Bernie Nolan reveals that her cancer has come back

Bernie Nolan has revealed her cancer has come back

Two years ago, I wrote about actress and singer, Bernie Nolan’s diagnosis of  HER2+ breast cancer HER2+ breast cancer affects approximately 20 to 30 per cent of breast cancer patients. In a woman with HER2+ breast cancer, the gene which provides the code for the HER2 protein has been amplified, resulting in excess amounts of HER2. This excess of HER2 can lead to uncontrolled or malignant cellular growth and the development of cancer. It demands special attention because the tumours are typically fast-growing, and there is a high likelihood of the cancer coming back – which regrettably is now the case for Bernie, who has revealed that her cancer has come back. She admitted: ‘It is harder this time, because that word  has come into it…incurable. That was never there before’.

However, she remains hopeful too:

OK, it’s not curable. But the doctors have ­promised me the cancer is treatable, it’s ­containable. I’m on  medication which is ­controlling it, and people have lived for 12 years on  these drugs. Who knows what new treatments are around the corner?

Reading Bernie’s story in the newspaper today I was struck by several thoughts. I remember when she finished treatment for breast cancer in 2011, the media declared her “cured” and “cancer free”, and how those words sat uncomfortably with me, as they always do. We are never cured – the best we can hope for is to be declared NED – no evidence of disease, but we are always one scan away from having cancer come back. It is as Sarah Mendoza aptly calls it with the title of her blog – The Breast Cancer Lottery. And it is a lottery – for despite our best efforts, sometimes cancer does come back.

I am sad to hear of Bernie Nolan’s cancer recurrence, especially as it comes in a week when a dear friend has confided in me that her own cancer has come back, and another awaits a scan to learn if hers has progressed. I feel angry, frustrated, and deeply affected by their news, which I know is a feeling shared by all of us who hear similar news. Most of all I feel terribly helpless and also a little guilty. I cannot understand why, for now, I remain cancer free, and others don’t – back to the cancer lottery again.

Someone contacted me during the past week to say that my involvement with the NED retreat upset her, as to her mind, it was excluding those who have metastatic cancer. I was truly dismayed when I read her words, as I hope those of you who have come to know me over the past three years of blogging, understand I would never deliberately want to exclude anyone. I have always maintained that this blog is a place for everyone to share their voice – the good, the bad and the ugly side of cancer. And while all our direct experiences and feelings about cancer may differ in some respects, I believe we are all sharing a journey more similar than dissimilar. It saddens me that there is a divide in some parts of the blogging community, not just on this issue, but also on how others are handling their cancer journeys.

I would like to take this opportunity to put the record straight. It has never been nor will it ever be my intention to exclude anyone, but this retreat was born from my own experience of finishing cancer treatment and not knowing what steps to take next. I started Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer for this very reason – to help me through the confusing emotional fall out of cancer treatment – when you are not declared cured, but nevertheless, for now, the cancer has left your body. It is a curious, inbetween place, and my hope is that this retreat will be a bridge for those who are transitioning from cancer patient to the next stage in their cancer journey. The programme has been designed to reflect this, because I have direct experience of what it is like, and it is something I have been addressing for the past few years in this blog. The retreat therefore is an extension of the blog. That is not to say I want to create a “them” or “us” divide but I am not qualified or experienced enough to address the issues facing those with metastatic cancer.  I hope this retreat will become an annual event and that we can run something more inclusive next year. In the meantime, I would really appreciate your feedback on how this can be achieved, and am very open to your thoughts and suggestions.

Final word… I am not a great one for praying anymore, but I know many of you are, so please, please hold my friends who are facing another tough challenge with cancer in your prayers. And to my precious friends who are dealing with this right now, I may not have the greatest faith anymore in a religious sense, but I do have great faith in love, friendship, compassion and kindness and that I am sending you in spades.  You are always in my thoughts, and my imperfect prayers xxx