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Personalised care: a breast cancer patient story

When Melanie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, she says there wasn’t as much awareness or discussion around the disease.

“I’d found a lump in my breast and had visited the GP a number of times. They thought it was hormonal, but I wasn’t sure and so decided to go through my health insurance to have a biopsy,” she explains. “When I found out that I had cancer it was tough; at the time I was 38 and had two young children. But I felt fortunate that I’d followed up on the symptoms and was able to get it treated.”

Her consultant who carried out the biopsy recommended that she went to The Royal Marsden for the rest of her treatment, where she was under the care of Professor Ian Smith, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

Professor Smith is a world-leading expert in breast cancer. With a career spanning 40-years, his colleagues have described his contributions to the advancement of treatments as ‘formidable’.

After a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Melanie was scheduled to come back for regular check-ups. Thankfully as there were no signs of her cancer, the scans became less frequent until she no longer needed to come in to The Royal Marsden.

Melanie says: “Professor Smith was amazing and so supportive. He said that if I was ever worried, I could just pick up the phone and give him a call.”

After 19 years in remission, Melanie started to notice some unusual symptoms.

“I would feel this strange burning sensation in the middle of my back. After it persisted for a while I thought to call Professor Smith. He wasn’t sure if it was connected to my original diagnosis, but still referred me for tests. I came in for a bone scan, whole body MRI and PET CT. They found a mass in my breast bone, small mass in my spine and spots in my pelvis. Sadly this meant the cancer had returned and I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. It was a huge shock for my family and I.”

Over the last five years Melanie has tried different drug treatments and is currently on the third cycle of an oral chemotherapy drug, which she says has no side effects. She had radiotherapy in November 2018 and in March 2019.

Professor Smith was amazing and so supportive. He said that if I was ever worried, I could just pick up the phone and give him a call.

Melanie, patient at The Royal Marsden

“It’s not been an easy journey since the diagnosis in 2014," she says. "I’ve tried some drugs that didn’t work for me; I had quite bad reactions. But Professor Smith and my CNS Karen have all said that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. There is something for everyone with new drugs being developed all the time, and they would find something for me.”

Personalised cancer care is at the heart of The Royal Marsden’s approach, with every patient receiving a unique treatment plan. This is discussed and agreed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, including medical oncologists, radiotherapists, pathologists, radiologists, nurses and allied health professionals. 

Melanie adds: “Professor Smith is monitoring my response to the treatment to see the change on my tumour markers. I also have an injection to help strengthen my bones,” she explains. “With no side effects it means I can get back to living my life, spending time with my children and grandchildren.”

Melanie says she feels fortunate to have acted quickly on her symptoms, which highlighted that her cancer had returned.

“It’s obviously been a huge shock for my family and I, and the last 25 years have been a roller-coaster. But throughout everything I know I’ve been at the best place at The Royal Marsden.

“I know how far we have moved on in treating cancer since I was first diagnosed in 1995, but in some ways things haven’t changed. The Royal Marsden clinicians and teams are doing a fantastic job as they always were and I just can't fault them.”