‘My mum got her all clear – then helped me beat the same breast cancer’

Lorraine, 37, who lives in Hilton, Derbyshire, with her husband Steve, 38, and sons George, 12, Henry, three, and Alexander, two, shares her story…

"This Mother’s Day will be extra special for me and my mum, Denise. We’ll be able to share a family lunch and put the difficulties of the past few years behind us. I’m lucky to have a mum who knows exactly what to say when I’m feeling low. It’s not just because she’s my mum but because she knows exactly what I’m going through – both of us were diagnosed with the same cancer in the exact same spot in our left breasts.

I hadn’t long had my second son, Henry, and was busy making the final arrangements for my wedding to Steve in June 2019 when Mum called with her devastating news – a routine mammogram had picked up a tumour.

It was an aggressive form of cancer called triple negative and it came as a real shock to the family. But she’s a positive person and she faced her treatment head-on, while still finding time to help me with the wedding preparations the following month.

Mum was still able to come to the wedding despite having only just had surgery to remove the tumour, which was such a relief to us both.

There were difficult moments, especially when she lost her hair because of the chemo. But she got through the treatment and we were all thrilled when she was given the all-clear in May 2020.

By then I’d had my third son, Alexander, who was born two months earlier. Everything was going well but there was a problem when I tried to breastfeed.

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I thought there might be a blockage in my left breast, so when Alexander was nine weeks old I showed Mum, who said I should go straight to the doctor.

I was sent for tests and remember looking round at the other women waiting there and feeling sorry for them, never dreaming that there would be anything wrong with me. Following two painful biopsies and a mammogram, I was told the terrifying news. There was an 8cm tumour just behind my nipple, exactly where Mum’s had been, and it was cancerous. I’d need a mastectomy as well as chemo and radiotherapy.

Steve was shocked but practical and reassuring, but I just cried and cried. I thought I was too young to have cancer. It was even more of a shock that I had the same triple-negative cancer as Mum had. Amazingly, I was told it wasn’t genetic.

Having gone through the fear of losing my mum to cancer just months earlier, all I could think about was my beloved boys. Would they have to grow up without a mum? I was terrified of going through the same treatment as Mum but talking to her helped to reassure me. She was devastated for me but she said, “You can do this, you’re going to be alright.”

So hard to tell the kids

Telling George, who was then aged 10, was really hard. He’s a bright boy and I knew there was no point hiding it from him.

He’d seen his nanny go through the same thing and lose her hair, and he was so upset it was happening again. I hugged him and said I’d be fine, like Nanny.

Mum helped look after the kids when I went for treatment, which started with chemo to shrink the tumour before the mastectomy.

I knew I’d have to lose my breast but I didn’t want to lose my hair too. I’d seen how upset mum had been when it happened to her. So I used a “cold cap” throughout the chemo. It cools the scalp so your hair doesn’t fall out. It’s not pleasant but it was worth it to keep my hair and look as normal as possible for the boys.

Because of Covid, I had to go to appointments alone but the chemo nurses were amazing. The support centre wasn’t the miserable, depressing place you’d imagine – it was full of warmth and hope.

I had the surgery just before Christmas 2020 and that was followed by radiotherapy a few weeks later.

We’d always been close but now Mum and I were talking several times a day. I’d ask her questions about her own treatment or seek reassurance when I was worried.

Sometimes, when I was feeling sick or just having a down day, I’d speak to Mum and she always knew what to say to get me back into a positive mindset. I honestly don’t think I’d have got through it so well without Mum’s support.

By March last year, my treatment had finished and I was given the all clear. I’ve been busy raising funds for the amazing Macmillan nurses and I’m trying to raise awareness about the cancer Mum and I had, which doesn’t always present with a lump and apparently isn’t genetic.

Good to share fears

Inevitably, I worry the cancer’s going to come back – and I know Mum has those feelings too. It’s great to be able to pick up the phone and share my fears. We sometimes joke that we’re living the same life.

It’s true when people say it’s impossible to understand what having cancer is like unless you’ve been through it yourself. Luckily for me, Mum had that experience and always knows what to say to make me feel better.

Hopefully, we’ve both put cancer behind us and we can celebrate Mother’s Day this year without any worries."

‘She’s still my baby and it was upsetting seeing her go through that’

Denise, 60, talks of her pain at seeing her daughter suffer and how grateful she is that they both came through their ordeals…

"When I found out I had breast cancer, one of my first thoughts was, 'At least it’s not happening to my daughters.' It was one thing to deal with it myself but I didn’t think I could cope with that.

So it was a terrible shock when Lorraine was diagnosed with the same cancer as mine. I didn’t know anything about breast cancer when I first had it but I’d learned a lot by the time Lorraine was diagnosed, so I was able to help her through her treatment.

Her cancer was more advanced and she had to have her breast removed, whereas I’d only had surgery on mine. That was the worst part for me. She’s still my baby and it was very upsetting seeing her go through that.

We both worry the cancer will return but one thing it’s taught us both is you have to live your life, as you don’t know what lies ahead.

I’m close to all three of my daughters but Lorraine and I having cancer has brought the whole family closer. This Mother’s Day will be a chance to celebrate and be thankful we’ve come through such a difficult time."

What is triple negative breast cancer?

Triple-negative is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and accounts for 15-20% of all breast cancers. It’s called triple-negative because it doesn’t have any of the main drivers of the disease – the oestrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – so it doesn’t respond to treatments that target them. However, it usually responds well to chemotherapy.

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