CancerCare campaign: ‘Insanely brave’ mum beats breast cancer

Rachel Whittle and her daughter Niamh.
Rachel Whittle and her daughter Niamh.

Surviving two major health scares in her life doesn’t seem to have phased mum-of-two Rachel Whittle in any way.

Rachel, 50, of Sunnybank Road, Bolton-le-Sands, suffered a heart attack in 2009 and was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

Now, she is clear from cancer and heart trouble and moving on with her life.

Although Rachel said she managed to cope quite well with her breast cancer treatment at the time, the impact it had on her family and teenage kids was greater.

Tearing up as she spoke Rachel’s 18-year-old daughter Niamh said: “I took a lot of time out of college to look after Mum because I couldn’t stand the thought of her on her own. ‘Cos she was so strong it made it that little bit easier.

“I’d look after Mum and do my college work at home.

“The day before my 18th birthday Mum had to go into hospital and I was going to cancel my party . It was a good night but it was upsetting having to keep telling people where my mum was.

“It was a difficult time for everybody. including my brother James who was 15 when I told him about Mum. I never saw Mum cry about having cancer She is insanely brave, I’ve never heard or seen anybody go through what she has and be on top all the time. She says this is life, you suck it up.”

Rachel was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast last year and said when she received her diagnosis “there was no shock or horror , it was just annoyance really. “

She underwent a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. She said: “ Chemotherapy was grim for the first week and I was really grumpy .

“Having cancer and chemotherapy was like a preview of being old!

“I was aware of CancerCare but never needed to find out more. People sometimes forget all the care from CancerCare.

“Through my breast cancer nurse Kate I joined the Phoenix online support group because they offer a different perspective than the health professionals.” Rachel,who is married to Stephen,58, and also has a son James, 16, said: “There were timesStephen got a bit stressed and when I was in hospital he would get a bit emotional and overwhelmed, but other than that he is a pretty chilled out guy.

“James is a very quiet person and doesn’t show his emotions, but he dealt with it well. I keep offering them counselling with CancerCare.

“My hair is growing now and I have joined the gym.

“I’m back workingas an administrator for the Catholic Diocese of Lancaster where I’ve been for 21 years.

“They have been really supportive.

“I now have yearly mammograms and regular check ups with the surgeon, I’m in remission now and have hopefully had my share of health issues!”

Whilstshe was undergoing chemotherapy, Rachel put pen to paper to write down her feelings.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Oh my Lord, that was much harder than I expected.

My operation and the recovery from that, with my new boob was the easy part. Cards, visitors, flowers – so many flowers – not to mention six weeks off work. Didn’t have to think about the fact that I’d had cancer. I could pass it off as just an operation and quite happily flashed my new boob at practically anyone who walked through the front door. (They weren’t always happy about it but by then it was too late.) Chemotherapy was grim. So far I’ve only had one meltdown – because my tea wasn’t ready. I needn’t have bothered to get a wig. I’m quite happy with my fuzzy head, at home, with friends and when at work or out and about I wore a pretend-scarfy-hat-thing. Oh I do wish I hadn’t paid an extra £100 to get a better wig! I feel fraudulent because my treatment is belt and braces rather than treating a cancer in my body. Some people in the oncology day unit were having regular weekly sessions, daily sessions, experimental sessions, to reduce a tumour. When we found the lump, it didn’t enter our heads that it would be cancer. Surely not me, I’ve already had a major health problem, why would I get another? “

About our CancerCare campaign

A cancer diagnosis or death of a loved one may occur during what is already a difficult and challenging time for a teenager.

Whilst CancerCare already provides specialist support to youngsters through its Children and Young People’s service, no specific service or facilities currently exist for 13 to 18 
year-olds.

The Lancaster Guardian CancerCare Counts campaign aims to gain support from the local community to help develop and launch a new service which will cater for teenagers’ unique needs.

Here’s some of the ways you can help raise funds:

lTake on a challenge and sign up to one of the charity’s annual events. Check out the events calendar at cancercare.org.uk/events.

lOrganise your own event. Email the fundraising team fundraising@cancercare.org.uk for help.

lMake a donation at cancercare.org.uk/donate.

l Join Friends of CancerCare and pledge a monthly gift .

lPlay the CancerCare lottery.

nContact CancerCare on 01524 381820, email tct@cancercare.org.uk, send a message on 
Facebook at ‘CancerCare Charity’ or tweet @CancerCarelocal.