A mum who studied for a degree while undergoing treatment for cancer tells us why she is backing Cancer Research UK’s Right Now campaign to raise awareness of the importance of funding vital research
Debi Griffin was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017, after finding a lump the size of a golf ball in her left breast.
Now her treatment is over, the 34-year-old is determined to make every moment count. She hopes to graduate this year after studying at Preston’s College during her chemotherapy, and is focusing on her experience to highlight Cancer Research UK’s Right Now campaign.
The charity’s emotive Right Now TV ads show real patients who have had cancer treatment within the last few years, followed up by current home video showing how research has helped them get back to enjoying life with their loved ones.
The campaign aims to show how actions taken right now can make a real tangible difference in helping more people survive.
Read other stories: Calls for nominations in Lancashire for Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens Star Awards
Debi, from Warton, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017 after finding a lump while she showered. She didn’t go to the doctors for two weeks because she was in the middle of looking after her mum, who was being treated for breast cancer.
Debi says: “I kicked myself for not noticing my lump when at the time my mum was going through treatment. Then I swayed between the panic that I had breast cancer as well to telling myself not to be daft.
“I put myself at the bottom of the priority list.”
When Debi did see her GP, she was referred for tests, but told not to panic because she was young.
However, after tests at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, Debi was called back in and told she had triple negative breast cancer – a rarer type of breast cancer. Around 15 out of every 100 breast cancers are triple negative.
She says: “It all became a bit of a blur when they told me it was cancer. I just went into shock and my husband Brett listened to all the details.
“The worst thing was the day before I got the news we’d lost my grandmother to cancer, so it was such a chain reaction of bad news.
“I just thought this can’t be happening. I thought the worst thing would be having to tell my mum, but she was great. She gave me a hug and said ‘right let’s get rid of it’.”
Debi, a teaching assistant, began chemotherapy which she describes as “gruelling”.
A week into her treatment she started a degree in children’s services, so that she can specialise in working with children with behavioural difficulties.
Debi adds: “The first seven days were the worst. I felt tired and queasy, but after that I found that I could carry on with whatever I wanted to do while I was there being treated.
“I started a degree at Preston’s College and that was such a positive thing because it meant I had something else to focus on, as well as my cancer treatment.”
After eight rounds of chemotherapy over three months, Debi was told she’d need a mastectomy, as her tumour had not shrunk. The operation was scheduled for January 2018.
She says: “It was the worst news as I really hadn’t wanted to lose my breast, and I felt like I’d lost my hair with the chemo for nothing.
“I’ve been going into college with my bald head to study and I felt proud because it got the younger students to talk about breast cancer and made it less taboo. They are now aware of the signs to look out for. Instead of worrying about my treatment I was worrying about meeting my latest essay deadline. It really helped me.
“My husband has been brilliant. He came to every appointment and would take in all the information and then we’d break it down into steps I could handle.
“I worried about how my older children Charlotte, 15, and Josh, 13, would take it, but I told them their grandmother had had breast cancer twice and was still here. I thought my six-year-old, Matthew, wouldn’t recognise me once I lost my hair off, but he just said ‘are you making my tea?’ and never questioned it.”
After her surgery, Debi completed 15 rounds of radiotherapy and in March last year she had a scan showing she was cancer free.
She now has regular check-ups and has passed the first year of her degree. She hopes to graduate in November.
Debi is now backing Cancer Research UK’s #RightNow campaignand says: “My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important. I’m so grateful for the treatment that saved my life and that’s why I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the power of research in beating the
disease. I hope people are motivated to show their support and help save the lives of more people like me.”
Alison Barbuti, Cancer Research UK spokesman for the North West, says: “Our Right Now campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on a cancer patient’s journey.
“Our campaign shows that we are working to beat cancer right now. But we can’t do it alone. With the help of our supporters, Cancer Research UK scientists can find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.”
Every hour, around five people are diagnosed with cancer in the North West.
Last year, Cancer Research UK spent around £45m on breast cancer and, over the past 40 years, the charity’s work has helped double breast cancer survival.
There are lots of different ways people in Lancashire can take action right now:
Join a Race for Life event taking place in Preston.
Support Cancer Research UK by wearing a Unity Band for World Cancer Day on February 4.
Get more active by taking part in Walk All Over Cancer or Swimathon.
Volunteer at a local Cancer Research UK shop in Chorley, St Annes, Lytham, Blackpool or Cleveleys.
Share your cancer story on social media using the hashtag #CancerRightNow.
To help support life-saving research, go online and visit www.cruk.org