KATE Dunkley’s life changed in October 2014.

The mother-of-one from West End, Southampton, regularly checked her breasts, but it was when she was lying on her side, reading a book, that she found a lump.

She realised, on closer examination, that her armpit was swollen.

A visit to her doctor was followed ten days later by a scan and a biopsy.

Kate says that this time, waiting for a diagnosis, was one of the most difficult in her life.

“I was shell-shocked and still didn’t know what would happen,” says the 48-year-old.

“I was worried about money, my treatment, was I going to die... it was a horrible whirlwind. I’d checked my employment contract and seen that I only got one month’s paid sickness, so I went to work. My boss came in and said ‘what on earth are you doing here?’

“The waiting was just awful. When I got the result that I had cancer, it was almost a relief. Once they know what they’re dealing with, everything begins. Once you have a treatment plan, you feel looked after.”

Kate was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

She had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“My consultant said that we were going to throw the book at it. I should have realised then that I had one of the worst forms of breast cancer.”

Kate said that at first she felt quite overwhelmed with what was in front of her.

“You look at the whole thing – the different treatments you might have and so on – but the reality is that you don’t deal with all those things at once. Lots of people start researching all the treatment but you only have one at a time.

“I broke it up into days and weeks and stopped trying to look too far into the future.”

Kate was terrified of having surgery, having never been admitted to hospital before, even for the birth of her daughter, Chloe.

“I woke up from the surgery euphoric,” she says.

“There was another woman on the ward who had had a hysterectomy and we stayed up all night talking. We were delighted to have our surgery out of the way.

“I was so relieved the operation was over with. All of my fears were focused on that, and I was so happy it was out of the way.”

Kate was able to enjoy Christmas before embarking on a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 2015.

She returned to work in her old job, before taking on a new part time position as a receptionist at a local solicitors.

“Everything seemed good but between Christmas and New Year I felt a strange pain in my armpit. I knew the cancer was back. It was a real sinking feeling.”

Kate’s consultant, Dr Copson at Southampton General Hospital, started her on a course of chemotherapy tablets, which had less side effects than intravenous treatment, and meant she was able to continue to work and also to come to terms better with her condition.

“It let me get my head around the diagnosis,” she says.

“Once you have secondary cancer, it’s spreading. It’s a case of trying to keep you stable for as long as possible. I had to take the time to educate my family and friends. People say ‘you beat it once, you can beat it again,’ but I can’t I’ve now got incurable cancer. There isn’t a magical cure.

“I haven’t asked how long I’ve got. I don’t want to know. And if keep me alive for a year or two or four, we don’t know what treatments might then be available.”

Being on the tablets rather than a more aggressive form of treatment also meant that Kate and Chloe could go on a dream holiday to Corsica in May, and enjoy Chloe’s 21st birthday, shortly after their return.

But unfortunately, a scan revealed that the tumours had grown, so Kate was put on a new course of intravenous chemotherapy.

The treatment is physically tough but her first scan since going on the treatment has shown positive results.

“We were over the moon when we got the scan,” she says.

“Every scan this year has been bad news, up to then. It’s really good to have something positive happening. However bad you feel on the bad days of chemotherapy, if it’s doing its job, it’s worth it.”

Kate is the first to admit that in the past, before her cancer diagnosis, she sometimes struggled to be positive. But, she says, that has all changed.

“I have become much less of a worrier,” she says.

“I’m a much more positive person and I try to seize every moment.”

One of the things that she has done is access services available at Breast Cancer Haven, Wessex, in Titchfield, where she has regular free aromatherapy massages.

Breast Cancer Haven is the charity that supports women through their breast cancer treatment. It provides tailored packages of emotional, physical and practical support, including advice and access to nurses, therapists and counsellors, all given free of charge to women and men with breast cancer, whether they have just been diagnosed, are having treatment or are in recovery.

“I probably wouldn’t have made contact with them if a friend hadn’t encouraged me to, because I wasn’t sure if I was entitled to.

"It’s such a nice place to go to and I’ve made friends through going there too.

“My daughter can access counselling there too, if she wants it, as can I. It’s really good knowing that there’s this fantastic resource so close to us.”

Kate is more aware than ever of the need to take care of herself, mentally and physically, and to get the most out of life.

“Having cancer becomes almost your job – having your treatments and appointments,” she says.

“But for me, the reward for the bad days are the days when you can go out and do nice things. If the treatment can stabilise me – for years, maybe – then I have to make the most of it.

“None of us knows what the future holds. I sort of do, but I’ve learnt to live in the day.

“I do manage to forget about the cancer at times.

What’s the point of ruining good days now, worrying about what’s around the corner?”

For more information about Breast Cancer Haven Wessex, visit breastcancerhaven.co.uk or call 01329 559 290.

Turn the page to read about what Breast Cancer Haven Wessex is doing for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.