Personal stories

HMS survivorship

Posted by Harriet Mason on 09 November 2021

Lisa Coxon shares her experience of being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in her mid-30s and navigating treatment whilst on maternity leave with two young sons.

My name is Lisa. I am 35 and have 2 boys. Ace is 1, almost 2 and Jax is 5 and just finished Reception. I have just finished radiotherapy for Triple negative breast cancer with lymph node involvement. Forty hours a week, when I’m not trying to live and battle cancer, I’m a police detective on a child protection team.

However, 24 hours a day, I am the captain of the HMS Survivorship. Eleven months ago, even four months ago I thought I couldn’t wait for this. I envisaged me being at the helm of the ship, proudly navigating the post cancer waters, expecting the odd wave to take me by surprise but very much in control and ready to sail into the distance, happy and healthy and with my family on board.

I’d be wearing a skipper’s hat, with my ‘I kicked cancer’s arse’ t-shirt, ringing bells with my bald head and post-steroid moon face, living my best life. Well, wasn’t that a naive notion?!

I was lucky – at least my boat had paddles

As a survivor I feel everything I say, or do, or write has to come with a disclaimer. That disclaimer being, regardless of what I say, or do, or write, I am beyond grateful to be in the situation that I am in. A situation that so many are desperate to be in. A situation that many Stage 4 cancer patients want to be in. That is not lost on me.

My Dad passed from cancer and was told from the off it was terminal, but he could live for many years. He lived for 12 and was in remission twice. There wasn’t a month that went by where there wasn’t some kind of hospital interference, so I have been on that side of the coin.

So, there is my compulsory disclaimer. I do get tired of beginning every sentence with ‘I am grateful but.’ My non-cancer friends don’t begin their conversations this way before they launch into an emotional tirade about their partner or their stone weight gain, so why do I feel like I have to?

I have to because I am part of a cancer community now. Young and old, all genders, stage 1s and stage 5s. I have front row seats to the calamitous destruction cancer causes and I am forever scarred by that. We might all be sailing on the same sea, but believe me, we are not all in the same boat.

I was lucky that my boat had paddles at least. Some people are out here in a barely inflated dinghy, caught in a tsunami with nothing but prayers.

Dealing with menopause, cancer and chemotherapy while on maternity leave

So, for my friends in dinghies know that I am truly grateful that I am here, but it can be crippling living with the fear that this cancer could return. I am grateful but I am heartbroken that I have had my breast removed and my other one will follow soon.

I am grateful, but I am beyond devastated that the choice to have more children has been cruelly taken from me. I am grateful but dealing with menopause, cancer and chemotherapy whilst on maternity leave with a 12-month-old, at 34 years old was difficult and unfair.

The utopia of remission was my focus

As a 35-year-old Mother to a 1 and 5-year-old, reaching the ‘utopia’ of remission was always my focus and ultimate goal. I’d just turned 34 and was on maternity leave when I was thrust into this alternate universe of cancer. I’d crossed over into a realm where this kind of devastation only happens to ‘them’. The ‘someone else’s’, ‘the others’, yet here I was with a terrifying diagnosis.

Triple negative breast cancer, with lymph node involvement. Later on, they would add to that that I had the BRCA1 Gene mutation and that my cancer had ‘bizarre features’. They weren’t sure that it would respond to chemotherapy and as we all know now the options are limited with triple negative, so I needed the chemo to work.

I went into fight mode

From the off I was in fight mode. I did everything I could to proactively participate in my healing. I changed my diet, I fasted before chemo, took a concoction of supplements and explored alternative therapies. So, when I heard the words ‘we got all of the cancer’ I expected the heavens to open and the angel Gabriel himself to lead a chorus of hallelujahs and my anxiety over my premature death to be gone.

That didn’t happen.

The weeks that immediately followed I celebrated of course, went out and drank champagne before I started radiotherapy. So, I did feel an initial relief, but after the radiotherapy finished that quickly dissipated and I was left with a niggling feeling of fear that I just couldn’t get rid of.

Chemotherapy was my trusty crutch which had been snatched from me, but at least I had surgery and radiotherapy to follow as the next steps of active treatment, but I don’t think I’d given much thought to the ‘after’ part of this.

Sitting duck syndrome

Now here I am in ‘after’. I call it sitting duck syndrome. Because that’s how I feel almost every day of my life. I’m a sitting duck, waiting for the cancer to come, or worse, spread. There are no drugs I can go on for the next few years. It’s just me and my thoughts and that one yearly scan.

My journey isn’t quite finished. Thanks to my genes my other breast will be removed at the beginning of next year and my ovaries and fallopian tubes next month. Both surgeries are preventative and as always, I am grateful to have these options.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching whilst being in this strange limbo land. Yearning for my former self and former life. Desperate to move on but more importantly just to live. How do I live?

How do I live?

Then I realised the answer was in the question. Live. Wake up every day and breathe in and out. I am alive. I am living. But actually, I want to do more than that. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance and I can’t waste it. I made the decision to do what I love. Just something, everyday no matter how big or small.

They say you should live every day as though it’s your last. Let’s be honest that is unrealistic. I talked about this on a recent Instagram post I did. I do not feel like I’m living my best life when I’m doing the food shop or changing my car insurance. But every day you can experience joy, happiness and experience a true sense of being alive.

I see you and you inspire me daily

As @coffeedrinkingmama says ‘Live Big’. So that’s what I do now. I do it for me. But I also do it for the cancer community that can no longer do it. Those who have been cruelly taken by this vile disease. Those whose cancer is terminal and life limiting.  Who are so eager for others to realise how precious and magical and bloody short life is. I see you and you inspire me daily to encourage others to be grateful for the life they have and most importantly ‘Live Big’.

You can follow Lisa on Instagram @findingthemothership

9 November 2021

The information and content provided on this page is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice

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