My wife, Abigail, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2004, and she died on 31st January 2009, so had nearly 5 years of good life after the diagnosis. She was 63 years old in 2004 and I was slightly younger, at 60. My name is Angus Cleaver, living in Surrey, in southern England.
The consultants have told us that it was a most unusual case, as the first presentation was a lump in front of an ear. This turned out to be a secondary, the primary cancer being in the right breast. Abigail had regularly checked her breasts, and the doctors said that nobody would have found the ‘slight thickening’ without a scan.
At this early stage the disease had already spread to the lungs, liver and hips. We were told at the outset that our cancer could not be cured. The plan was to control it as much as possible, commensurate with giving as good a quality of life as possible.
A range of chemotherapies was used over the 5 year period, and after some years the right breast was removed. There were two short courses of radiotherapy, one to the jaw where the original problem was located, and one to the chest area where a number of lumps developed after surgery.
We have private medical insurance, and most of the treatment was provided by a consultant surgeon and a consultant oncologist at a private hospital. The insurance did not cover all costs, and we met bills totalling almost £16,000 out of our own pocket.
We recognised that we were more fortunate than many in that, amongst other things,
- we had private medical insurance,
- we had the funds to supplement the insurance cover
- we were within 10 miles of a very good private hospital
- we had access to leading consultants in this field
- being in the south of England, we were in one of the best parts of one of the most advanced and well resourced countries for cancer care
- we were benefiting from the results of massive research efforts, with new treatments becoming available all the time
- although our sons and their families live a long way away (Sweden and Siberia), we benefited from excellent modern communications via Skype and e-mail
You may not be in a similar position, but I nevertheless hope that you will find some of our experience useful. You may well have got off to a better start than us, as your cancer may not have reached the incurable stage of Abigail’s at first diagnosis. But even in our case, cancer did not mean an early death.