Fiona describes how living with secondary breast cancer doesn’t hold her back

It is possible to lead a fulfilling life, with so many incredible advances in treatment

"I’ve been on constant treatment for secondary breast cancer since 2014. By taking part in this year’s MoonWalk Scotland, I wanted to raise awareness that you can live a very full life with secondaries. Treatment has come on so far over the years, thanks to wonderful charities like Walk the Walk."

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. I was 40 and my two sons Lewie and Keir were only eleven and eight years old. I first discovered a lump in my breast when I was applying some fake tan. Lots of people use fake tan nowadays, and I’m so glad that I used it on that occasion! To be honest, I’d always been quite blasé about checking myself – I was young and had breast fed both my boys. We had no family history of breast cancer and I thought that I was low risk.

L-R Keir, Bryan, Lewie and Fiona

My treatment including a lumpectomy, followed by 25 radiotherapy sessions. I then took the hormone therapy Tamoxifen for five years. I was told that I didn’t need chemotherapy and that the radiotherapy was the “belt and braces” treatment to help prevent the cancer coming back. My husband Bryan and I were very honest with our boys throughout. They always knew when I was due to have a scan and what was going on with my treatment – the whole family was hugely supportive.

Life then returned to normal until 2014, when I was training for a local 10K running event. I started getting back pain, which I thought was caused by my training. It got really bad at times and when I was running, it felt like my vertebrae were hitting each other.  Although my pain eased after the 10K was over, I remember an occasion in April 2014, when I reached for a jar of coffee in my kitchen cupboard and felt soreness in my collarbone. Then one day, I was playing with one of my sons and felt even worse pain in my collarbone – it turned out that it was fractured. I had bone scan, which revealed that my breast cancer had spread to my collarbone, my spine and a spot on my rib. It was a horrible shock, finding out that the cancer had metastasized to other places in my body.

I had six monthly scans and was put back on Tamoxifen. Lockdown in particular was very challenging, as I had to shield, because I was so susceptible to infection. I’d worked as an NHS staff nurse for many years and was given official medical retirement in summer 2020. For a while, I shielded on my own in my father-in-law’s house as he was stuck in New Zealand. My husband and son Lewie used to visit me there and we’d all sit in the garden. My other son Keir was in lockdown at university in Edinburgh. I filled my time doing a Joe Wicks workout most mornings and going for a two to three mile walk every day. I also painted comical highland cows, which I raffled to raise money for local charities. I really benefited from the distraction which painting gave me and just tried to keep as physically fit as my health situation allowed – I’m also a type 1 diabetic, which can complicate things further.

Since 2014, I’ve been on a series of different drugs and treatments, to manage my secondary breast cancer. Each treatment works for a period of time, before it becomes less effective and I move onto something else. I had been on oral chemotherapy but in April 2022, I had my first IV chemotherapy treatment – I used a scalp cooling machine during my chemo and had virtually no hair loss, which made a huge difference to me. Walk the Walk granted three scalp coolers to Dr Gray’s Hospital in April 2009 and I was pleased to see there are still in use! I told one of the nurses that I felt quite vain using the scalp cooler – however, she reassured me that using the machine to keep some of my hair was something which I could at least have a little control over.

In February 2023, I had a nasty infection, and was given a CT scan, which revealed that unfortunately my cancer had progressed once again. I’m now on my sixth line of treatment, which is a new type of chemo. Hair loss is unpredictable when using a cold cap – it can depend on what chemo you are on -  but I have chosen to continue with it to help keep as much hair as possible. 

It’s been reassuring to know how many different treatment programmes are available nowadays, even if your cancer has spread, like mine. I’ve been on the same drug now since April this year and my oncologist feels that it’s working well, so I’m carrying on with it for now.

As a family, we’re all just trying to get on with life and fitting in as much as possible – we recently got a puppy called Eddie and he’s so much fun to have around and lifts everyone’s spirits. I’m going to spinning classes too and all my activities feel very holistic. I get particular pleasure from helping others in a similar situation to me. I contacted Scamp & Dude and they donated 100 scarves to Spey Unit at Dr. Gray’s hospital, where I attend my chemo.

Taking part in The MoonWalk Scotland is something I’ve always wanted to do as well, to give something back for all the amazing treatment I’ve received. I mentioned it to my friends Moira, Odette and Alison and we all signed up for the Half Moon (13.1 miles) at The MoonWalk Scotland 2023. Because of my treatment, we decided that the Full Moon (26.2 miles) was a bit too much! Moira has been treated for breast cancer too, back in 2018.

Fiona (2nd from left) with her team at The MoonWalk Scotland

I really enjoyed doing my training for The MoonWalk and as usual, my cancer definitely didn’t hold me back – I walk a lot anyway. Our team thoroughly enjoyed the night itself. It was uplifting and challenging, amongst many other emotions, and there was a tremendous feeling of unity throughout the night. The warmth we experienced from the city of Edinburgh was immeasurable and we are also quite overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity of all our sponsors.

I would encourage everyone in a similar situation to myself to speak up for what you want to do with your life and then make it happen. It is possible to lead a fulfilling life, especially with so many incredible advances in treatment. I’ve been living with secondary breast cancer for more than nine years now and am very much proof of that”.

Fiona with son, Lewie

Thank you for sharing your story Fiona. 

Make a difference this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and sign up now for one of our 2024 MoonWalks


Bra picture

Get involved

Here's just a few ways of supporting us!