Cancer sufferer tells her story to help others

Anita Higgs. Anita Higgs.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013
12:00 PM

Anita Higgs was 37 and married with a two-year-old daughter when her battle with cancer began. COLLETTE NICHOLLS discovers that while her ‘cancer journey’ has been tough, it has not stopped her from embracing her new normal life.

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The Woodlands Centre has become a familiar place to Anita Higgs. It was in Manchester nine years ago that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and where, as she describes it, her cancer journey began.

She underwent a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and a month of radiotherapy.

Breast reconstruction followed using muscle from her back.

Anita, an estate agent at the time, was put on tamoxifen for five years, had regular check-ups, put it all behind her and went back to living a normal life.

Two years into her cancer journey her marriage broke down and ended in divorce.

“Having cancer and going through the treatment can put a huge strain on any relationship. It can either make it stronger or break it,” said Anita, who now lives in Great Stukeley.

To help her cope, she did the 26.2-mile London breast cancer Moonwalk with her sisters Laura and Sarah and friends.

Happily living as a single mum, she returned to work and found a new partner, John – the only ­problem was he lived in Huntingdon and she was in Manchester.

She ran a Race for Life to ­celebrate her five-year clear mark.

But, in 2011, she started getting back pain. Initially, she put it down to landing awkwardly after going down a waterslide with her ­daughter, Charlotte.

The pain increased and she had an MRI scan. The next day she was asked to be at the doctors in half-an-hour.

She was told secondary breast cancer had spread to her spine and part of her spine had collapsed. She was admitted to hospital and had surgery to prevent more damage to her spine. More scans revealed a small nodule on her lungs.

Anita spent five weeks in hospital, had two rods and eight screws fitted to her spine, was put on tamoxifen and had zometa administered via an infusion drip every four weeks.

She returned to work part-time, her back was healing well, and she could walk without crutches. But when she went for her three-month CT scan, she was shocked to find the cancer had spread to her hip – an urgent hip replacement was needed.

“I thought ‘How much more can I take?’ Somehow, I carried on. I was on crutches again, had more ­radiotherapy and my treatment plan changed.”

The cancer remained stable and even reduced in her lungs, but 12 months later a scan showed further progression in Anita’s bones, lungs and liver.

“This time when I walked out of hospital I knew I could no longer carry on as normal. It was pouring with rain and I couldn’t stop crying. John said ‘You are no longer doing this on your own, one of us needs to move’.

“I’d given up on all my dreams, I never planned anything as I was too scared I would have to cancel if I was ill.

“I knew I no longer wanted to live in fear of my cancer.”

Anita decided to move to Huntingdon to live with John and achieved it, including getting Charlotte into school, within five weeks.

“I got my treatment transferred to the wonderful Woodlands Centre and with the amazing support of community nurse specialist Gini Melesi, Dr Cheryl Palmer and the nurses I’m doing really well.”

Anita takes chemo tablets twice a day for two weeks, with one week off, with very few side effects. Her last three CT scans have shown the cancer is stable in the bones. There is no sign of it in the liver and lungs.

“I still have the awful dread of the CT scans. As soon as I have the scan I’m anxious until I get the results. I live my life three months at a time, but the difference is now I do live and try to enjoy every moment.”

She plans lots of things to do and this year enjoyed holidays in Cyprus and Portugal. “I really enjoy ­spending time with my daughter, time in Poole with my family and having my partner with me at night, when I can’t sleep.”

For her birthday in July and to celebrate being two years on from having secondary cancer, Anita did a 10-mile charity walk around Grafham Water, raising £1,700 towards the Woodlands extension.

She swims two or three times a week, walks a lot, eats healthily but still enjoys a glass of wine at weekends.

While coming to terms with her cancer, a friend bought Anita a plaque saying ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams – Live the life you’ve imagined’.

“I’m a strong believer in a positive attitude as this helps me cope with living with cancer.

“My advice to people is to try to embrace their new normal life. You’re not going to go back to the way life was, some things are definitely going to change.

“Accept that and you will be much more comfortable with what you’ve had to go through and how you live your life now.”

Anita’s message is simple – try not to let cancer hold you back but go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

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