'I have incurable cancer at 24'

Published Wednesday, Oct 15 2014, 20:00 BST  |  By  |  1 comment
Connie Johncock, 24, from Gillingham, Kent, knew something was wrong with her body but her doctor didn't listen

"If there's one thing I want you to take away from this story, it's this: if you know something is wrong in your body, do something about it.

Don't ignore it or let yourself be put off. That's what I did and now, at just 24 years old, I have incurable cancer. Doctors can't tell me how long I have left but if the statistics are to be believed, I have about five years. No matter how optimistic I try to be, my future looks bleak.

The worst thing about it is that I'd known that something was wrong. Both my grandma and aunt had both been diagnosed with cancer in their thirties, so I'd had it drummed into me to keep a check on my body.

Connie Johncock has incurable cancer at 24

© Liz Gregg

When I'd felt a lump in my left breast in December 2012, aged 22, I'd immediately booked an appointment with my GP. But after examining me, he said he couldn't feel anything and was so dismissive, I was too intimidated to go back. In fact, it was over a year before I returned.

By that point, not only had the lump grown bigger, but my nipple was starting to invert and I'd developed dimples on the underside of my breast. I'd broken down in tears and my boyfriend Mark insisted I needed to get it checked out again.

This time I saw a different doctor, who instantly referred me to the breast care clinic. I was so relieved. Finally I was being taken seriously and it would be dealt with.

But although I'd known I was showing various signs of breast cancer, it was still shattering when a scan and biopsy confirmed that I had the disease.

I nodded and tried to concentrate on what the consultant was saying but all I could think was that I was so young. How could I have cancer?

But I did. I needed to have my left breast removed, before starting chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

It was devastating. I'd lose my breast, my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes – all the things that made me a woman. And my university studies to become a nurse and plans to travel the world would have to be put on hold.

But I didn't have a choice. I couldn't fall apart, I had to be strong.

'It's only a year,' I told Mark, now 27, as I prepared myself for surgery. 'I'll be back at uni before I know it.'

Thankfully the operation wasn't as bad as I'd feared and I was up and walking an hour after I came around. The first hurdle was over.

But on 4 February 2013, I went in to get the results of extra scans. And they threw my positive thinking out of the window.

'The cancer has spread to your liver," the consultant said. "Although we can try and control it, we can't cure it.'

The words hung in the air as I stared at them in disbelief. What did that mean? That I was… dying?

'How long do I have left?' I croaked.

The consultant couldn't give me a prognosis. Instead he wanted to focus on my treatment. I had to start chemotherapy immediately, then go onto a drug called Herceptin.

Going home, I looked in the mirror. I looked – and felt – the same as normal. The doctor's words seemed impossible to believe.

Slowly, I got my head around the news and turned straight to the internet. What I discovered was terrifying. On average, a woman whose breast cancer has spread to her liver could only expect drugs to control it for five years.

I was 23. I wasn't likely to see my 30th birthday. It was a thought so scary it took my breath away.

Connie Johncock and her boyfriend Mark

© Connie Johncock

Connie and boyfriend Mark

But as I joined forums and talked to other women in my situation, I found some light. One woman had been diagnosed 12 years ago and was still doing well. And she wasn't alone.

My Macmillan Cancer Support nurse agreed. 'You can't work from statistics,' she told me. 'Everyone is different.'

It gave me hope. I just had to take it a day at a time. If I was well, I should enjoy myself, forget about the illness for a day. If I wasn't, then I'd relax, rest for a few days.

I started my chemotherapy in February 2013 and, although I lost my hair and put on weight, I got through it with tips from the women I met online. I'd make plans the week before my treatment and enjoy that time as much as I could.

Now, I'm on Herceptin and I will continue to be for as long as it controls the cancer. When it doesn't, my consultant will try and find another drug that does.

Until then, I'm trying to live normally. Mark and I bought a flat and we're going on holiday to Japan this month.

I have to go back to the hospital every three weeks to have the Herceptin via a drip so it rules out any longer trips. But I use my hospital visits as "Connie time", to get myself organised, collect my thoughts and make plans.

I've even had time to raise funds for the charities who have helped me, doing sponsored runs and events in my local pub.

Because now I've realised I'm not dying of cancer – I'm living with it. However many moments I have left, I'm going to make the most of them."

Breast cancer has already taken too many lives. It's time to put an end to it. Help us stop breast cancer for good at breakthrough.org.uk
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