A woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer thanks to a friend’s Facebook post has credited her recovery to a group of strangers around the world who helped her through sleepless nights and gruelling chemotherapy treatment.
Globetrotter Fiona Kane, 56, a former analyst from Richmond in London, found a lump on her breast in January 2020 thanks to a neighbour’s Facebook post urging their friends to check their breasts.
Starting treatment in February 2020, Fiona underwent a double mastectomy before starting chemotherapy just a month later in April during the UK lockdown as the Covid pandemic hit.
Feeling alone and isolated she turned to community app, Belong: Beating cancer together, connecting cancer patients across the globe for support.
Leaning on her support system, Fiona picked up tricks to ease the side affects of her chemotherapy whilst also finding friendship, connecting with fellow patients during sleepless nights and post-surgery treatment – crediting the community with helping her through her treatment.
“It was tough having chemotherapy during lockdown,” said Fiona.
She added: “The app has gotten me through the last two years. It carried me when I thought I couldn’t do it.
“It was invaluable connecting with people in similar circumstances and their advice helped my journey.”
An avid traveller, Fiona had returned from a whirlwind tour around South East Asia in December 2019, but a few weeks later she was prompted to check her breasts by a neighbour’s Facebook post.
“A year earlier my neighbour had been diagnosed with breast cancer. So she had posted on Facebook saying, ‘Come on, ladies, it’s time to check your breasts.’
“I thought well I’ll check them today and that’s when I found the lump.”
After finding a lump, Fiona contacted her doctor and was quickly admitted for further tests.
“I found the lump on the Friday and managed to see my GP on the Monday,” she said.
“She then referred me to Harley Street clinic in London for further tests. I was lucky as at the time I had private healthcare so it was very quick.”
Diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer in her right breast and non-invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast, Fiona was immediately booked for a double mastectomy.
“The surgeon said we had to move straight away. There was no negotiation, the right breast was coming off,” explained Fiona.
“But the left breast was really down to my decision, because I did have cancer there it was covered by my insurance.”
She added: “I decided on a double mastectomy just to give me that peace of mind. Then I had to go in a couple of weeks later to have my lymph nodes removed.
“I had four taken out overall and two on the right were positive so they had to accelerate my treatment.
“I’m not entirely sure that I was processing anything, I was just putting one foot in front of the other at the time.”
Invasive lobular breast cancer is the second most common type of breast cancer. Around 15 in every 100 breast cancers (15 per cent) are invasive lobular carcinoma.
This type can develop in women of any age. But it is most common in women between 45 and 55 years old.
And on April 23 2020, Fiona started gruelling chemotherapy during lockdown.
“I started chemotherapy on my father’s birthday,” she said.
“We were all in lockdown, so I wasn’t seeing anybody and that was quite hard.”
There was always someone online when I was wide awake at three o'clock in the morning,
She added: “I literally had my surgery, saw my parents twice a day after my surgery and then a few weeks later I never saw them again until much later on.”
Isolated during her treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic, Fiona turned to app Belong: Beating Cancer Together for support.
“It connected me with people who had the same breast cancer diagnosis,” explained Fiona.
She added: “Around 15% of breast cancers are lobular, so it was good to find other people because I didn’t have much information about it.”
Connecting with fellow patients across the globe, Fiona formed friendships as well as picking up important tips to ease the side affects of her chemotherapy.
“There was always someone online when I was wide awake at three o’clock in the morning,” she said.
She added: “It was really useful when I was having a bad night or because of steroids I couldn’t sleep. There was someone else who was online as well who I could reach out to.”
“It helped me with the big changes. Every Friday I expected to see a picture of a friends grandchildren on the app.
“They were always laughing and playing, not being worried or stressed about anything and just enjoying the pleasure of living.”
Know what's normal for you
Look at your breasts and feel them
Know what changes to look for
Report any changes to a GP without delay
Attend routine screening if you're aged 50 to 70
She added: “That was something I always looked forward to that made the treatment more bearable as I wasn’t seeing my family.”
And Fiona found their advice invaluable.
“I found a lot of tips helpful,” explained Fiona.
I've been patiently waiting for the world to calm down a bit so that I can go to India for a big trip. The idea is to go early next year if I can.
She added: “I think someone recommended an anti-inflammatory diet. So I started to eliminate different foods to see what impacted me and taking gluten and sugar out was almost instantaneous.
“It really helped me to look at what people suggested. Little things that you can change can make a big difference, but only if you’re open to them.”
And now Fiona is in remission.
“I now have six-monthly scans,” explained Fiona.
“I no longer have advanced mammograms because of my mastectomy but they still check the area where the tissue was.
“I had a test that gives you the likelihood of reoccurrence and I slotted into the very high. My risk of recurrence is reduced significantly by taking hormone blockers, but I still have to be vigilant.”
It was really useful when I was having a bad night or because of steroids I couldn’t sleep. There was someone else who was online as well who I could reach out to.
However, Fiona still checks in on the community that kept her strong during the hardest months of her life.
“If I haven’t seen anyone post for a while, I might message them to see how they’re doing,” she said.
“I just check in to make sure they are ok. There’s a few characters on there and they are really helpful.”
And after leaving her job as an analyst Fiona has found a love for upcycling furniture.
“I’m not working anymore as chemotherapy fried my brain,” she said.
“I do some volunteering where we recycle furniture. It’s something completely unrelated to what I did for a living.”
an area of thickening or swelling
a change in the nipple, for example it might turn inwards (become inverted)
a change in the skin, such as dimpling or thickening
She added: “It gives me a great deal of joy. I’ll get a wardrobe that nobody loved and then I do something and it’s sold almost straight away.
“Plus it really helps the people who need it.”
Keen to start travelling again, Fiona is now planning a once in a lifetime trip to India in 2023.
“I’ve been very lucky and have travelled the world,” she said.
“I was supposed to go to India in November 2020 but flights and the trip just didn’t work. So I went through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand instead.
“I then came back expecting to plan my India trip and then diagnosis happened.”
It really helped me to look at what people suggested. Little things that you can change can make a big difference, but only if you're open to them.
She added: “So I’ve been patiently waiting for the world to calm down a bit so that I can go to India for a big trip. The idea is to go early next year if I can.”
Dr Daniel Vorobiof, chief medical director of Belong, confirms community is at the heart of recovery.
He said: “When a cancer diagnosis strikes, it can leave a person with different feelings, such as loneliness, confusion and anxiety.
“Digital patient communities can provide help, information, tips and most importantly social and emotional support as cancer patients, their families and caregivers navigate through this difficult and sometimes exhausting journey.”