‘At age 25 I was told I had two years to live. Now I’m in remission’
Fran, a fitness instructor from South London, shares her story of treatment for secondary breast cancer, becoming a qualified Cancer Exercise Specialist, and fundraising to say thank you to the hospital that saved her life.
“In January 2019, age 24, I found a lump in my breast and the GP referred me to the hospital for a scan. However, the hospital said it wasn’t anything serious. For 18 months, they thought it was just a harmless hormonal lump that didn’t need further investigation.”
“Fast forward to 2020 – I was in the shower and noticed dimpling on my skin where my lump was and thought I needed to get this checked out again. I ended up at another hospital for a rapid diagnostic test and that’s when they diagnosed me with breast cancer. It felt like everything crashed around me.”
“The news came shortly after I’d gone through emergency spinal surgery in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic after rupturing a disc in my lower spine. I felt numb, but also incredibly angry that I could have been diagnosed earlier when I first flagged the worries I had about the lump. I’ve found far too many people my age who are being misdiagnosed or not being taken seriously.”
“When I had further scans, doctors started to investigate something suspicious in my brain and discovered another tumour. They believed that this had spread from my breast cancer, and I needed to have brain surgery. I was given a life expectancy of just two years – I refused to accept that I would only live until I was 27.”
Fran’s CyberKnife treatment at The Royal Marsden
“After my brain surgery, I was referred to The Royal Marsden. My first meeting with Professor Ian Smith was amazing. He restored all the hope I needed and I went from thinking I only had two years to live to having hope. This was the first time I’d heard the ‘cure’ word mentioned. I suddenly felt safe and no longer alone.”
“I was on chemotherapy for six months, which started the day after my 26th birthday, and then I had radiotherapy – including targeted CyberKnife treatment. This was to make sure any remaining cancer cells in my brain were blasted away."
"The CyberKnife, which is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, sounds intimidating but I completely humanised the machine – it looks like a Pixar robot – and I think it’s absolutely incredible what it can do!”
“I was then put on to a targeted therapy drug called abemaciclib to try to block the breast cancer and stop it from growing, in addition to tamoxifen treatment. My cancer is fed by oestrogen, so I also have monthly injections to stop this hormone being produced in my body. This means that at my age I’ve entered perimenopause, and it’s been one of the hardest side effects of my treatment to date because it’s never-ending. I’m most likely on these drugs for another 10 years.”
A brighter future
In September 2021, just a year after being referred to The Royal Marsden, Fran was told her cancer had gone – her scans showed no evidence of disease: “I was given the news that I was in remission! I had always dreamed of the day I would get a clear scan, but never thought it would come so soon.”
“I’ve since qualified as a Cancer Exercise Specialist and I find it so rewarding using my own experiences to help others. No one expects to hear the words ‘you have cancer’ but I think we need to take the fear away from the word ‘cancer’ – we need to learn to live with it.”
“Cancer is complicated: I may still need surgery and I am still on treatment, but I have an amazing hospital team around me. I’m so grateful to be where I am now.”
Fran is passionate about supporting The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity as a way of saying thank you to the hospital that saved her life.
“I’ve shared my story to help support The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and have helped to organise a fundraiser at my CrossFit gym. People who heard my story were definitely inspired to donate, as they could see how I’ve directly benefitted – The Royal Marsden has saved my life and I’m so grateful."
“I’m keen to show the positive outcomes of charity fundraising and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity is a cause very close to my heart.”
Visiting the Ever After Garden
Fran is also supporting the Ever After Garden and has previously dedicated roses in memory of her two friends.
The Ever After Garden is a beautiful illuminated rose garden in the heart of London. Over the festive season each year, Grosvenor Square in Mayfair is lit up with over 25,000 illuminated white roses – each one dedicated in memory of a lost loved one.
“It really is a breathtaking sight when you look out over 25,000 white roses that light up in the square. I dedicated roses to Hatti and Rob, two people who were beacons of light in my and many others’ lives, and who are greatly missed every day.”
Ever After Garden is lighting up the heart of London again this winter
The stunning installation is open until 19 December 2023. Find out more about visiting the Ever After Garden, and dedicate a rose in memory of a loved one today.
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