Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Tracey’s Story

Breast cancer awareness month, wear pink in support of this movement.

Each year, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, shines a spotlight on the patients and families who have been affected by breast cancer.

Throughout the month, the health and social care system professionals that are working to combat this disease through dedicated research, treatment and support are also celebrated through stories shared.

In support of this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Health Innovation Manchester hears from Jay Hamilton, Programme Director for Industry Partnerships, and her sister Tracey Lawrie who has successfully overcome breast cancer after receiving treatment in Greater Manchester at both the Nightingale Centre at Wythenshawe HospitalThe Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

Tracey Lawrie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018, after being referred to the Nightingale Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital after finding a lump on her breast and consulting her GP doctor shortly after.

Jay Hamilton, Programme Director for Industry Partnerships at Health Innovation Manchester, said:

“When my sister called me, I was in London at a Patient Safety meeting. I immediately knew something was wrong, my normally strong big sister, who served in the RAF for 22 years, was not herself at all. About to make an offer on a house in Germany where she and her husband Ewan would see out their retirement, a scared voice said – ‘I have found a lump’.

“Realising that I lived in a city with some of the world’s best cancer facilities, and wanting Tracey home, we rapidly arranged to get them back to see what was happening.

“In no time at all the diagnosis for stage 3 Breast Cancer came and Tracey’s epic journey began. The breast cancer pathway was seamless, and Tracey was asked to enroll in a clinical trial which she is still a part of to this day.

“Speaking first as a sister and as a person proud to work for the NHS in Greater Manchester I can say with conviction, how proud and how grateful I am to the people who cared for and helped my amazing sister, to remission.”

According to Tracey, her breast cancer pathway was fast and efficient from first appointment to the treatment plan. In the space of a few weeks Tracey had undergone tests, ultrasounds, and biopsies, before meeting with the Oncologist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. Tracey explains:

“My first meeting with my Oncologist was at The Christie on my 54th birthday on September 19th in 2018. He clearly explained to me about my type of cancer HER2 positive and the fact that it was now a much more treatable disease due to the discovery of new drugs and asked me if I was willing to take part in a clinical trial that would test the delivery method of the drug for my targeted therapy. I happily agreed as I have always felt strongly about trying to give back to the medical teams that do so much for us.

“My treatment started in October 2018 and lasted until February 2002, with eight cycles of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, single mastectomy, 15 daily cycles of radiotherapy and a further 18 cycles of targeted therapy. The targeted therapy was every three weeks and consisted of an injection into my thigh and then an infusion for an hour, followed by an hour with observations. All of this would easily take up most of the day, and this was the conventional method of delivery.

“Running alongside the conventional method, the other arm of the trial was all delivered by two injections and 20 mins of observation. Both arms of the trial have six monthly bloods and echocardiograms at The Christie and Manchester Royal Infirmary for the next ten years.”

Tracey is now currently classed as showing no evidence of breast cancer (NED) and has since taken major steps in raising awareness for the option to undergo a double mastectomy as part of treatment at an early stage. Tracie explains:

“The only negative aspect of my treatment was the fact that I was not able to have a double mastectomy at the time of my original surgery. I was never offered the option due to a surgeon’s reluctance to remove healthy breasts. However, they were happy to reduce the size of it. I knew I did not want reconstruction or an implant. Living with a single large breast causes untold postural imbalances and several muscular skeletal problems.

“Living flat should be offered right from the initial diagnosis and not seen as a strange request requiring the psychiatric evaluation of a person’s mental state. There are over 10,000 women in the UK who have chosen to live flat, and this number is growing. The postcode lottery of trusts which offer living flat as an option needs to be addressed across the country.

“The professionalism, efficiency and care I received in Manchester is second to none. Right from the beginning, until the end.”

Following her double mastectomy, Tracey has had a tattoo inked across her chest to beat the stigma surrounding mastectomies. The tattoo was designed and inked by artist Kate Challinor, who volunteers her time to tattoo cancer survivors. You can find out more about this here.

Health Innovation Manchester has also been involved in a collaborative project with patients and partners across the health and social care system, to produce a series of educational resources to increase the awareness of breast cancer prevention, and to support optimum pathways for breast cancer patients in the use of treatments.

This collaboration between patients and partners has involved Health Innovation ManchesterThe AHSN NetworkHealth Education England eLearning for healthcare (HEE elfh)the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

You can find out more about this work here.

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