In 2009, just after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It didn't come totally out of the blue; we are a family of BRCA1 mutation carriers, but nonetheless, nothing prepares you for a cancer diagnosis or the overnight loss of your fertility when you are still hoping to be a mother one day. I had left it late, but I thought I still had time.
Suddenly, I didn't.
Six months of standard protocol chemotherapy ensued. I wore my bald head with as much pride as I could muster. I kept as fit as I could walking the mountains near my home. As the months wore on, exhaustion and peripheral neuropathy meant that limping to the park bench became an achievement. Finally, that last infusion; a month's respite, and then a bilateral mastectomy (preventive on one side), followed by radiotherapy. Once I had recovered enough emotionally, I had a preventive oophorectomy. I had done all I could to secure a future. Cautiously, I stepped into it.
Almost ten years to the day since my diagnosis, my daughter was born with the help of a donor egg. She is my miracle, and my greatest triumph.
From here, I look back on my cancer journey with a certain tenderness; it was a formative and strangely spiritual time. Five years after my recovery, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. There were no treatment options. She died within three months, leaving two young children. There are no words for that.
Immersed in our individual roles within clinical research, it is easy to lose sight of the patients - to forget, even, that they exist, beyond a number. But the connection is real. Treatment buys time; sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, but time, nevertheless. Time to realise dreams, to see children grow. Time to find peace.
It's a powerful motivator.