A woman who has had several family members affected by cancer is gathering an army of 20 people to join this year’s Race for Life.
Debbie Valentine, from Leyland, is thankful for the support from Cancer Research UK following her own diagnosis and feels it is her duty to help the charity raise much needed funds to fight the disease which has already claimed the lives of her mum and aunt.
After losing treasured family members, Debbie then had to come to terms with her own diagnosis of breast cancer after having her first routine breast screening in December 2017.
Her sister Elaine Cockcroft, 61, is currently going through cancer treatment after being diagnosed nearly five years ago with breast and liver cancer. Their mum Connie Matthews, died at 82 from breast cancer and dementia and her aunt, May Mitchell, was 56.
Debbie says: “It doesn’t seem fair sometimes to have a family hit so hard by the disease, but you have to keep staying positive and take each day at a time.”
After her screening results, things moved quickly for Debbie as doctors discovered that some areas in the lining of the ducts of her breast tissue had started to turn into cancer cells.
The 51-year-old had surgery to remove the initial cancerous area, but investigation during surgery revealed further cancerous growths.
She says: “Doctors found three more areas of cancer in my breast. The cancers were a combination of stage two and three so it was spreading into surrounding tissues in the outer areas of the breast and I was told I’d need a full mastectomy.”
After the mastectomy in March 2018, an implant and reconstruction surgery took place, however again things didn’t go to plan.
She had developed an infection following a spa treatment whilst on holiday to celebrate her 50th birthday.
Further procedures then followed, and Debbie was fitted with a breast tissue expander – designed to stretch the skin and muscle to make room for a more permanent future implant. But unfortunately that failed when the plastic doubled over inside the breast and had to be removed.
She is currently waiting for further “diep flap” plastic reconstructive surgery which involves doctors removing skin and fat from the abdomen and transferring that to the chest. This is likely to happen next year.
She adds: “Cancer has its disappointments along the way but I’m staying positive. Over the course of 12 months I’ve been through four major operations. And although it hasn’t all been a success story for me, you just have to keep going.
“I have good days and bad days – some days I don’t want to get out of bed and feel quite down, but other days I can work round things and focus on work and planning more holidays.
“It’s been a traumatic year but one of my biggest fears was chemotherapy – that put the fear of God into me – and I haven’t needed chemo or radiotherapy which is a blessing.”
Debbie’s sister Elaine is also doing well after a double mastectomy and receiving treatment for her liver cancer.
Debbie adds: “We are extremely close and having cancer has made me very protective of my own family. I have a 33-year-old niece and I’ve been encouraging her to look into whether genetics is playing a part in cancer, given what’s happened with our family history. My cousin’s son also has testicular cancer – he’s the grandson of the aunt who died.”
Debbie is keen to encourage other women to check their breasts and visit their GP if they have any concerns: “If you see something different – even if it’s nothing – then it’s really important to get checked out at an early stage.”
Debbie works for the NHS as a Dental Service Co-ordinator at Lancashire Care Foundation Trust – and she is a big supporter of the health service.
She says: “I’ve received fantastic treatment from the breast care team at Chorley Hospital and want to thank everyone who have cared for me. We’re so lucky to have the NHS and I know I’m in good hands with the team at the hospital. Now and again I take little cupcakes to the nurses to say thank you”.
Debbie also has several colleagues who are going through cancer treatment and has been able to both give and receive support from them.
They include Shelley Connelly – who has now been successfully treated for breast cancer – and was part of last year’s Race for Life event in Preston.
Read more on Debbie's other fund-raising work: Friends who battled breast cancer throw fund-raiser to say thank you
Debbie is passionate about supporting Cancer Research UK and has taken part in previous events in Preston. This year she is walking with a group of more than 20 friends at the Race for Life event in June to raise as much money as possible.
She adds: “After so much support, I decided to do the 5K Race for Life with a big group of friends. Too many of us have had experience of this dreadful disease and some of us are still on that journey – so let’s support each other and make a difference in the fight against cancer. It’s going to be a very special and emotional day. My personal experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important. Thanks to research I’m standing here today and can enjoy more special moments with my family and friends.”
Pretty Muddy Kids and adults takes place at Moor Park on Saturday June 15.
Race for Life 5k and 10k takes place at Moor Park on Sunday June 16.
To enter Race for Life visit www.raceforelife.org or call 0300 123 0770.