When Lisa Fleming was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in May 2017 it was a bolt from the blue. She had no prior symptoms and at 34 was fit and healthy with a four-year-old son who kept her on her toes.
As is standard after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lisa had a bone scan – but was shocked when during the test the radiologist asked her if she had ever had a head injury. She hadn’t, and alarm bells started ringing for the former sales and marketing executive. She said: “I thought, ‘What on earth is going on’ and fell apart on the nurse, I was so anxious and scared.”
She doesn’t remember much more about that day except being told that the cancer had spread to her bones and was incurable.
Now Lisa, from Colinton, has set up a charity Make 2nds Count after discovering that so many men and women diagnosed with secondary breast cancer had no idea that it existed, and that 5 per cent of people are diagnosed at the same time as their initial breast cancer diagnosis. The charity aims to raise awareness and much-needed funds to help source a cure for the disease which kills around 1000 people every month in the UK.
She said: “I’ve had a hellish time for the last year and I’ve met so many women who are also dealing with a secondary breast cancer diagnosis. The common theme in almost all of them is that no-one had ever heard of it.
“There’s a lack of funding which I hope Make 2nds Count will address. So much goes to primary, which is fantastic, but only between 5 and 7 per cent goes to secondary research which is disheartening when you have it.”
Shortly before her diagnosis Lisa noticed an area of skin on her breast puckering and went to the doctor who assured her it was nothing to worry about. With a sixth sense pressing her on, Lisa pushed for a referral, which the doctor classified as “non-urgent”, and so she waited five weeks for the appointment.
After undergoing two mammograms, a biopsy and an ultrasound she was delivered the devastating news that she had stage 4 breast cancer. She said: “My whole world fell apart when I was told. I just knew something hadn’t been right.”
She was dealt a further blow in January this year when she was told that the unrelenting disease had reached her brain. She said: “I couldn’t process it at first and went into autopilot. I remember sitting in my room for a week.”
After six surgeries in a year including the removal of a tumour on her spine and open brain surgery, radiation treatment and hormone therapy she is now undergoing her second round of chemotherapy. Lisa is upbeat even when detailing the trauma her body has suffered over the last 12 months and it is evident that she takes great joy from being a mother, wife, friend, daughter and now, charity founder.
Her husband Euan, a lawyer, has been by her side through it all and joins her on the board of the new charity lending his legal expertise as well as love and support. She admits that he thought she was “crazy” when she first came up with the idea to pour her energies into forming Make 2nds Count while she fought the disease: “But I said to him that we had to do something about this. It’s the cancer that kills you, there’s no way to dress it up.”
She is determined not to let the cancer beat her and focusing on her family and the charity has given her the strength to fight on. Her son Cameron, now five and at school, knows his mum is not well but isn’t aware of the extent of it.
‑She said: “My little boy is my positivity. He’s my everything and my husband is my rock.
“My cancer affects him and my parents as much if not more than me and there’s nothing they can do.”
It’s been a busy six months for Lisa who has been undergoing treatments as the charity gains momentum. People are already fundraising in its name and Lisa is preparing for the launch next week at Prestonfield House. She said: “If we can find a cure then let’s do it because I have a life to lead and I have a wee boy who needs his mummy.
“I want to live and I want to see my son grow up. It’s as simple as that.”