I'm living one day at a time after devastating terminal diagnosis – I completely missed the first symptoms | The Sun
13th December 2022

A MUM has said she is 'living one day at a time' after she was given just two years to live.

Gemma Ellis was told she had terminal breast cancer in 2017, which led her to quit her job in the NHS.


But five years later, the 39-year-old is still alive and is trying to help others who are also suffering with terminal cancer.

Before her diagnosis in February 2017, Gemma had been working as a discharge co-ordinator for the NHS.

One of the key symptoms of breast cancer is a lump, the NHS says.

But Gemma nearly missed the symptoms as she says she didn't have a lump, but had been experiencing pain and a rash on her breast.

She said: "Inflammatory breast cancer is very, very rare. You don't get a lump. I had pain, and redness all over the top of my left breast.

"Nobody knew what it was and it doesn't show up on mammograms. I had months of going back and forth to doctors before I had an MRI and was diagnosed."

The mum-of-two went through six rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, and 15 rounds of radiotherapy – and was back at her desk again that September.

But in April 2018, incurable lesions were then found by a CT scan on her lungs and spine.

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She said: "It's a one-day-at-a-time existence."

"Stage four means treatable but not curable – you know then that you're not getting away from it.

"I was given one to two years but have survived five "It was very very lonely at first, there was no support out there.

"When you're diagnosed with primary cancer you're given all sorts of booklets about treatment, support groups, and recovery.

"When it's secondary it was very different, there was very little information."

The breast cancer signs you need to know

THE NHS states that inflammatory breast cancer is less common than other types such as invasive and non-invasive.

Guidance states that breast cancer can have several symptoms, with the first usually being a lump or a thickened area of breast cancer.

You should contact your GP if you notice any of the below:

  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.

If you are worried about your symptoms, call your GP or speak to NHS 111. In the event of an emergency, always call 999 or visit your nearest A&E.

In order to get that support, Gemma, with the help of her husband Ben, 33, and their daughters – Ruby, 12, and Scarlett, 10 – started sending out packages containing comforting products and pages of information.

Gemma also created a website, a social media support group and started her first GoFundMe – and locals began delivering items for the packs to her home.

In July this year, her organisation became a charity and Gemma was even mentioned in Parliament and got a letter from then Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

And now, Gemma's fundraising has been such a success she founded a research foundation and opened her charity shop on October 1 near her home in Manchester.

DON'T PANIC

She said: "It's been pretty mad, but I've always been the type to just get up and do something if I want to."

Gemma added that she needed to hear about people who were still living normal lives despite their diagnosis.

"There was nothing to help my family or to show me how to tell my children.

"You can get friendly with someone and then lose them after a few months, while others carry on for 13 years.

"It's dependent on the kind of cancer and treatment and different people respond in different ways, but there's no way to predict it. Really you've just got to crack on," she said.

Gemma said she has talked frankly to her children about the illness and said they even had wig parties together once the mum had started to lose her hair.

She has to have chemotherapy every three weeks and has also recently had brain surgery.

Despite this, she continues to run her organisation.

Due to an infection following surgery, she has a 20cm hold in her skull which is situated just behind her forehead.

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However, Gemma said that other sufferers shouldn't panic.

She added: "Let people help you, let them in and take everything you are offered. Look for positive stories."

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