Antonella was diagnosed with breast cancer, just ten years after losing her mum to the disease.

Having breast cancer myself gave me the push to sign up for The MoonWalk - I wanted to take part in memory of my mum too

With Mum as a child in 1985

“Less than ten years after I lost my mum to breast cancer, I was also diagnosed with the disease, at the age of just 36. My surgery and treatment have been incredibly tough, but I’ve made it through and I’m now on the road to recovery.

A few years after Mum was first diagnosed, walking suddenly became very painful for her. The doctors initially thought this was because she was getting older (she was in her early sixties by then) and because she had gained weight due to her cancer treatment. In fact, she was in pain because the breast cancer had spread to her bones. Unfortunately, there was very little which the doctors could do for her. I was studying for a master’s degree at the time, but just dropped everything and went back home to be with my mum – she was on her own, as my dad had died a number of years earlier. I didn’t go back to university, as I needed to care for my mother. She died about a year and a half later – I was only 27 when she passed away.

With Mum and Dad and my eldest brother in 1986

Fast forward less than ten years and at the age of 36, I noticed some bloody discharge from my right nipple while I was having a shower. My eyesight isn’t very good, but even without my contact lenses, I could see that it looked strange. I went to my GP straight away to get it checked out and was referred to the hospital for more tests. However, when I was at the hospital, every time they tried to take a sample of the discharge, no blood would come out. I felt like I was being some sort of crazy woman, just inventing things!

The doctors decided not to do a mammogram initially, because I was still so young – I had another type of scan, but that didn’t show anything. However, I was still convinced that something was wrong and I was very insistent. Finally, I had a surgical procedure on my nipple area called a microduchectomy in October 2019, although the doctors were still telling me that it was probably nothing, most likely a fibroadenoma (a sold, non-cancerous lump), and I should try and stay calm. That all changed when the results of the microduchectomy came back.

After testing the tissue which was removed in the procedure, the doctors discovered an early-stage tumour in my breast - a 2.5cm high grade DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). I finally had a mammogram, during which they confirmed another extensive DCIS of around 8cm. I was told that I needed to have a mastectomy and although no cancer had been detected in my other breast, because of my family history, it was decided that I should have a double mastectomy. Having both breasts removed would give me a better chance of avoiding another breast cancer diagnosis a few years down the line. A biopsy after my mastectomy found yet another kind of cancer in my right breast - a Grade 1 IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma) measuring 2.5cm.

I had my mastectomy in February 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. I had implants put in during the surgery but didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I’m now taking the hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen, which I’ll be on for between 5 and 10 years. I suffered a lot of side effects with Tamoxifen – I lost nearly half my hair, I gained a lot of weight and my mood changed constantly. I saw a psychologist because of all the side effects I was having, which was very useful, although my appointments had to be online, due to Covid.

With Mum at the graduation for my bachelor's degree in July 2007

Because of the pandemic, I had a longer break from work than I would otherwise have done, giving me plenty of time to recover from my surgery. Having some time on my hands as I recovered, I finally completed my master’s degree, which I’d left so abruptly to care for my mother during her final illness. I only needed to do a couple of exams and one final essay, but over the years, I’d constantly delayed getting it finished for one reason or another. My degree was in history of art and although I knew that I probably wouldn’t use any of the knowledge I gained in my current job, it felt very satisfying to finally complete it. It was something really positive to focus my mind.

I knew that I wanted to have the chance of having a baby at some point in the future and initially I’d told my oncologist that I wouldn’t take hormone therapy, because I wanted to have children. My oncologist was not happy that I was even contemplating not taking Tamoxifen – she told me that my chances of breast cancer recurring were quite high because of my age and asked me if I wanted to risk leaving a child without a mother. That conversation made me think better and I decided to do anything I could to avoid any recurrence.

Thankfully, after a bit of a battle, I managed to have some of my eggs harvested on the NHS and I did start taking Tamoxifen, as my oncologist was advising me to. I have five frozen embryos which my partner Simone and I will hopefully use for IVF in the not too distant future.

With my fiancé Simone

I’m really excited to be taking on the Half Moon (15.1 miles) challenge at this year’s MoonWalk. I live in South West London and had seen walkers heading over Chelsea Bridge in previous years so I knew all about the event. Having breast cancer myself gave me the push to sign up and I wanted to take part in memory of my mum too. I’ll be walking with some of my work colleagues, as well as my partner. We’re getting married in July, so training for The MoonWalk will be a wonderful way to get fitter before the wedding.

I know that the walk will be a real challenge, especially after everything that’s happened to me. Before my mastectomy, a friend gave me a Wonder Woman doll to keep with me in hospital. By completing The MoonWalk, I think I will feel like Wonder Woman myself!”

My mastectomy day Wonder Woman doll, given to me for the day by a friend

Thank you for sharing your story Antonella and we look forward to seeing you and your team at The MoonWalk London 2022!

Sign up now for The MoonWalk London LIVE or Virtual.


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