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My Sister Died of Breast Cancer: A Case Study

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Breast Cancer Breast Cancer Breast

Although it is five years since Yvonne’s sister Rosemary died from breast cancer at the age of 37, she is still obviously upset as she starts to talk about it. “Rosie was my younger sister and we got on really well as adults, although we hated each other as teenagers. She was always the extrovert one, going to parties, getting loads of boyfriends, having a great time but I would often just stay at home and read. I was boring by comparison!” remembers Yvonne.

Still, Yvonne was the first of the sisters to get married, at the age of 24. “We quickly had two boys and Rosie was a great aunty. Surprisingly, she didn’t marry Ian until quite late – she was nearly 30. I guess she was just having too much fun...” says Yvonne.

Rosie Finds a Lump

Only six months after her wedding, Rosie felt a lump in her left breast but wasn’t really that worried. She and Ian were trying for a baby and she thought it might be an early sign of pregnancy. But three months later, having had three periods, the lump was still there. “I advised her to get it checked out – it was probably only a cyst and there was no point worrying,” says Yvonne. But the lump turned out to be more sinister than any of the family had thought. “I couldn’t believe it when the doctors confirmed that it was cancer – Rosie was only 31 at the time and was just starting out with everything to look forward to.”

Treatment is Tough

Rosie unfortunately had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer and it was growing very fast. She was advised to have a mastectomy with a breast reconstruction and to have follow up radiotherapy and chemotherapy. “Rosie changed in those few months. She lost all of her spark and the treatments were very hard. She lost all her hair because of the chemotherapy and instead of the young glamorous sister I was used to, she became almost middle aged a frumpy,” remembers Yvonne.

After nine months of surgery and treatment came the cruellest blow of all. “Because the tumour was very sensitive to oestrogen, Rosie was advised to have her ovaries removed and to take an aromatase inhibitor to lower her body levels of oestrogen to practically zero.” However the doctors were confident that Rosie had a good chance of surviving and possibly being completely cured and they recommended that some of her eggs be frozen to be used in IVF treatment later on.

Rosie Makes a Come-back

After the drastic surgery and follow up treatment, Rosie was declared free of breast cancer and the family were jubilant. “She and Ian made plans to have IVF and the world seemed to have righted itself. We were all so happy for them,” says Yvonne. During the next year, Rosie put on weight, remodelled her appearance, adopting a new short hairstyle and becoming more like her old self. Two years after she finished treatment, she gave birth to Cally and the family celebrated again.

A Minor Fall

When Cally was three, Ian and Rosie were seriously considering another IVF treatment to expand their family. “But Rosie had a silly accident – she slipped on one of Cally’s toys on her lounge floor, went over on her ankle and sprained it really badly. She had to be X-rayed to make sure it wasn’t broken,” says Yvonne, her voice now shaking. The X-ray showed that no bones were broken but it revealed something else, something that no one had expected. Rosie had a bone tumour. “She was given a priority appointment for a body scan the next week and the doctors broke the news that the cancer had come back, and it had spread to her bones and liver,” says Yvonne.

A Brave Fight

Rosie put up an incredibly brave fight against her cancer, going through further rounds of very harsh chemotherapy and radiotherapy to try to slow the spread of the cancer but, again, it was very aggressive. “She even went to France for an experimental treatment and I think she hung on as long as she could and did so well to survive for another two years, but then it was clear she was losing,” weeps Yvonne. Rosie slipped into a coma and died early one morning, just two weeks after her 37th birthday leaving Ian to bring up 5-year old Cally. “I shall never stop missing her and wishing she was back with us,” says Yvonne.

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