Imagine being told that you have breast cancer twice in less than three years.
Sadly, that has happened to single mum Marlena Kudas from Leigh Park.
The 29-year-old was diagnosed with grade one breast cancer in her left breast back in 2014.
Last year, it returned and Marlena is still fighting it, having found out just last week that her latest round of chemotherapy treatment had been unsuccessful.
But despite that, Marlena is inspired to keep fighting for her nine-year-old daughter, Wiktoriajulia.
Marlena first discovered there was a problem when she found a lump on her breast.
‘I left it at the beginning. I was one of those people who thought cancer would never bother me,’ she says.
After seeing her GP, Marlena was sent to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham for a scan. And it was then that she was given the devastating news that she had breast cancer.
Marlena, who had a boyfriend at the time, arrived at the hospital to get her results and told her boyfriend to stay in the waiting area.
But the nurse advised her to bring him in with her.
‘She said ‘‘you need him with you’’,’ Marlena adds.
‘So when I saw her face I knew. When they told me I just started crying.’
Marlena, who moved to the UK from her native Poland 12 years ago, had a lumpectomy and then went on to have a course of radiotherapy.
She was also taking the hormone therapy drug tamoxifen. But the side-effects were having a serious impact on her life and she stopped taking it after 18 months.
‘There was a tiny risk of it coming back. They said to me if there are any cancer cells it will stop them from developing. But they said it was my choice and it should be fine.
‘The side-effects made me really tired and irritated. I couldn’t function normally with my daughter, so I stopped taking it.’
Marlena had reconstruction surgery on her breast in January last year. In April, she went back for an MRI scan, which was clear.
But shortly afterwards she began to notice the skin on her breast was changing. The cancer had returned.
‘This time there were about eight lumps. They were tiny, but they were growing quite quickly and spreading around the breast.’
Marlena had surgery in September and she had a mastectomy to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
She then had a long course of chemotherapy.
But sadly, just last week Marlena was given the news that the chemotherapy hadn’t worked and that cancer cells had appeared on the skin surrounding her breast.
‘It’s growing very quickly,’ she adds.
‘I feel like it’s a waste of four months of chemotherapy. I don’t know what’s going to happen now.
‘The hardest part for me is to keep strong in front of my little girl. I don’t like her to see me down.’
Marlena says the past few years have been very difficult.
‘At the beginning I felt bad because I was thinking that I was destroying my little girl’s childhood. Nobody should go through that. She’s only got me. I’m her world.
‘That was quite hard. In the summer she went to see my dad in Poland for two months and I told her that when she came back I would be in hospital. That was hard to tell her.
‘I’m very honest with her. I don’t hide stuff from her.
‘At first she was very upset. But she’s a bit better now. She worries about me.
‘‘I am trying to be positive, but I feel like there are lots of backwards steps. I feel like I can’t see the end.’
But Marlena is lucky in many ways. She has great support from her family. Her mum, sister and grandmother all live in the UK and she has many close friends too.
She says: ‘They try to support me. But it’s still me dealing with my own mind.
‘When I get really bad days I need a few days to deal with it. I feel like giving up, but I know I can’t.’
Like many cancer patients, Marlena lost her hair after she went through chemotherapy treatment.
She says: ‘Cancer has destroyed my body, it’s taken my hair and my eyelashes and it’s taken my confidence. That’s what I feel I am missing. I hope it comes back.’
But Marlena has had lots of support from The Breast Cancer Haven in Titchfield, which provides a range of free therapies which help people deal with breast cancer.
Specialist healthcare professionals and experts in nutrition, exercise and emotional support provide tailor-made one-to-one programmes for each service user. Therapies include acupuncture and hypnotherapy.
Marlena says: ‘They do a very good job and the ladies there are really lovely.’
It’s a real rollercoaster journey, but Marlena says her daughter keeps her going.
‘Everything I do, I do for her. There are days when I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to leave my bed.
‘But I need to wake up and do everything for her. She is the reason I do anything.
‘If I didn’t have her, I don’t know what I would do.’
SPOTTING THE SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER
The NHS says that the first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in their breast.
Most breast lumps (90 per cent) aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor.
You should see your GP if you notice any of the following:
A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
Bloodstained discharge from either of your nipples
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
To find out more about services offered by The Haven, please visit thehaven.org.uk/wessex.