjunction with some injections. Zdena was also asked to have a head scan about three or four weeks before this. We finally got to a point where Zdena was just about to start the targeted chemotherapy injection.
She was actually sitting in the chemo chair when her metastatic nurse came bursting through the curtains saying stop the treatments!! The nurse had just got the results back from the head scan. She said Zdena unfortunately has got a brain tumour.
They referred her to the King’s Hospital London. We went up there for the pre-op. They recommended an operation to remove it. Two weeks later, on the day of her operation, they did her tests and the platelets in her blood had halved from the count they measured in her pre-op two weeks earlier and were still dropping. A decision was made to not operate at this point. Considering the size and position of the tumour, and the cancer elsewhere in her body causing the drop in levels, it would be too risky.
They referred her back to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital for whole brain radiotherapy. A few weeks later she was fitted up with a radiotherapy face mask. Then she was zapped every day for two weeks. Zdena returned a few weeks later to Kent and Canterbury for a follow up appointment. The oncologist was amazed how well Zdena looked since she’d seen her last. She told us the tumour had started to shrink slightly and they said the radiotherapy was successful. Zdena was feeling really pleased and despite understanding the prognosis she felt a lot more optimistic.
Another reason for optimism is they said Zdena can go back to the original plan of having chemotherapy tablets and injections. They gave her a new schedule and she was eager to start that as soon as possible.
However, a few weeks later she started to get a little bit wheezy and an irritating cough came along. By this time, she was in a hospital bed in our lounge downstairs. She couldn’t get up the stairs because of the way everything was affecting her. She just about managed to get between her downstairs bed and the loo with assistance and tried very hard to use a walking frame down the hallway.
On one particular day late September, she made it to the loo, but couldn’t get back. I had to carry her back and I managed to get her onto the bed where she collapsed. We called an ambulance. The paramedics said her oxygen levels had dropped to dangerous levels around 50%. They fitted her up with temporary oxygen and took her off to the hospital.
She was taken to a ward where they dealt with her oxygen requirements. She started on about 40-50% blood saturation oxygen. They had to gradually increase it. She was then moved to another ICU where they kept her monitored all the time. Her dependency on oxygen was just getting more and more. It kept climbing to 70-80% +.
All through her illness Zdena tried to fight. Every time she heard about a new symptom, a new problem, she would think, ‘what can I do to combat this?’ Zdena’s sisters bent over backwards to help her with this.
After many examinations of Zdena in hospital they discovered she had extensive blood clots on her lungs. This was what had been causing the breathing difficulties. They sadly told us there was nothing they could do anymore. They took me off into a back room and talked about palliative treatment and things like that.
Zdena passed away peacefully on October 11th, aged 52. We were all with her.
I think about Zdena every day and every night and miss her so much as do all the family. Zdena had a very strong faith in God and believed in the bible’s promise of a resurrection into a new world, where sickness/disease and death would be no more. This knowledge provided her with great comfort and continues to do so for me and many of her family. (John 5;28,29 Isaiah 33;24 Rev 21;3,4). We also appreciate all the amazing care the various NHS nursing and surgical teams gave Zdena.
A south coast family challenge for team Zdena
I want to try and raise as much funds as possible for ‘Against Breast Cancer’. I chose this charity as they do an amazing job researching secondary breast cancer. They need a lot of funds to be raised to enable vital research of secondary breast cancer, to find more effective treatments and to help get an earlier diagnosis which could give families like us a much longer time together.
Team Zdena are doing the 25KM South coast challenge in September 2023 – Katie (daughter), Jak, Alex, Justin, Jevon (sons), Meg, Freya (daughters-in-law) Rachel (sister) and myself. We will be encouraging as many as possible to donate to our fundraising page.
In addition to this I would also like to raise funds in another way.
I have written a song. The Inspiration behind the music and lyrics came to me in the mid 1990’s. I didn’t know Zdena then but I was in an emotional wilderness so to speak, I knew I really wanted to meet someone like Zdena.
It was a kind of plea for someone who could shine and blossom even in adverse conditions and that could help me do the same. A few years later I met the girl of my dreams and of my song. I was not only stunned by Zdena’s beauty but soon learnt about the many beautiful qualities she had as a person.
As you can see from her story above, every time Zdena got a knock back she did her absolute best within her control to bravely fight back, blossom and thrive again, hence the apt theme and song title – ‘Desert Rose’.
I played it to Zdena for the first time through headphones whilst she was in hospital. She really got into it. Whilst listening, she was smiling, her head and hands gently nodding and swaying and she simply said: “I love it”!
Listen to ‘Desert Rose’ above and you can also download it – right click on the link and select ‘Save link as’. Please also considering donating to support the song – all funds donated will go to Against Breast Cancer.
Music/lyrics, lead/backing vocals, guitar, keys – Dominic Clark
Producer, lead guitar, synths, backing vocals – Justin Pevy
Drums – Darren Laurie
Bass guitar- Justin Gisby-Clark