Two women who became firm friends after starting chemotherapy together 17 years ago – now racking up more than 600 treatments between them – have been given the title of ‘Chemo Queens’ by hospital staff.
Supporting awareness raising of metastatic breast cancer this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Ann Hannah and Margie Shields met while having treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust and have shared their incredible journey and experiences of living with cancer and undergoing treatment for almost two decades.
They attend their fortnightly chemotherapy treatments on the same day, so they can spend time together.
“Having a friend like Ann means the world,” says Margie. “I look forward to seeing her and I think the social aspect of treatment is so important. The staff at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre are all fantastic and being able to have my treatment at the same time as Ann certainly helps as we can have a cuppa, a biscuit and a chat!”
Ann, 88, who takes two buses to each appointment and back, said, “I’ve just had my 310th chemotherapy treatment and the nurses here are amazing. I have a laugh and a joke with them every time I come. Laughter brightens everyone’s day and it’s wonderful to be able to have my treatment with Margie.”
Ann continued, “People have called us the ‘Terrible Twins’ because we’re always winding each other up, but I think the ‘Chemo Queens’ suits us much better!”
In the time Ann and Margie have been receiving treatment since 2005, there have been:
- Four World Cups
- Four Summer Olympics
- 13 Glastonbury Festivals
- Seven Prime Ministers
- The late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum, Sapphire and Diamond Jubilees
Margie said, “Both Ann and I will never not have treatment. To me, this has become a way of life, and has been for the last 17 years. I don’t think people realise that with treatments constantly developing and changing, it is possible, for some, to live with cancer for such a long time.
“We’ve been lucky to have developed our bond and have been able to support each other through treatment and life events along the way.
“Like Ann said, the social aspect of treatment is so important, but I would like people to know that amazing things can happen and that even though sometimes you may not be cured of cancer, it can be possible to live a relatively normal life, receive treatment and keep enjoying life for many, many years.”
Ann and Margie both have metastatic breast cancer, which means their initial cancer has spread to other parts of the body, and are in the almost 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer who develop secondary disease.
Dr Farida Alam, Consultant in Clinical Oncology at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, said, “Margie and Ann are inspirational. They really are a great example of how cancer can be managed, if not cured, and the fact they have both been having treatment for 17 years and still arrive with smiles and such positive energy is wonderful to see.
“There is a variety of treatments for metastatic breast cancer and while there is no cure, treatment may control it for years at a time, enabling people to live relatively well for longer. Patients work closely with their doctors and nurses to manage any symptoms or side effects as well as possible.”
Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can be similar to other conditions, including extreme fatigue, constantly feeling sick, or unexplained weight loss – and also more specific symptoms depending on where the cancer has spread. It is important to speak to your clinician about any potentially worrying new signs or symptoms.
Image: Margie, left, and Ann, right, having their chemotherapy together at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre