Edinburgh cousins diagnosed with cancer within months of each other look forward to Christmas after overcoming disease

Last Christmas, two Edinburgh women did not know what the future would hold as they battled cancers with which they had been diagnosed within just months of each other. But this year, the future looks bright for the two cousins.

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Amy Howard and Catriona Lynch are both now in remission, after they were diagnosed last year with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and breast cancer respectively.

Amy, 42, was first to get the bad news in May 2020. At first, she thought her high temperature, chest pain and shortness of breath may have been symptoms of Covid-19, but after her condition worsened, her doctor referred her to the Western General Hospital for a chest x-ray.

Cousins Catriona Lynch and Amy Howard

With coronavirus restrictions preventing anyone else from attending the appointment with her, mother-of-two Amy was alone when she was told by doctors that she had a lymphoma.

“Just moments earlier, I’d been looking at messages on my phone from friends chatting about furlough, redecorating, gardening, birthdays, and now I was being told I had cancer,” she said.

Further tests showed Amy had a 17cm tumour in her chest, putting pressure on her lungs, and a smaller mass near her liver.

Nine days later, after having told her husband Dave and their twin sons Michael and William the news, Amy started chemotherapy, of which she underwent six rounds in total as well as a blood tranfusion and 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

Amy Howard during cancer treatment with her twins Michael and William

And on September 22 last year, a special gift from Dave, 41, signalled the end of her harrowing treatment.

“My husband had a necklace designed for me with two stars on it to represent our boys,” said Amy, whose sons were aged just nine at the time of her diagnosis.

“The date I completed cancer treatment was also on the necklace along with just one word, ‘Thankful’ which I think says it all.”

But the good news was short lived, and less than two months later, on November 12, the family was shaken once again by news that Catriona, Amy’s cousin with whom she is very close, had also been diagnosed with cancer.

Catriona Lynch with cousin Amy Howard in New York

Catriona found a lump in her right breast and, on Amy’s advice and that of her sister Joanna, who works as a doctor at Ninewells Hospital, had gone to her GP to get it checked.

“I’m so lucky to have my sister Joanna and Amy in my life,” said the 44-year-old.

“They both came right over to support me on the day I was diagnosed. Joanna is a star as she’s been a huge source of strength for us both through cancer. The fact we’ve both come through it has been a comfort.”

On February 9 this year, Catriona had a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery at St John’s Hospital in Livingston. She was then advised to take daily tablets as well as have monthly injections of a hormone therapy which reduces the risk of the cancer returning.

Amy Howard and Catriona Lynch were both diagnosed with cancer in 2020 during the pandemic. Picture: Lesley Martin

In June, just eight months after her first diagnosis, Catriona was well enough to return to work.

The pair have now been named as the faces of Cancer Research UK’s ‘Play your Part’ campaign, which hopes to encourage others to raise money to help others overcome the disease which defined Amy’s and Catriona’s lives and those of their families for the past year and a half.

Amy said: “It felt like the bottom dropped out of my world when I was told I had cancer.

“But thanks to the amazing research over the past 50 years I’m through cancer and can look forward to Christmas.

“Our cancers were not just treatable but curable. And we were both diagnosed quickly which meant treatment could start almost immediately. I know that’s not the case for everyone though. So much more work needs to be done to get to that stage one day when all cancers are curable.”

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