Kate Radcliffe gets annoyed by little things. Her heater breaks down or her dog plays up, and she becomes frustrated – agitated, even. But when the single mother-of-two’s oncologist tells her another treatment has failed to curb the growth of her metastatic breast cancer, she simply takes it in and moves on.
“I guess I don’t cope very well if things don’t go according to my plan,” she told Mamamia. “But my cancer is in my plan now; it’s all part of it.”
The 45-year-old’s primary diagnosis was Stage Three, confined then to her left breast and lymph nodes. But what began in May 2012 as an unusual-feeling patch of skin, as a clear ultrasound, has now taken hold in her bones and liver.
While Kate doesn’t deal in timelines and refuses to think further ahead than her next holiday, she has resigned herself to the inevitable.
“I know this is going to kill me. Everyone is going to die at some stage – I just happen to know how, most likely, that will happen. I mean, I say ‘most likely’, because I suppose I could still get hit by a bus, couldn’t I?” she laughed.
“I actually feel lucky in that I have time to spend building good memories with my family, with my friends, doing things I enjoy while I still can, while I’m still well.”
Metastatic breast cancer, also known as secondary or Stage Four breast cancer, occurs when the cancer cells have moved beyond the primary site of the breast to other areas of the body, most commonly to the bones, lungs and liver. While some women receive a metastatic diagnosis from the start, most cases occur several years later – even 10-15 years down the track.
For Kate, it was less than two-and-a-half years.
Five months of chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation to the site, and months of oral anti-breast cancer drug, Tamoxifen, failed to contain her tumour. She will now be on some form of treatment for the rest of her life, as doctors do what they can to give her as much quality time as possible with her loved ones.
Despite it all, she’s coping better this time around.
An element of the unknown is gone and, for her, that was the most daunting part.
“To tell you the truth, every time I went to a follow-up appointment I half expected it [to have spread]. It’s terrible to say that, but you just go with dread each time,” Kate said. “So when it turned out that I actually had metastatic breast cancer I went, ‘OK, that’s now something I have to deal with. And I won’t have to go to an appointment again wondering.'”
But there’s something else that’s made a big difference. Well, someone: Kerryn Ernst, Kate’s McGrath Foundation Breast Care Nurse. A woman who, since 2009, has supported more than 1000 Australian families through treatment.
“When I went through my initial cancer diagnosis I didn’t have a Breast Care Nurse dedicated to me like Kerryn is,” she said. “I had to go through six rounds of chemo, I had to have a port put in for the chemo and coordinate my surgery appointments and oncology appointments, and I had to do all that myself. It was the most overwhelming experience of my life.”