In the fourth and final part of our series of posts from our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors, Laura Ashurst shares her personal story. In it, she tells us why she campaigns for the Government to make effective drugs available for all cancer patients who need them – including drugs targeted to patients’ tumours.
I found a lump in my right breast in August 2001. My baby son Jack was five months old and my daughter Megan was three and a half. I quickly made an appointment with my GP, but I really didn’t think it was anything to worry about.
Due to my age, my GP also thought it was likely to be a benign lump, but she referred me anyway to have it properly investigated.
Three weeks later, at the grand old age of 34, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband and I were shocked; there was no history of breast cancer in my family and it was a disease that occurred in older women – or so I thought.
I had surgery – a lumpectomy – then a course of radiotherapy followed by a five year course of tamoxifen. This is a type of hormone therapy that’s targeted to a molecule produced in large amounts by types of breast cancer cell. Cancer Research UK scientists helped prove the effectiveness of tamoxifen through clinical trials and the drug has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives.
But unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the end of my breast cancer journey.
I didn’t think twice
Three years later, the cancer came back in the same breast, and this time I was offered a mastectomy. My children were 3 and 7 by this point – so I didn’t think twice.
And of course, surgery can play a vital role in curing patients, so we need to make sure everyone who needs it gets offered it – something my fellow Ambassador Rosa wrote about previously, and something we know doesn’t always happen.
I also chose to have my breast reconstructed.
It took me about three months to recover following surgery, and I continued to be well for the next three years.
Life took on a different meaning
Being diagnosed with breast cancer twice by the age of 37 was challenging, but life took on a different meaning when I was diagnosed for a third time in December 2007 aged 40.
When my oncologist told me I had secondary breast cancer, I had no idea what that meant. I very quickly learned that my breast cancer had spread to other areas in my body and was no longer curable.
My husband and I were devastated, but were determined to face the diagnosis head on. I started chemotherapy one week before Christmas.
And I’m still here seven years later.
Living with secondary breast cancer has been challenging, but it has also brought wonderful experiences into my life. Becoming a Cancer Research UK Ambassador in 2011 is up there on my list of achievements.
I’ve visited Parliament several times to talk to MPs about what’s important for people with cancer, or for those who may be diagnosed in the future.
The most recent event saw more than 100 Ambassadors descending on Westminster to launch the Cancer Research UK General Election campaign. And, along with two other Ambassadors, I spoke to the Leader of the Opposition: Ed Miliband MP.
We talked about the importance of diagnosing cancer earlier, and how the next Government must be committed to improving cancer survival. Without access to the treatments I’ve had, I might not have been there to have this conversation.
I’m an ordinary person living with the disease
My experience of breast cancer has taught me that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to treating this disease is history. Just as the experience of cancer is personal to each patient, the way doctors now treat the disease is becoming ever more personalised. And, as is the case for me, cancer can become something you live with for many years.
But this means that we need an NHS that can cope with the change. An NHS where health professionals are properly supported to be able to access diagnostic tests for their patients, so the best targeted treatment can be offered.
Cancer Research UK’s Cross Cancer Out campaign is tackling this by calling on the next Government to ensure that all patients who need them are offered innovative radiotherapy, surgery and effective cancer drugs, including drugs targeted to patients’ tumours.
I’m not a cancer expert. I‘m an ordinary person living with the disease. But my personal experience has taught me that cancer is very individual and, in the case of breast cancer, comes in many different types. To be able to access drugs that effectively target your ‘unique’ tumours has to be the way forward.
My hope is that I see the day where truly personalised treatment is available for all, and I know that Cancer Research UK is committed to making that dream become a reality. In a small way, I’m playing a part in the fight to beat cancer sooner.
Laura is a Cancer Research UK Campaigns Ambassador
- Read more about our calls for the General Election
- To join Laura and support our call for equal access to effective cancer drugs visit our Cross Cancer Out pages
Read the other posts from this series:
- Clive’s story about the importance of early diagnosis
- Elizabeth’s story about radiotherapy
- Rosa’s story about surgery
And watch this video showing how the public are supporting our campaign to Cross Cancer Out: