REAL LIFE: Cancer has changed my outlook

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Mum-of-two Ali Chamberlain is embracing the new year more than most people she knows.

Mum-of-two Ali Chamberlain is embracing the new year more than most people she knows.

Ali Chamberlain with her husband Spencer and children Luca and Sienna

Ali Chamberlain with her husband Spencer and children Luca and Sienna

Surrounded by family and friends, it’s not only a time to reflect and plan for the year ahead, it’s a cause for celebration as she enters another year cancer-free.

The 37-year-old from Hayling Island is starting 2018 as the face of Cancer Research UK’s Right Now campaign.

Ali is determined to prove cancer doesn’t have to be the death-sentence people once feared it was and to show the positive impact research has on people diagnosed with cancer across the UK.

It was in April 2015 when Ali, then 34, was told the shattering news she had cancer, having found a pea-sized lump in her right breast.

She says: ‘The doctor sent me for a biopsy but I felt so confident it would be a cyst and nothing to worry about that I stupidly went to the hospital appointment to get the results on my own.

‘I should have known what was coming when the specialist nurses came in the room. The news was delivered quite bluntly – “You have cancer”.

‘I was absolutely devastated and remember thinking “No,that cannot be right. I can’t possibly have cancer – I am only 34 and have two very young children at home” and I was waiting for them to say they had got it wrong.’

Ali, who works as a community nursery nurse on the health visiting team in Waterlooville, underwent surgery on the day of the general election in May 2015, having a lumpectomy as well as having all the lymph nodes removed.

She say: ‘I came home that night and I was so pleased. In my head it was good because I knew the cancer was out of me and I felt relieved.

‘I returned to work for a couple of weeks and we even managed to squeeze in a holiday to France before I started six rounds of chemotherapy.

‘The first part was particularly tough – one of the worst things for me was that I hadn’t felt ill until I was diagnosed and then suddenly that changes.

‘I lost my hair by the second treatment but I was determined to plough on and that the chemo would be over by my birthday in October.’

Ali then underwent three weeks of intensive radiotherapy before making the decision to have her ovaries removed and forcing her into the menopause aged 36.

Having son Luca, who was six, and daughter Sienna who was three, made being poorly particularly difficult.

She says: ‘It was especially hard because you can’t just take them in to the hospital for every appointment.

‘You rely so heavily on your family and friends to help with childcare and all the running around.

‘Sienna didn’t get what was happening to mummy, she was too little. She struggled to cope and understand why I was in bed and why I wasn’t making her tea and taking her to pre-school.

‘Luca was that bit older so I sat him down and told him mummy had a lump and the doctors needed to take it away.

‘He was a lot more matter-of-fact – we explained it was like a battle with a good army being the medicine that had to pulverise the bad guys.’

As well as the support of husband Spencer, 47, both children were instrumental in helping Ali get through her battle.

They also helped her choose her beloved blonde wig – a replica of her perfect wedding-day hair which made the whole process of losing her locks easier to deal with.

With her treatment over, Ali’s now having yearly checks at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, and taking a 10-year course of Tamoxifen but is enjoying life with cancer firmly.

She says: ‘I really struggled with the aftermath, dealing with terrible anxiety and panic attacks. Every time I had a cold or a hangover I feared the cancer had returned. Now, almost three years on, I feel like I’m finally coming through it and I want to share that positivity with others.

‘Without a doubt cancer has changed my outlook on life. You don’t need to get bogged down with the small stuff.

‘I value time with my children and family more – it’s about making memories and doing the things that count, the things you will all remember.

‘For me that’s holidays.

‘You have to think about what they would grow up remembering if the cancer was ever to come back. My children love holidays, they love talking about them and remembering what we did.’

Ali has trips to Tenerife, France, the Isle of Scilly and a cruise lined up.

‘I am very much about living life in the moment’ says Ali.

‘For a while I didn’t make plans but now you can’t stop me. It’s thanks to research that treatment has come a long way and more people like me are surviving cancer.

‘The faster we raise money, the quicker the research and the longer people will survive this terrible disease.’

See a video of Ali at portsmouth.co.uk.

The Right Now campaign includes TV adverts aired this month.

They feature real patients undergoing cancer treatment during the past two years followed up by current home video showing how research has helped them get back to enjoying life with their loved ones.

Ali says: ‘The campaign captures the experience of so many families like mine. Cancer affects us all - not just the person diagnosed, but also their loved ones.

‘I hope people are motivated to show their support and help even more people survive.

‘My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important.

‘So I’m urging people across Hampshire to take action, right now, and help support the charity’s vital research.’

Jenny Makin, Cancer Research UK spokesperson, says: ‘There are many moments which encapsulate a person’s cancer journey and our Right Now campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research can have on a cancer patient’s journey.

‘Every day around 130 people are diagnosed with cancer in the south east. But thanks to research, more people are surviving the disease than ever before.

‘Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress. Our campaign shows that we are working to beat cancer right now. But we can’t do it alone.’

To find out how you can help, go to cancerresearchuk.org.