Carole Paterson turned the trauma of a cancer diagnosis into a book to help other people coping with the disease.
She had been benefiting from NHS monitoring of a lump for 20 years when it suddenly became very painful while driving in 2019.
Carole, from St Annes, was quickly diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which affects just 15% of patients – it was only a matter of a week since she had been made redundant from her job in public relations and marketing.
She was fast-tracked to treatment at Blackpool Teaching Hospital where chemotherapy shrank the tumour by nearly two-thirds over the next 18 weeks, followed by a lumpectomy and radiotherapy treatment. Prior to having chemotherapy, Carole had been told that she would probably need a mastectomy.
“I was then fortunate enough to be offered a place on a clinical trial for a new immunotherapy drug. That involved being given the drug intravenously every two weeks for a year. I am still being carefully monitored as part of the programme trial, which is really reassuring,” she said.
Three years following her diagnosis, Carole published a book about her experience, Tit’s Up – A Journey Laid Bare.
“The book came about from a diary I kept. One of the breast care nurses suggested that it was a good idea to keep one through your illness so you can look back and see the progress you’ve made,” she said.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t talk to anyone about my diagnosis or the treatment. I’d get too emotional because I was incredibly scared. The books I’d tried to read were all too clinical, so all they did was intensify my fears. So, I wrote the book as an honest day-by-day account of my experience from day one.
“I’ve not made light of the treatment or the disease, but I’ve tried to write it in a conversational style that is easy to read. When funny things happened, I wrote about those too, because I wanted to keep the book balanced and I wanted it to reflect me as a person.
“I’m a naturally positive person and I found that having a positive attitude helped me enormously. I would say that the main messages in the book are to try and stay positive and stay connected. I started painting again with an online art group and it was great to feel connected and to switch off from the treatment for a while.
“I hope my book will help patients, their families, carers and friends understand what their treatment plan might entail, and what it’s like to be a cancer patient. I hope it will also be of interest to anybody who just wants to know a little more about what it is like to get a cancer diagnosis and go through treatment.”
Proceeds from the book sales have raised £1,300 for cancer charities so far.
The immunotherapy trial Carole benefited from is one of the many major developments in NHS breast cancer care over the past 75 years.
In the 1980s, the impact of anti-oestrogen drugs on the progress of breast cancer was shown in the first clinical trials. A huge breakthrough was the testing of tamoxifen, an anti-oestrogen therapy taken in the form of a tablet that reduced the risk of breast cancer deaths by almost one-third.
In 1988, free breast screening was started in a world first by the NHS to reduce breast cancer in women over 50.