A woman who fought nine different types of cancer over the last thirty years has been diagnosed with the disease for a tenth time.
Heather Devlin, 62, was diagnosed with the incurable blood cancer Myeloma back in 2017, a cancer that made up only two per cent of cancer diagnoses in the UK, from 2016 to 2018.
Of course any cancer diagnosis is horrendous, however for the mum-of-two from Droylsden, this was her second heart-breaking blood cancer diagnosis, after she was diagnosed with leukaemia almost 30 years ago.
Sadly, she’s since had eight other cancerous tumours, including ones in her ovaries which meant she needed a full hysterectomy, reports the Manchester Evening News.
Despite having survived all nine forms of cancer, Mrs Devlin’s latest form of cancer is incurable.
Her GP discovered it in part by chance, as he had been studying myeloma in his free time.
She noticed that her protein levels were unusual and believed they indicated the incurable disease.
However, the incredible mum hasn’t let that dull her spark for life.
She told the Manchester Evening News : “I don’t know how long I’ve got left but I keep hoping it’s long enough to see me through another 10 years.
“I wake up and think ‘thank you for another day’, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or there are problems, I just feel I should be grateful you’ve got a life and that’s what I do now every day.
“You’ve got to think positive, it won’t change anything but that positive thinking, ‘I’m going to fight this cancer and it’s not going to fight me’, really helps along the way.
“A lot of people don’t make it but the doctors are there for you. It can happen to anybody. I just drew the short straw in life.
“I battled one blood cancer and now I’m battling another one. I must have a strong back, I must be carrying 60 people’s crosses. It does make you stronger but it changes you.
“I’m more of a cantankerous old person whereas I was sort of meek and mild before, wouldn’t say boo to a goose. You’re not that person you were before the treatments.
“When I was diagnosed with leukaemia I’d just got divorced, I had a three-year-old and a seven-year-old and they gave me the inspiration to keep going.
“They said then ‘look if you can get five years you’re more or less classed as cured’ but the Myeloma is incurable so it’s more how long is a piece of string.”
When she was told her first heartbreaking diagnosis, she had no idea whether she would recover from the illness.
She decided to remarry as soon as possible and is now close to celebrating her 30th anniversary, but she’s hopeful to see many more anniversaries with husband Paul.
Although the cancer is incurable, Mrs Devlin is currently thought to be in remission, and her health has improved recently – even managing to head out to Benidorm for a family holiday earlier this year and regrowing her hair.
However, she does still head to the Christie every three months for treatments, allowing the team to monitor her health and restart treatments if the cancer returns.
The illness has weakened her immune system, leaving her vulnerable to infection.
Mrs Devlin has been hospitalised with pneumonia twice this year, becoming so severely ill during her second hospital stay that nursing staff thought she might die.
Tragically, during that stay, Mrs Devlin’s father became seriously ill, and was taken to the same hospital. He died whilst she lay on another ward, unable to visit him to say goodbye.
Despite the heartbreaking news she’s received over the years, Mrs Devlin has always been keen to use her bad experience to help others.
Staff at the Christie, which have treated her for all but one of her tumours, passed her number onto other patients who were going through the same diseases, asking her to give them any advice to help ease the nerves.
She added: “At first I was frightened, I didn’t know what I was going to face and however nice the doctors and nurses are, they’ve not been through the treatment, the downsides and the sickness and the hair loss.
“You’ll be absolutely devastated when you stand in the shower and you look down and all your hair is floating at the bottom. They don’t know the devastation you feel when you come out and you’re completely bald.
“It’s about saying ‘I know what you’re going through, I’ve been through it’. There’s nothing like the chemo sickness, more with the leukaemia than the myeloma for me.
“Even steam from the kettle boiling was making me sick but if you pass that onto other people then you know that’s normal and it’s not just you. You’ve got to go through the horrendous part to get to the other side where you can hear ‘you’re cured, go away and enjoy life’.
“You forget what you’ve been through when you get to that point. I want to pass those words onto other people starting their day one, if I can do it, you do it.
“Part of it is fighting, you’ve got two corners. You can curl up in one and say life’s over for me or you can say each day is another day I’m going to live through it. Good has come out of bad for me as I’ve given those people hope.
“I do have down days, I always said I would be there for my dad because I was so close to him and some days i look at his picture and think ‘I wasn’t there for you’ but I had no choice so I go into my bedroom, have a good cry and then brush myself down and get on with it. My dad wouldn’t have wanted me to give up.”
Mrs Devlin was invited down to The Christie on Monday, September 26, to help the cancer charity Myeloma UK give the hospital a national award to recognise their work with myeloma patients.
The charity says 3,000 people in the UK die from the disease each year, but the hospital’s haematology team have made huge efforts to improve quality of life for patients, adapting their care to their needs.
After 30 years of visits, Mrs Devlin was over the moon to see the team rewarded for their work.
She said: “I’ve spent more of my life there than I have at home, it’s a lifetime when you think back to it all, they’re like a family, all my doctors then have retired but I have the same relationship with the doctors for the Myeloma that I had 30 years ago.
“People think the Christie is full of sadness but they should have a little walk around there, there isn’t a miserable face in the Christie.
“It’s just like being at home for me, I’ve got no fear at all. There’s a picture of me actually sat in the chair undergoing my transplant and I look back on it and want to cry because I look about 120 and I’ve got no hair.
“How can I come from that to just coming back from Benidorm a few weeks ago? This is what the Christie have helped me to do.
“Every time I go in there it’s just catch-up time for me, it’s ‘hi Heather’ from the moment I arrive. What is there to be fearful of? Each familiar face they’ve been with me for ages, which general hospital do you go back to familiar faces, the same people?
“I’ve got nothing but praise and whatever they’ve done, whatever award they win, they deserve everything. Every member of staff that deals with me they’re worth their weight in gold.
“Nothing is too much trouble and they’re available 24 hours a day seven days a week if you’re unhappy or you don’t feel too clever.”
Myeloma is hard to diagnose, as its symptoms are often quite vague and can be dismissed as signs of ageing.
Symptoms include bone pain, nausea, fatigue, frequent infections and weight loss.
Jess Turner, Clinical Practice Services Programme Manager at Myeloma UK, said: “To be able to present this award to the team on what is our charity’s 25th anniversary has made this occasion even more special and has allowed us to reflect on and appreciate how much headway has been made in the treatment of myeloma over the past two decades.
“Myeloma is a complex cancer which can be challenging to manage so having a national specialist cancer centre with state-of-the-art facilities on the doorstep is hugely beneficial for patients.
“The Christie’s clinical trials unit, in particular, makes a tremendous difference to patients’ lives as, over time, myeloma becomes resistant to treatments. This means they’re heavily reliant on new experimental drugs to keep their cancer in check.”