‘I got breast cancer when I was 28’

Toni Harrison will be a special guest at Cancer Research UK's Race for Life event in Preston
Toni Harrison will be a special guest at Cancer Research UK's Race for Life event in Preston
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The countdown is on for this year’s Race for Life in Preston. A breast cancer survivor will be a special guest on the day. Laura Wild reports.

“You never think cancer is going to happen to you, especially so young. But what it has done is made me appreciate everything in life.”

Those are the words of Preston woman Toni Harrison - who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged just 28

Toni, now 33, found a lump on her breast and went to see the GP in 2009.

At the time she was not too worried as she had a fit and healthy lifestyle and was feeling optimistic about the future, having just got married.

The Lancashire Constabulary worker was referred to a specialist to undergo a day of tests, including a needle biopsy, at Chorley Hospital.

“I felt that something wasn’t right due to the doctor shaking his head and asking how long I had had this lump for,” says Toni. “Then he told me not to panic, but it was a 50:50 chance that it could be a cancerous lump. I remember thinking the term he used of 50:50 was quite worrying.”

When Toni returned for the results five days later she had a feeling the news would not be good.

She says: “On the days in 
between I continued with life as normal. But it was in the back of my mind. However, when I attended the hospital I could see the nurse speaking with the doctors and I just felt that they were going to tell me bad news.

“Sure enough, they told me there and then that they were going to start treating me for breast cancer.

“I expected this but it was still a shock to hear. I tried to remain positive and think there’s nothing I can do about this. I’ve got just to deal with and fight it.”

Doctors explained they had found a 2cm tumour in her left breast which was aggressive.

They suggested a left breast reduction to make it easier to remove the tumour. The treatment plan would also include chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed by a course of herceptin medication.

Toni continues: “I knew I’d lose my hair with chemotherapy so I organised a sponsored head shave and raised £5,000 for Cancer Research UK.

Everyone was so supportive which made me feel incredibly humble.”

Sadly during her treatment Toni and her husband separated but she was determined to keep her strength up by keeping as fit and active as possible.

She says: “Because of my job I’ve always had to be physically fit so during treatment when having a good day I would try and go to the local circuit training class and when not feeling as strong, I would go for a walk and if I felt quite poorly I would just stay in my dressing gown and not do anything. I just went with how I was feeling at the time.”

Toni was off work for eight months but once her treatment was completed she went back to work full time.

She is now on the drug tamoxifen and only has to have yearly scans and regular consultations with her oncologist.

In 2012 she felt strong enough and wanted to take part in the challenge of the Preston Guild Marathon.

She says: “After dealing with cancer I wanted to try and do things I’d never done before.

“I travelled to Australia on my own. I travelled to New York and went on numerous holidays with friends. I attempted a sky-dive and have taken on new hobbies.

“I used to be a person who would make lots of plans, but now I probably live more for the moment.

“I have been lucky to have had such fantastic close family and amazing friends that have got me through this enabling me to continue with a happy positive outlook on life.

“And Charlie my Golden Labrador, who I bought as a puppy when I was going through chemo, has proved to be absolutely fantastic - more enjoyable than I ever thought possible. He’s such a star that everybody has got to know him and realise what a brilliant tonic he’s been to me.

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life 5k event in Preston will be held at Moor Park on Sunday June 15.

Toni will be invited on stage and will join in the countdown to the event before joining the participants and taking part herself.

Race for Life in Preston is a 5k route and takes place at Moor Park on Sunday June 15.

To enter Race for Life events in the North West, visit www.raceforlife.org or call 0845 600 6050.

The entry fee is £14.99 for adults and £10 for girls under 16. This covers the costs of staging the event series and means that money raised in sponsorship can go to help beat cancer.

If you are taking part in this year’s Race for Life in Preston contact Laura Wild on laura.wild@lep.co.uk or 01772 838167