Published on 02 October 2019
As a fit, fun-loving, salsa-dancing mum, Liz da Silva never dreamed she would be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45.
But in April last year, despite no family history and no symptoms beyond a lump that her boyfriend first felt, she was given her devastating diagnosis.
It was the start of a journey into the unknown that would see Liz face 16 draining chemotherapy sessions, the news that she had a faulty gene that increased the risk of her tumours returning, and an operation to remove both her breasts.
Throughout it all Liz, who lives in Herne Bay, kept a journal and now can’t believe how far she has come.
She said: “You truly don’t know how strong you are until you simply have to be.
“During my treatment when I had lost all of my hair and put on three stone I wondered if I would ever again look in the mirror and smile. The answer is yes, I can.
“I would like to say to other people facing the same journey: there is life after cancer, chemo, radiotherapy and surgeries. You will have a new normal. You will be a new you. Be patient. Be strong. Life can and will get better.”
Liz, who is mum to 15-year-old Jack and lives with him and boyfriend Chris, paid tribute to her surgical team and the specialist breast cancer nurses at East Kent Hospitals.
She said: “From the very start I felt looked after and felt genuinely cared for. My wellbeing mattered to them and I was very grateful.
“They made me feel safe and looked after and that I was important. They genuinely care about your wellbeing and are truly amazing people.
“To this day I feel extremely lucky to have been looked after by them. They made this experience that much more bearable, and there is nothing I can ever do to repay their kindness.”
Liz, who works as an events manager for a hotel, had her chemotherapy treatment at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, starting two days before her son’s 14th birthday.
She said: “I didn’t cry telling Jack I had cancer. I don’t know how! He kept asking if I was going to die and I told him I wasn’t, even though at the time I didn’t know if that was true.
“It was so difficult to see the impact it had on the people I loved, but I was so grateful for the support of Chris and my friends and family.
“I had never been ill before and now I felt so vulnerable and scared. Friends and family gave up their time to take me to hospital week after week for seven months for my treatment and I am forever in their debt.”
An initial scan during Liz’s treatment showed the lump had gone, but another scan two weeks after she finished chemotherapy revealed it had come back.
She said: “I couldn’t believe I had been through all that and it was back. I was already booked in for a double mastectomy because of the genetic disorder, and the team said not to worry, but that was impossible.
“My life had been turned upside down and I was still so scared. There was no guarantee of what the future held.
“I cannot put into words the fear I felt but the care I received helped me cope.”
The surgery, including reconstruction, took place in January this year, and Liz needed a further operation in July as one of the implants reacted badly.
But she was back at work two weeks later and continues to grow stronger every day.
Her next goal is to get back to salsa dancing with Chris, and to enjoy a family holiday with him and her son.
She said: “There were some days that I regretted the surgery because of the pain afterwards and how low and frightened I felt.
“I longed for the whole experience to have been a bad dream.
“But I have survived, and every day is getting easier. It was Chris who suggested I kept a diary and when I looked back at it, it made me cry but also smile, to realise how far I have come.
“It was so useful at the time to be able to clear my head of all my worries and fears
“Sometimes I sit here and forget what I have been through. I can never repay the medical teams who saved my life, but I can perhaps help others by sharing my story.”