Like many people at this time of year, Katy Sharkey is looking forward to what 2017 might hold.
As well as tickets to a Guns N’ Roses concert with husband Matt, the 37-year-old is looking forward to a family holiday to Thailand with their son Rowan, 21 months and her step-children Hayden, 12, and eight-year-old Morgan.
But Katy can’t quite bring herself to write her birthday on the calender at her Springfield home.
In April, Katy was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and although her treatment has now finished, she knows there is always a chance the cancer could come back.
She said: “I have finished active treatment, so I have finished chemotherapy and radiotherapy but I will spend the next 10 years on tamoxifen to hopefully stop the cancer coming back.
“I am also having CBT counselling at The Christie. One of the biggest things for me is fear the cancer will come back. If I have a little pain in my hip or rib which is due to the treatment because chemotherapy leaves you with weak joints – in my head the pain means the cancer has spread.
“It is hard to deal with that so that’s what the CBT helps with. I think that’s a quite important message to get across to people.
“I am looking forward to 2017 and we will move on.
“We have booked a holiday and have tickets booked for a concert but I don’t dare write my birthday on the calendar.
“This is the kind of thing that people just don’t see, it doesn’t end when the active treatment does.”
Katy found a lump on her left breast while in the shower in March this year, on the same day that little Rowan celebrated his first birthday.
She immediately booked an appointment with her GP and was referred to hospital. It was initially dismissed as nothing serious, but a scan confirmed her worst fears.
She was diagnosed in April and underwent a lumpectomy at Leigh Infirmary five days later to remove the 2cm wide tumour. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes but “Oncotype DX test” showed that there was a high chance of the cancer returning.
As a result, Katy underwent a course of chemotherapy before having radiotherapy. She was also the fourth person to undergo a special technique at The Christie deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH).
It has been designed to inflate a patient’s lungs and push their heart away from their chest wall and away from the area being treated in a bid to minimise any potential radiation damage to the heart.
Katy also wore a cold cap during chemotherapy which helped limit her hair loss to around 70 per cent.
She said: “Everyone has radiotherapy after a lumpectomy, but the chemotherapy was just in case any cancer cells may have broken away from the tumour.
“The onco test showed that if I didn’t have chemo, there was a 20-25% chance of the cancer coming back in five years. They won’t ever give me the all clear.
“Effectively I am cured but they won’t say I have the all clear even though there is no evidence of the disease and the reason for that is because of the chance of it coming back in the next five or 10 years.
“It is hard as all you want is to hear the words all clear.
“We have our fingers crossed it never comes back and my prognosis is very good but you just don’t know.”
Katy, who is head of art at Harper Green School in Bolton, is backing Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign, a TV, poster and radio campaign which launched on Boxing Day.
It aims to show the reality of cancer for patients just like Katy, their friends and family.
Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign aims to shine a light on the men, women and children across the UK who are facing their own cancer journeys.
It features a series of moving films – showing real patients in real-life moments – which call on supporters to take action right now in the fight against cancer.
Katy kept a diary of her experiences and took as many photos as possible during her cancer journey.
“The last nine months have been incredibly difficult, but I’m now focusing on the future and looking forward to what the New Year holds,” she said.
“It has been a really moving experience to look back over the photos and see just how far I’ve come.
“I was completely shocked when I heard the words ‘you have cancer’. My first thought was for my husband and children, and whether I would see baby Rowan grow up.
“It was so difficult to be diagnosed at such a young age but my loved ones have been with me every step of the way and I couldn’t have done it without them.
“Now, I can’t wait to look ahead to the future and 2017 is set to be a special year.
“I am hoping to return to work in the spring and I feel very lucky to still be here and enjoying precious moments with my loved ones.”
“My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important.
“That’s why I’m backing the Right Now campaign and I’m urging people across the North West to get involved in whatever way they can, to help fund Cancer Research UK’s crucial work.”
Jane Bullock, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North West, said: “We are so grateful to Katy for sharing her cancer story.
“There are many moments which encapsulate a person’s cancer journey and our ‘Right Now’ campaign aims to shine a light on the reality of cancer.
“Every hour, around four people are diagnosed with cancer in the North West. That’s why we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone. We hope our new campaign will inspire people to take action, right now, and play their part in beating cancer sooner.”
One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives, but the good news is more people are surviving the disease now than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK. But to help continue this progress, Cancer Research UK needs everyone in Wigan to act right now.
Jane added: “There are so many ways to show your support here in Wigan. From signing up to Race for Life, donating items to one of our shops or giving time to volunteer. Every action makes a difference and money raised helps to support Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work.”
For more information on how to help beat cancer sooner, visit www.cruk.org