Victoria previously shared her story about being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, her treatment and her recovery, culminating in running the London Marathon for Against Breast Cancer with her husband, David, in 2019. Sadly though, soon after she started experience pain all over the body and was eventually diagnosed with secondary spread breast cancer.
After the London Marathon (in 2019), we kept training and we did the Great North Run later that year then after that we were planning to run the London Marathon again in 2020.
I was getting lower back pain and I just thought it was from training but three months later it wasn’t getting any better and I started getting some pain in my collarbone as well, which was worrying me because I hadn’t pulled it or done anything else to it. I kept saying to David, I’ve just got this really strange feeling about this.
The GP initially referred me for three month of physiotherapy but the pain intensified really quickly during that period. I was getting pain all over my body. It was going down my legs and I reached a point where I was in absolute agony. I could barely walk. Within months, I’d gone from running a marathon and half marathon to being in complete pain and agony 24 hours a day.
Because of COVID, the physiotherapy was online and unfortunately it wasn’t very helpful. After the three months I was referred for an MRI scan and within about 3 days the GP called me and said, can you come in to the clinic? It was a face-to-face meeting and it was in the middle of COVID. I knew there was something wrong because they weren’t calling people in face-to-face.
She said, we’ve got the results from the scan. Unfortunately, we can see that it’s secondary breast cancer and it spread all around your body. She said, I don’t know how you’ve walked into this room today. And I was like, ‘well, I didn’t have a choice.’
I was frustrated, but to be honest at that point, although I kind of knew it, I just went into complete shock. I’m very solution driven so enquired immediately about what the solution might be. And she said, well, I don’t think that there’s a cure. And from here on it will be palliative care.
For me, palliative care meant that’s the end of my life. I had a complete meltdown and said I’m too young because I was only 45. And I said my kids are still young. It really was a huge shock. I didn’t know that it’s very common for breast cancer to spread into the bones. I’d never researched it and I didn’t realise.
I was directly referred to the oncology section at the hospital and I was on a whole load of painkillers from more regular morphine to amitriptyline, which was a helping me with the nerve pain. I was combining that with paracetamol and ibuprofen – I was on a massive cocktail of painkillers and still in pain.
I had the meeting with oncology, and my oncologist was the same oncologist who I met in 2012. He sent me for very intense radiotherapy to the pelvis, which was I think over five days. It took a few weeks, but that then did start to help.
Then they started me on my current treatment, an immunotherapy targeted therapy which is palbociclib, then that in combination with the hormone which is letrozole, and later calcium and vitamin D tablets. Within a month I started improving and the pain started to reduce.
I’d set myself a target to start exercising and I wanted to get off the painkillers. I reduced the painkillers one-by-one I started with the ibuprofen, I just cut it out. I was OK. Then I went I think to the morphine, which you’re not really supposed to do. They were two tablets a day slow release, so I stopped one of them and I waited a few days then stopped the other one. I didn’t tell anyone. I stopped the amitriptyline and then I stopped the paracetamol over a period of time. Then I said I’m not taking any painkillers. And they’re like what you doing? And I was like, ‘I’m alright. I’m feeling OK.’
I had physiotherapy with the hospital and they gave me a few exercises and they said try going on an exercise bike because that will help the pelvis.
So David bought me a stand for my bicycle, which lifts the back of the bicycle up. I got on the bike and I could only do about two minutes at the beginning, but every day I did a little bit more and I got up to one hour and kept increasing the tension on it.
I would walk around the block and then I would walk to the school to pick my son up, which I hadn’t been able to do. I just set myself a personal target. My walking improved. I got rid of the sticks, but then my next thing was to get rid of the limp.
I was matched with a specialist personal trainer called Sophie and she’s been one of my pillars through this journey. She gave me an exercise plan after having a consultation with the breast care nurse and seeing all of my medical documents.
She set up an exercise plan which would be safe for me to do. It’s helped gain my confidence. I set myself a target, got rid of the painkillers and the treatment. So far it has been going really well. I’ve just got myself back running and being very focused with it. I’m doing the couch to 5K. It’s very slow and it’s not going to be London Marathon again.
I’d like to acknowledge all of the medical staff who do such a wonderful job. They do work under a lot of pressure in the NHS at the moment. When I go to the oncology unit, the breast care and chemotherapy nurses are absolutely amazing. Although they’re really busy, they always have time for you. They’re so caring.
When you’re living with cancer, it’s not just the physical thing that you’re going through, it’s the psychological help that you get. They do such a wonderful job.
The other thing for me is my faith. People always say to me how come you’re so positive and how come you keep going. But for me it’s my faith that drives me through the difficult times.
Victoria has kindly agreed to carry on sharing her story in a series of blogs. This page will be updated every time she sends an update.
Tattoos for cancer
Victoria’s husband David has shared his story of getting a tattoo for the first time at the age of 64 in honour of his “amazing wife”. Tattoos can do so much more than cover scars, they can increase self confidence post-surgery or as part of reconstruction, or in David’s case, they can be a show support for a loved one as well.
This is a woman who has renewed my faith in so many ways. Victoria’s fight against breast cancer continues to be an inspiration to me. I love her and her positive optimism and her joy for people and for life.
When she decided to have a post-mastectomy and body tattoo as her personal statement and declaration/celebration of life, I couldn’t resist joining her in the experience.
Her tattoo is beautiful, future focused and inspiring. Her values, her faith, and her identity shines through the piece. I was in awe of the way she was able to express her spirituality and faith through this body art form.
Victoria always welcomes comments and questions when people ask her or compliment her about her tattoo. She has quite a story to tell and her tattoo gives her an opportunity to tell it.
My tattoo, autumnal maple leaves, also reflects and honours my heritage as the son of my late Italian/Canadian father who volunteered to fight in the Second World War.
My next tattoo? Oh yes, there will no doubt be more, will probably be a focus on our six wonderful children and our four grandchildren so far.
Read more of David’s thoughts on tattoos here.