Breast-can­cer war­riors

Why my mum is the ultimate role model

Chat - - Contents - By Leanne Pero, 32, from south Lon­don

Star­ing up at my mum Amanda, my eyes widened with sur­prise.

She’d chopped off her lovely long dread­locks. She doesn’t look like Mum, I thought.

It was around 1996, and I was only 10 years old.

Mum, then 35, had just been di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer.

In truth, I don’t re­mem­ber much about it. Just that she had to go to hos­pi­tal, lost her sig­na­ture hairdo.

De­spite be­ing a sin­gle mum of seven, Mum made sure our lives car­ried on as nor­mal. She jug­gled chemo­ther­apy and surgery with the school run and su­per­mar­ket trips.

She had a sin­gle mas­tec­tomy – and, thank­fully, the treat­ment was a suc­cess.

We soon had our happy, healthy Mum back.

I went on to set up my own dance school, The Move­ment Fac­tory, at just 15.

Only, in Fe­bru­ary 2016, I was still liv­ing with Mum when she went for a rou­tine mam­mo­gram.

‘They’ve found some­thing,’ she told me af­ter.

She looked scared as she said she needed more tests.

‘It’s prob­a­bly noth­ing,’ I re­as­sured her.

But I went with her to King’s Col­lege Hos­pi­tal, Lon­don, for moral sup­port.

Mum had another scan – and, deep down, we both knew it was go­ing to be bad news.

Even­tu­ally, she was told to come back in a week for the re­sults.

Leav­ing the hos­pi­tal, I broke down in tears.

‘Don’t worry, love,’ Mum cried. ‘What­ever it is, we’ll fight it.’

Seven days later, we were back hav­ing our worst fears con­firmed.

‘We’ve found can­cer,’ the con­sul­tant said.

It was in Mum’s re­main­ing breast – her left one.

‘But there is good news,’ she added.

They’d caught it early, and she didn’t need chemo this time.

In­stead, sur­geons would re­move her re­main­ing breast, then treat the can­cer with hormone ther­apy – a tablet just once a day.

So as Mum and I left the hos­pi­tal, we were re­lieved.

‘You’re go­ing to be fine,’ I sobbed.

Mum had the mas­tec­tomy and I looked af­ter her fol­low­ing the op.

She was quickly back on her feet.

Re­lieved, we threw ourselves back into liv­ing our lives.

Un­til, just six months on, when I was in the shower and felt some­thing in my right breast...

‘It’s huge,’ I told Mum, ter­ri­fied.

She felt the 7cm-long lump too.

‘Best to get it checked,’ she said.

Be­cause of Mum’s his­tory, my GP fast-tracked me to King’s Col­lege Hos­pi­tal.

And now it was Mum’s turn to be there to sup­port me.

I had a biopsy, mam­mo­gram and scans.

As I waited for the re­sults, friends re­as­sured me it’d be noth­ing.

They bom­barded me with sto­ries of peo­ple find­ing lumps that ended up be­ing cysts.

‘You’re too young to have breast can­cer,’ they said.

So, by the time I went for my re­sults the fol­low­ing week, I didn’t even ask Mum to come with me.

I took my best mate and younger brother in­stead.

I’d con­vinced my­self that it would be good news. It wasn’t. ‘I’m not go­ing to beat around the bush,’ the con­sul­tant said.

It was the same doc­tor who’d given Mum the bad news six months ear­lier.

‘We’ve found can­cer,’ she said.

‘What?’ I gasped, shocked.

I’d just turned 31.

I was still di­gest­ing the words ‘breast can­cer’ as I was given a rush of in­for­ma­tion. I’d need more tests, an MRI scan to es­tab­lish the size and grade of my tu­mour, whether it had spread.

I’d need a mas­tec­tomy and chemo­ther­apy.

Plus, treat­ment would stop

‘I’m here for you – we are go­ing to beat this’

my pe­ri­ods for a time, could af­fect my fer­til­ity.

As I didn’t have any chil­dren, did I want to con­sider hav­ing my eggs frozen?

And be­cause of Mum’s his­tory, I should con­sider ge­netic test­ing, fur­ther surgery. This is too much, I thought. I could barely breathe, my head spun with ques­tions.

First Mum, why me, too? Am I go­ing to die? Why didn’t I set­tle down, have kids sooner?

In a daze, I man­aged to have a blood test be­fore stum­bling home and into the arms of my mum.

It was only then that I broke down in tears.

‘Don’t worry, you were there for me, now I’m here for you,’ she soothed, cud­dling me tightly. ‘We are go­ing to beat this.’

But for the next month, I couldn’t sleep, eat.

I had anx­i­ety and panic at­tacks as I thought about my bat­tle ahead.

I wanted my eggs frozen, but with the tu­mour grow­ing so fast, there was no time.

That Novem­ber, I started chemo to shrink the tu­mour.

It made me feel rub­bish. I lost my hair, eye­brows and eye­lashes, gained 2st. But Mum was my rock. ‘You’re go­ing to get through it,’ she’d say. ‘And live a won­der­ful life af­ter­wards.’

Think­ing of her, fight­ing all this when I was lit­tle while bring­ing up seven kids, kept me strong. She was a true war­rior. And I was deter­mined to be as brave as her.

Af­ter six months, and eight rounds of chemo, scans couldn’t find any can­cer left.

Weirdly, ge­netic tests showed no ev­i­dence of the BRCA breast-can­cer gene.

Still, Mum’s his­tory meant there was more chance of mine com­ing back, so doc­tors rec­om­mended a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy.

So, in June last year, I had the op at St Thomas’ Hos­pi­tal, im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by re­con­struc­tive surgery.

Af­ter los­ing my hair, pe­ri­ods, fig­ure, and ev­ery­thing that de­fined me as a wo­man, I found it re­ally tough.

But with Mum’s amaz­ing sup­port, I re­minded my­self I’d sur­vived, and noth­ing else mat­tered.

Slowly, I started to re­build my life.

Now, I feel great, and I’m deter­mined to live my life pos­i­tively – like Mum. She’s my hero. And I couldn’t have done it with­out her.

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