Linda Schofield was a happy and healthy staff nurse, when, one day, her life was turned upside down. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at the age of 42, which left her feeling incredibly vulnerable, out of control and uncertain as to what future, if any, lay in front of her. But 16 years later, Linda is able to think of her health in a different way and is determined to prove that she won’t be defined by cancer. Instead, she has dedicated the past 16 years to volunteering and has been honoured with several awards for her hard work. She reveals her story
On April 9, 2003, Linda Schofield was delivered the words no-one wants to hear - that she had advanced breast cancer.
Scans had shown the cancer had spread to both hips, her spine, ribs, neck, shoulder and a little on her skull.
As a mother of two young children, then aged 10 and 12, Linda and her husband, Gary, made a promise to each other to be honest with them once they had a firm understanding of what was to follow.
But it was when their then 12-year-old daughter uttered the words, “if mum had cancer and was going to die...”, that made Linda and Gary assess the approach they were to take with their own life and people from thereon in.
Linda wanted to show herself and others that there is life beyond cancer. Her life was about living with cancer and not being defined by it.
The 58-year-old from Fulwood admits it has not always been easy but she has overcome many challenges, as she explains: “Although chemotherapy and radiotherapy were physically demanding, the mental processes probably presented the biggest challenge for me.
“It was like being stuck in a bubble of cancer. There appeared to be no way out of this bubble, as everywhere I turned, there was cancer.
“My own mortality was constantly staring back at me. The harsh chemotherapy treatment caused me to lose my hair, and I felt incredibly nauseous for extended periods. I was constantly physically drained.”
However, after this round of treatment, the bubble began to break, and she could enjoy short periods of relative normality.
She began taking walks and picking up litter, which helped her feel she was contributing something useful by looking after the community and helping to make it a better place.
It gave her a purpose, which Linda found to be a critically important factor in her journey.
She continued with treatment after her chemotherapy had finished as the cancer was still active in her bones, but she was determined to get a stronger sense of normality, so she went back to work as a staff nurse at Royal Preston Hospital’s burns and plastic unit.
She adds: “It was only seven hours per week, but it was me being useful, having a purpose in life and contributing.
“My occupational health doctor could not believe I was going back to work, telling my husband that I was ‘an extremely sick woman.’
“Gary acknowledged this, but also understood how important it was for me to have a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning.”
This desire to contribute also saw Linda volunteering with the Lancashire Volunteering Partnership, helping out with administrative duties and speciality roles such as community call-backs to help vulnerable people in the area.
As a result of her hard work, she was awarded commendations on two separate occasions.
Linda also continued with her litter picking efforts and her contribution was acknowledged by a Preston City Council commendation award from the Mayor and a special Valley Champions Award in 2010.
Also, very dear to Linda’s heart has been her continuing efforts to raise money for Rosemere Cancer Foundation, once winning the Alan Burgess trophy, a trophy in the memory of the former Lancashire Evening Post journalist.
However, back in 2009, Linda had a significant setback when the cancer was shown to be active in her right breast again.
She endured more chemotherapy and radiotherapy and lost her hair again.
She had the breast removed and decided to have the healthy breast taken away too to reduce further risk of cancer.
The cancer impacted on her young family’s lives as they were taking their exams, but Linda praises their strength.
She recalls: “My children were 16 and 18 and just about to sit their GCSEs and A levels respectively.
“What a credit to them that they achieved fantastic grades under such strain.
“The cancer bubble certainly returned during these dark times, as I once again felt trapped, isolated and terrified in this murky world of cancer. Gary was with me every step of the way and together we opened up the bubble to enable normality to once again creep back in.”
At this point, Linda had to retire from work on ill health, as she was unable to physically commit to the job.
The treatment’s side effects left her with brittle bones, and over the course of two or three years, she broke three bones in her feet.
In 2017, she suffered a complete fracture of her left thigh bone, resulting in an urgent operation to insert a titanium rod into her thigh.
The following year, a similar progression was seen in her right thigh, so she had her leg pinned to prevent another fracture.
Despite these significant underlying issues, Linda continues to defy the odds and strives to contribute to the volunteering service and her local community as well as continuing to mentor other cancer sufferers.
She volunteers within the Lancashire Partnership, supporting the community and her dedication was recognised earlier this year as she received the prestigious High Sheriff of Lancashire Award.
Her husband, Gary, says: “Many people have described Linda as an inspirational woman, yet the reality is that Linda has a character that functions best helping others.
“By doing this, she is also helping herself by being ‘normal’ and remaining outside that cancer bubble.
“People seeing Linda, active and looking so well almost 17 years into her journey, yet still undergoing active treatment to control the cancer in the bones, serves to provide hope.
“This story is also a real credit to the medical profession. A generation ago, this journey would not have been possible as the treatments were not available.
“Linda’s oncology consultant is held in the highest possible regard by us, being seen as part of the family, as without her expertise and dedication, it is unlikely Linda would have come this far.
“We are now looking forward to our son’s wedding. To think that during those early difficult days in 2003, Linda thought she might not see the children leave school, never mind graduate, find good jobs and partners they love.
“We have also recently celebrated their pearl wedding anniversary and look forward to many more.”
Another aspect of Linda’s journey has been her vocation to mentoring others who have cancer, as she is only too familiar with the dread and terrifying prospect associated with the diagnosis.
She has started a book, with a working title of But You Look Well, relating all aspects of her journey.
Linda still has a way to go to complete the book, but hopes it will act as a ray of hope and guidance for others living with cancer.
She adds: “I want to let others know that feeling frightened and vulnerable is okay and quite normal.
“I urge people never to give up, because with today’s medical facilities, it is possible to not only survive this terrible disease, but to flourish and live life normally.
“It will be a book of hope and contains the emotional highs and lows, sprinkled with a deal of humour and relationships.
“I hope that even a small amount of fear about the various scans and the treatments may be mitigated by reading this book. It is to be called But You Look Well, as so many people have said this to me, even when I felt ill.”