By Alyce Collins
THIS BRAVE woman had a bone in her arm REMOVED and replaced with metal and CEMENT to give her body a fighting chance against her incurable cancer, but her battle has inspired her to create her own bucket list of life-changing experiences, with getting married at the top.
Former hairdresser Laura Hughes (30) from Norwich, UK, found a lump in her breast when she was just 25 and she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, requiring six rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy in August 2014.
Having never had any operations prior, Laura was petrified of a mastectomy, but she knew that her body was trying to harm itself. Treatment also involved hormonal treatment, radiotherapy and a year of Herceptin injections.
Upon completing treatment, Laura strived to increase awareness for breast cancer by trekking through Iceland, in aid of the charity CoppaFeel. The trek was planned for August 2016, but in the months leading up to it Laura began feeling an aching pain in her right shoulder.
Thinking it was a strain from the gym, Laura went to physiotherapy but after three sessions and no improvement, Laura was told to see her doctor as her physiotherapist suggested that her shoulder could be seriously damaged.
An emergency CT scan highlighted the return of Laura’s cancer. Laura met with her oncologist in October 2016 who told her that the pain in her shoulder was caused by a large tumour which had fractured some of the bone down her arm, causing the pain.
Further scans revealed that the original breast cancer had spread to her shoulder, spine and pelvis. Being secondary cancer, it is no longer curable, only treatable. Laura has since had the bone in her arm replaced with metal and cement, as she now looks ahead to ticking off her bucket list.
“I found the lump in my left breast whilst on holiday in Australia and on my return, it had grown from a pea size to a fairly large ball,” said Laura.
“When I finally had my scans a few weeks later, it had almost tripled in size to a five-and-a-half-centimetre tumour.
“At the time it was a huge shock. I had no history of it in the family and I knew no one around my age who had gone through breast cancer. It all happened so fast, I didn’t really have time to think.
“I was in chemo within a couple of weeks and having more scans and tests, it just stopped life in its tracks.
“I went through six rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, hormonal treatment and radiotherapy alongside a year of Herceptin injections. Having a mastectomy at just 26 was hard. It was the first operation I had so I was terrified.
“But at the time I also just wanted the cancer out because whilst I could feel the lump, I knew my body was trying to kill me. I had always liked my boobs so learning to live with one for over a year was difficult. I lost confidence and changed the way I dressed quite a bit to cover myself up more.
“I went through six rounds of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy which both made me very unwell. Through the chemo I was sick, lost my hair, had achy joints, felt very tired all the time and could hardly leave the house.
“After I finished my treatment, I threw a party to celebrate and then continued on with my breast reconstruction journey. To help raise awareness, I took up the challenge to trek in Iceland, raising money for CoppaFeel.
“I began my training in early 2016 – I joined a gym and had personal training sessions. In the May, after some quite hardcore arm exercises, my right shoulder became painful, as though I had done a bit too much.
“I rested arms for a week, but the pain carried on. I saw my doctor a few weeks later and convinced them I had injured myself in the gym and I needed physio.
“Several weeks later I began seeing a physio and after three sessions he mentioned I should go back to my GP as he thought I may have done some serious damage to my shoulder, as by this point it was only getting worse and I could hardly move it.
“When I went back to my GP, I mentioned my physio thought I may need a scan and so I was booked in for an ultrasound to check the tendons and ligaments. This scan showed no damage, which flagged alarm bells in the hospital due to my history, so I was referred for an emergency CT scan.
“Within hours of my scan, my GP called me informing me something suspicious had been seen and I needed to see my oncologist.
“Two days later, in October 14, 2016 I was given the news that my pain was caused by a tumour the size of the ball joint in my shoulder, which had also fractured some of the bone down my arm.
“It was no surprise I was in so much pain, I went from taking paracetamol one day to being on morphine the next.
“It wasn’t until several weeks later they knew the extent of the cancer and that it had spread from my original breast cancer. I now had stage four secondary cancer which is incurable. It was also discovered that the cancer had also spread to my spine and pelvis, but they hoped with more chemo this may shrink these areas.
“Fortunately, although the cancer had spread to my bones, it had not yet entered any main organs, which I was grateful for.
“I underwent a huge operation on my arm and shoulder, taking out the infected bone and replacing it with metal in November 2016. I had the humerus bone replaced from the ball joint to half way down my arm.
“The bone marrow was removed, and cement replaced it to reduce any pesky cells which were left in the bone. I have a large scar now most of the way down my arm.”
Despite her difficult journey, Laura remains optimistic and created her blog to share her experiences with others as well as sharing the bucket list she created for herself. There are 50 goals on Laura’s bucket list, and so far she has ticked off 29 of those.
“Unfortunately, due to my cancer being secondary, it will never be beaten. The treatment is now keeping me stable, but it is incurable, and I will never not have cancer. I just hope I get many more years to enjoy life as I’m not ready to leave this earth,” said Laura.
“My other half, Brad, has stuck by me through everything in the last five years, and he still wants to marry me which is so special to me. When I was re-diagnosed, I set up my blog Laura’s Life Is For Living List, which is a list of all the things I want to do in life.
“I have walked an alpaca, got a puppy, seen an opera at the Royal Opera House, seen Strictly live, been to the Chelsea Flower Show, gone to the Maldives, ice skated in Central Park, swam with sharks and been to Twickenham to see the rugby.
“I still have to ride on the Orient Express, go whale watching, husky sledging, go on a cruise, go on a game show, go to Monaco casino and most importantly, get married.
“I have learnt not to worry about things you can’t do anything about and to live life to the fullest. We never know what day will be our last, so we need to enjoy life and smile more.
“I want to spread awareness for breast cancer and what it’s like to live with secondary breast cancer. I want everyone who reads this to do something this year which they have been putting off.
People always think they can do it in the future but next year may never come. Stop putting off enjoying your life and live for today.”