A mum with terminal cancer will tick off her bucket list at home as she fears the coronavirus pandemic will see her live out her final days in isolation.
Rhiann Breen, 31, of Newport in Wales, first felt a lump in her left breast while looking at a bruise caused by her son Max, who had jumped on her while they were playing.
She never imagined it would be something serious.
But in August 2019, when she was still breastfeeding her daughter Isobel, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Rhiann underwent aggressive courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy but the cancer spread to her lungs, bones and brain.
In March she was told she had three to four months to live.
The former retail team leader began to put together a bucket list to make the most of the short time she had left – but then the Covid-19 outbreak hit and her plans were put to a halt.
As someone with cancer, Rhiann is considered extremely vulnerable, so must self-isolate for 12 weeks.
Rather than letting the lockdown get her down, Rhiann has decided to tweak her plans by ticking off her bucket list at home, moving Christmas forward to Easter weekend, bringing the aquarium she was due to visit with Max to him, and writing letters and cards for her children to read when she is no longer around.
In a powerful blog post, the mum-of-two wrote: ‘Imagine seeing messages online telling you because you’re in the vulnerable category you’re expected to stay in isolation for 12 weeks – which in my terms is equal to the rest of my life.
‘Imagine having to tell an extremely large percentage of your family, as well as your lifelong friends – most of which are front line workers – that you will never see them again, and those that aren’t putting their own health at risk have a list of extremely strict rules to follow if they wish to see you before you pass.
‘Imagine using this time to plan your own funeral knowing that nobody will be able to attend.
‘Imagine craving as much normalcy for your children at this moment because absolutely everything in their innocent, carefree lives is about to have a shift on seismic levels.’
Rhiann has triple negative breast cancer, which is when cancerous cells do not have receptors for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, or the protein Her2.
Making up around 15 in every 100 breast cancer cases in the UK, symptoms include a change in the size, shape or feel of the breast, dimpling of the skin, a change in the nipple such as it becoming inverted or irregular in shape, blood-stained discharge from the nipple, a rash or swelling in the armpit.
‘I thought it was best not to look up much online, as it wouldn’t be good for my mental health,’ said Rhiann.
‘It’s such a shame that research into triple negative doesn’t seem to be as far along as other breast cancers. That desperately needs to change so other families don’t go through what we are.’
After the discovery of three lumps in her breast and specks in her lung, Rhiann began chemotherapy, which left her nauseous, drained, and needing to take antidepressants.
Within two weeks her hair began to fall out, so in September 2019 she shaved her head to regain some control – with her partner Gavin doing the same in solidarity.
The family were hopeful that chemotherapy would work to give Rhiann more years. But in December she discovered that the disease had spread to her breastbone, then in February doctors found her cancer had spread to her bones and lungs.
‘They told me that meant my prognosis was now just one year,’ she said. ‘Just like that, I’d lost nine years.
‘My mastectomy was supposed to take place the following week, but it was decided that I may not be strong enough, and that the healing time would delay everything else, so I pushed straight on with radiotherapy.’
In March she started having awful headaches. The cancer had spread to her brain, leaving her with three or four months left to live.
To create as many special memories as possible with whatever time she has left, Rhiann soon set about creating a bucket list, which included things like one last visit to Weymouth, Dorset – a place that holds many treasured childhood memories of holidays with her family – and a trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Now, due to the risk of coronavirus, Rhiann is busy working out how she can tick off her bucket list at home.
Instead of taking Max to the aquarium, she plans to bring it to him by buying him a pet fish and tank to keep it in.
She will also be holding Christmas and Easter over the same weekend, where the family will have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, as well as an egg hunt in the garden.
She has been buoyed by the incredible kindness of a group of pals, who she has never met in real life, but bonded with over Instagram.
The network of ladies from around the UK have set up a GoFundMe page to help her to make as many special memories as possible, as well as ease the financial burden for her family after she passes away.
‘I’ve never even met these women in person. I’ve been so blown away by them,’ she said.
‘The money will really help with things like memory boxes that I want to put together for the children, with cards and presents from me for the birthdays I am going to miss.
‘I’m thinking about getting them something engraved for their 18th birthdays.
‘It would also help if Gavin and the children want a break when they are allowed to travel again, to take their mind off everything.’
Rhiann has also been flooded with support from local businesses, who are sending her things to do in isolation, like craft and activity kits for the children, and helping her out with ways to complete as much of her list as possible.
By sharing her story, she also wants to urge other women to check their breasts and be aware of any changes to watch out for.
‘That’s the point in all this,’ Rhiann said. ‘I can’t change my own story – but maybe I can change somebody else’s.’
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