Health UK

Woman, 24, with breast cancer too ill to work battles with finances due to lack of support

At the age of 24, Laura Hunter had everything to look forward to.

She’d returned home from a year working at a Canadian ski resort and started a job as a legal ­secretary, with plans to save up to train as a ­radiologist. Then three months later, she was ­diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today, Laura, now 29, can only imagine what life would have been like if she hadn’t had to endure gruelling ­cancer treatment, which has left her suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Full-time work is impossible and her dreams of joining her friends, rising up the career ladder, have been shattered.

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Laura, now 29, after her trip to Canada

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This snap was taken during a cancer charity event

 

“It has put everything on hold for me,” she says.

“Your twenties is the prime time to kickstart a career, but I’ve had such a stumbling block. I would have liked to have studied radiology but I can’t afford to do that now.”

Laura is not alone. While breast cancer survival rates are at an all-time high – they’ve doubled in the UK in the past 40 years – many find their lives have been permanently altered.

The side-effects from surgery, ­chemotherapy and radiotherapy, plus targeted therapies such as herceptin and oestrogen-blocking tamoxifen, can leave otherwise healthy, active women ­debilitated by fatigue, anxiety and pain.

Working full-time, or performing in a role with any physical demands, can become impossible, whether in a ­supermarket or managing a business.

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Laura Hunter was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24

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Full-time work is a dream due to cancer

 

According to a survey of 2,800 women by the charity Breast Cancer Now seen exclusively by the Daily Mirror, more than one in 10 women say they can no longer carry out their job due to the long-term impact from breast cancer treatment.

And one in five says the effects meant they missed out on opportunities to develop their career.

For women whose employment status changed as a result of breast cancer, nearly three quarters experience fatigue, a third have anxiety and a quarter are struggling in pain.

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Laura Hunter during treatment

“There needs to be more awareness of the long-lasting effects,” says Laura, who now has a part-time admin role in the NHS.

“A lot of people are under the assumption that you’ve had treatment and you’re fine but that’s not the case.

“I wasn’t able to work. I took a year off to recover and phased back in gradually. I started doing one day, then two days a week, but chronic fatigue syndrome is a huge limiting factor.

“Also I’m taking tamoxifen so I ­experience menopausal symptoms.”

Her cancer journey began in 2015 when she found the lump in her right breast.

It was an aggressive type of cancer – an invasive ductal carcinoma that also tested HER2-positive, the protein that promotes cancer cell growth.

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Laura Hunter with her mum

So Laura, from Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, needed a course of herceptin on top of a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Chemo sparked terrifying near-fatal reactions, including a blood clot in her lung.

“I was in hospital after most of my treatments as they were followed by neutropenic sepsis , an infection of the bloodstream that can be life-threatening. As soon as my temperature spiked, I had to phone A&E and receive intravenous antibiotics within the hour.”

With chemo and radiotherapy complete, Laura underwent 18 months of herceptin injections, which were administered at home every month.

“I would have flu-like symptoms and my leg would go dead for the first couple of days. I wanted to go back to work but I was so unwell, I physically couldn’t.”

Emma Pennery, Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Now, says: “For the majority of women, the impact of breast cancer doesn’t stop when treatment ends.

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Laura Hunter during chemo treatment

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“The long-term effects, such as fatigue, pain and mental health problems, can have a significant impact on daily life, including work.

“We regularly hear from women on our helpline who have had to reduce their working hours, which can in turn affect their chance of promotion and pay, while many others are not able to continue working in the same job at all.”

“I’m not financially stable,” says Laura.

“I have to manage my fatigue, so I stagger my days, splitting them so there’s a day off in between.

“I am reliant on my family and their financial help as I am not entitled to any government support.”

“When I turned 29 I felt down about it – that I haven’t achieved the things that I hoped to.

“But I also have a different outlook now – what’s more important, my job or my wellbeing? I take things as they come.

“I can’t worry too far ahead, as I just don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I try to go outside every day, as that makes me happy. I’m nowhere near as fit as I used to be, but I’m more emotionally resilient.”




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