A devoted husband is supporting his wife who has been treated for cancer by taking part in this year’s Race for Life alongside her, and their two sons.
Jez Brett’s wife, Karen, of Warton, had surgery and radiotherapy at the end of 2017 after discovering a lump in her breast.
Now she is fit and well, she is ready to take on the Race for Life event at Moor Park, Preston, on June 16, with Jez and sons, Josh, 19, and Jack, 16.
The 43-year-old, who works as a primary school teacher at Hawes Side Academy in Blackpool, recalls the scary moment she felt something was wrong.
She said: “I was lying in bed, when I felt a lump in my breast. I knew straight away that something wasn’t quite right and made an appointment with my local GP.”
The GP referred Karen to Blackpool Victoria Hospital for mammogram, ultrasound scans and a biopsy. A few weeks later, Karen received a diagnosis of breast cancer.
She said: “I was devastated. In an instant, my whole world shattered. I just kept thinking, ‘How are the kids going to cope? How will they go on without me?’”
Karen was only 42 at the time of her diagnosis, so too young for a routine mammogram screening.
She revealed: “There’s a history of cancer in my family as both my cousin and aunt had breast cancer. But I was shocked to be told I had the cancer at a relatively young age. It was really tough on the boys when they found out and I could see the fear they had for me. My youngest even asked, ‘Mum, are you going to die?’ which was absolutely heart-breaking.”
In December 2017 Karen had a lumpectomy operation to remove her tumour at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. When the tumour came back from lab testing in California in early 2018 it was confirmed as a stage 3 cancer and needed chemotherapy.
She said: “That was the big thing that really upset me – knowing I’d lose my hair. I’d been hoping and praying that I wouldn’t need chemo as my gorgeous long hair was everything to me, it made me feel feminine, it made me feel like a woman.
“After the first cycles, my hair started falling out in clumps. To begin with, I’d managed to cover it up by wearing a head band. “Eventually one day I took my husband’s razor, shaved my head and just cried and cried and cried.”
Karen had four cycles of chemotherapy followed by 20 doses of radiotherapy treatment at the Rosemere Cancer Centre, Preston. She donated her hair so it could be made into a wig for children with cancer.
Despite the trauma of the past 18 months, Karen and her family have made sure they’ve spent time making memories and are determined to stay positive. They celebrated Jez’s 50th birthday, Josh’s 18th, Jack’s 16th – and their 20th wedding anniversary and they enjoyed a big family holiday.
She added: “We had an amazing holiday but when trying to adjust back into day-to-day routine after our holiday, I completely unravelled.
“Josh was going off to university in Leeds and fleeing the nest while I was due to go back to my job. There was a lot going on and I eventually went for counselling, which has massively helped. I now only have the occasional down days – mainly a result of the aches and pains and the side effects of the medication and early menopause symptoms.”
Jez said: “In some ways Karen’s cancer brought us closer together and made us stronger as a family.”
Karen’s future is looking positive and after a phased return to work in October she is now back at school full time.
She revealed: “I’m a fighter and I’m determined to beat this disease. Having cancer has made me appreciate life and live for the moment. I take every day one day at a time.”
Throughout her treatment, Karen has journalled her cancer story on Facebook for friends and family – and is a firm believer that sharing her story is a great way to raise awareness.
She added: “Having cancer has made me realise life is for living. My hair is continuing to grow, which is great and that helps me feel like me again. Some days I’ll wake up and I’ll be stiff and achy.
“But other days I’ll wake up and feel like I can take on the world. I’m taking things one step at a time, managing my tiredness when I can and looking after myself - both my physical well-being and my mental health. I also have an amazing bunch of colleagues at school who have supported me throughout my cancer journey, and an amazing family. Jez has been a absolute rock to me throughout.”
Karen is keen to raise awareness of breast cancer among women, and is encouraging others to check their breasts for any changes: “If I hadn’t felt that lump then things could have been very different. I would definitely encourage other women to get to know their bodies and get checked out if they have any concerns.
“I have first hand experience of why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important. I’m standing here today thanks to research, and am able to share special times with the people I love. By taking part in events like Race for Life, we can raise money to support life-saving science and help beat cancer.”
Karen is now a committed supporter of CRUK and has previously supported the charity by doing Dryathlon. She has recently started volunteering at the CRUK shop in Lytham and completed her two hours initial training last weekend.
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.