CURLY MARTIN tells us how she defied the odds after receiving a devastating cancer diagnosis.I will never forget the day doctors told me I had only nine months to live.
At 39, with a job I loved, lots of friends and a loving relationship I felt as if I had the world at my feet.
So I was stunned when I was told I had an aggressive form of breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes and would kill me within nine months.
But that was in 1992 and 25 years later I’m still here to tell the tale.
Just before my diagnosis I moved from London to a small town near Marbella in Spain and found a good job working in sales.
I dreamed of a life that revolved around sunshine, good food and wine and thought that’s what Spain would bring me.
Pete, my boyfriend of 18 months, was in the Royal Marines in Bournemouth and came to visit whenever he could.
From the outside it probably seemed as though I was living the dream.
But in December 1992 everything changed. When Pete had come to visit the previous August, I found a small lump in my breast.
It was so tiny I could barely feel it but I had it checked out just in case and to my relief the doctor assured me it was nothing to worry about.
But a few months later I realised the lump was growing.
One weekend a doctor friend from the UK came to stay and I told him my concerns.
He examined me and told me it was probably nothing to worry about but advised me to make another appointment with a GP for a second opinion.
Looking back I realise he was trying to break it to me gently that it could be something serious but I didn’t get the hint.
It slipped my mind until months later when lumps started appearing under my arm.
In December 1992 I finally booked an appointment with a different doctor and was referred to a hospital in Gibraltar where doctors told me that I had an aggressive form of breast cancer that had started to spread.
Because the cancer was growing so quickly he estimated I had just nine months to live and would need immediate surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
I walked out in a state of shock, trying to process what I’d just been told before breaking the news to my friends and Pete.
Altouhgh Pete initially consoled me, later that evening he told me he couldn’t cope with having a terminally ill girlfriend.
Heartbroken, I didn’t sleep a wink that night and sobbed until my throat was raw.
I felt so alone and helpless. I couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid as to put off going to the doctor.
But the next morning I started to feel strangely calm. I vowed not to feel sorry for myself any more and threw myself into the Christmas festivities.
After Christmas I left my house and job in Spain to start treatment at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, where surgeons removed part of my breast and lymph glands under my arm.
The surgery was successful but as the cancer was so aggressive doctors expected it to return within months and I started chemotherapy.
Because I’d sold my flat in London when I moved to Spain I had to sleep on friends’ sofas throughout my treatment.
On New Year’s Eve I drowned my sorrows and woke up with a splitting headache to someone banging on the door. It was Pete. He begged me to take him back, saying he was sorry and that he’d made a terrible mistake.
I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would have to tackle the cancer on my own but seeing him standing on the doorstep I changed my mind and I agreed to try to patch up the relationship.
Over the next nine months I tried to live life to the full but I was always exhausted because of the chemotherapy.
I started planning a giant party for my 40th birthday for the following September which would be nine months after I was diagnosed.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be alive to celebrate but I told my friends to have a party without me if I didn’t make it.
However, as the day drew closer, scans showed that the cancer was receding.
The doctors were amazed and for the first time since my diagnosis, I felt a tiny bit of hope.
When my birthday came around, I felt so happy to be alive and we had a giant bash with a ceilidh band and a barbershop quartet.
A year after I first began my treatment I had my final round of radiotherapy and doctors told me I was free from cancer.
Although they expected it would return, I felt I’d been given a second chance at life. I decided to live every day as though it was my last.
Pete was my rock throughout and in 1994 we bought a house together in Bournemouth. He gave up his job in the Marines to become an electrician.
Determined to be as healthy as possible I stopped eating meat and started drinking less coffee and alcohol and more water.
I also started looking after my mental health, visualising my body being healthy and in remission.
As well as looking after myself I wanted to help other people so I retrained as a life coach.
My three-monthly check-ups were clear, so soon I only needed a check-up every six months, then every year.
I couldn’t believe the miraculous recovery I’d made and in 1997 I celebrated five years of being free from cancer.
In 2000 Pete and I got married and as I walked down the aisle I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
Although Pete reacted badly when I told him I had cancer, he came back and our relationship became stronger for it.
Now 25 years later I am still cancer free and have lived a life I never could have dreamed of.
I run a business which trains other people to be life coaches and I’ve helped thousands of people.
What’s more, Pete and I have been happily married for 17 years.
It may sound strange but I can truly say that having cancer was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It forced me to take stock of what’s important in life and I’ll always be grateful for that.