As a £600,000 appeal for a dedicated Breast Cancer Unit is officially launched, one survivor has spoken out to prove there is life after cancer for those who come through the treatment.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011, Nikki Bregazzi underwent months of chemotherapy, an operation to remove a tumour followed by four weeks of radiotherapy.
But determined to get back to fitness she achieved her goal this year of competing in a triathlon in Ramsey - and then this month made it to the finishing line in the End 2 End mountain bike challenge.
Last week, she presented a cheque for £2,100 to the Manx Breast Cancer Support Group, the charity that is leading the fund-raising for the new cancer unit.
Nikki said from her home in Braaid: ‘I was diagnosed with breast cancer on November 3, 2011, a day I’ll never forget as so many things changed in my life, and my family’s, from that day on.’
She started eight cycles of chemotherapy on December 4, each cycle lasting three weeks. ‘I think my last cycle was one too many and to put one foot in front of the other by the end was a huge effort. I had no fitness at all,’ she said.
Chemotherapy was followed by an operation to remove the tumour and 20 sessions of radiotherapy. Her last treatment was on August 1 last year and it was then that she started her recovery to fitness.
She said: ‘My breast cancer doesn’t just affect me. It is far reaching and affected my husband, parents, sister, children, friends and work colleagues.
‘Sometimes you have to be the one supporting your friends and family as they need assuring.
‘I needed to get back to fitness to feel like a “normal” person and not a cancer patient. In my experience the best way to achieve something, be it sport or any activity, is to set yourself a goal or a challenge, which gives you a focus.
‘At the gym all I could manage at first was a minute on the treadmill and a few light exercises. My muscles were completely trashed by the chemotherapy. Every time I went back to the gym I could do a little bit more and that’s how I gained my fitness by taking things very slowly and steadily increasing the weights and length of time.’
Nikki’s first goal was to compete in a sprint distance triathlon which entailed a 750m swim, 20km bike ride and a 5km run.
She achieved that goal in May this year in an event in Ramsey run by the Manx Tri Club. ‘I didn’t win any medals but don’t think I embarrassed myself either,’ she said.
‘I ended up being fitter than I was prior to my cancer, meeting lots of lovely positive people and most importantly “feeling normal”. “What next?” I thought as that feeling of achievement gives you such a ‘high’.’
Nikki’s husband William, known as Wig, had ridden the Manx End 2 End mountain bike challenge the previous year, gaining a top 100 position, which entitled him to start at the front this year.
She said: ‘Wig offered to ride with me. I also wanted to “do my bit” for breast cancer care in the Isle of Man so I spent the summer training for the event.
‘True to his word Wig stuck with me, despite riding a new bike that he was itching to go fast on! He couldn’t resist, however, on the faster downhill stretches, saying “if you’re ok I’ll see you at the bottom”.’
From an entry of 1,700, 1,450 people started the race and the Bregazzis came across the finish line 753rd, in a time of 5 hours 44 mins.
Nikki, mum to Ellen, 13, and five-year-old Poppy, said: ‘I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve done but the best feeling ever when I’d finished it – and no, I’m not doing it next year!’
She added: ‘As strange as it may sound, the experience of cancer for me has given me an opportunity to live a better life and I feel lucky for that. Each morning I wake up is a bonus and I’m so grateful that I’m around to be a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend to those around me.
‘As all cancer patients will understand, I still live with fear of a recurrence but it does seem to get easier as the months pass. The support I’ve received from my friends and family has been so amazing and has meant so much.’
Nikki said she would like to thank everyone who had made a donation to her End 2 End fund-raiser including sponsor Equiom.
Cancer surgeon Millie Bello is the brainchild behind the plan for a dedicated Breast Cancer Unit.
Health Minister David Anderson has given his support and his department will cover the cost of relocating the audiology department to free up space for the facility.
Anyone who would like to make a donation to the appeal is asked to contact Manx Breast Cancer Support Group chairman Julie Stokes on 484950.
Alternatively, you can send a cheque to MBCSG, c/o Mrs Anne Dowds, Treasurer, 4 Victoria Avenue, Onchan, IM3 1BD.