GENERATION AGELESS

Laura Ashurst from Stokesley turned 50 in October. She has lived with breast cancer for the past 16 years. She has far exceeded her original prognosis and is referred to by one oncology professor as ‘an exceptional survivor’.
GENERATION AGELESS: LAURA ASHURST

Generation Ageless is about talking to people who have made interesting life/work changes and have a positive attitude to mid-life, doing things differently, changing their pace of life, their priorities, reflecting on what’s gone before and the new opportunities and challenges to come.

Laura Ashurst from Stokesley turned 50 in October. She has lived with breast cancer for the past 16 years – ten of them with the incurable form of secondary breast cancer. She has far exceeded her original prognosis and is referred to by one oncology professor as ‘an exceptional survivor’, in the world of metastatic breast cancer; somebody who has survived ten years post diagnosis.

Before the diagnosis she was a lecturer in healthcare Hartlepool College of Further Education. Today she is a volunteer speaker for Breast Cancer Care and an Ambassador for Cancer Research UK for the Richmond (Yorks) constituency.

I used to do this…

My career until 2006 was in education. I worked as a senior manager at Hartlepool College of Further Education. I was a full-time working mum with two small children, permanently playing catch up whilst dashing up and down the A19 every workday.

Now life is about…

A much slower pace of life and minimum stress levels. I’ve been given something that is precious to people like me, and that is extra time that I never thought I was going to have.

Why and how I made a change…

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 34. My daughter Megan was three and my son Jack was six-months old. My husband Paul and I were shocked because we both naively thought breast cancer was a disease that affected people much older than me. I had a lumpectomy followed by 25 sessions of radiotherapy. I even worked through some of my radiotherapy because we were undergoing an OFSTED inspection and I thought I was superwoman.

Unfortunately another aggressive and more complex tumour developed in the same breast three years later. I was told that I didn’t need chemotherapy.

GENERATION AGELESS: LAURA ASHURSTAfter being diagnosed with breast cancer twice by the age of 37, I was forced to reassess my life and make some major changes; I left my lecturing post to set up a home-based complementary therapy business. I seemed to have finally found a balance between being a working mum, seeing more of my children and feeling fulfilled.

Then on December 12th 2007, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my life changed forever.

At 40, to be told I had developed secondary breast cancer in my lungs, the incurable form of the disease and that my life expectancy from that point forward would be approximately two years, changed everything forever.

My entire view of the world took on a completely different slant. Megan and Jack were ten and six. Our world fell apart overnight and Paul and my family had to support me as I entered a world of chemotherapy, anxiety and depression.

Family is all about…

The little things and the big things that happen within a family unit. Being there for one another through the highs and the lows and supporting and loving one another to the very best of your ability.

I’m lucky I can…

Live a relatively normal life with the treatment that I’m currently on. I’ve far exceeded my original prognosis. There are side effects to the drug I take such as, bone pain and fatigue. Cancer fatigue in particular is a poorly understood condition. It can be frustrating not being able to do everything I’d like to, but it’s nothing in comparison to the drug not working and having to start chemotherapy again. In fact, the discussion that I had with my oncologist in August centered around the next steps for me: the new generation of immunotherapy drugs that are now becoming available.

In the ten years that I’ve been living with secondary breast cancer, I’ve lost six friends to the disease. I look back with sadness that my friends’ breast cancer couldn’t be controlled in the way that mine is currently. It leaves you feeling very angry and afraid of what the future holds but I have a lot of help and support from my clinical psychologist, Dr Annie Hickox. Anger and fear is something to be worked through and I’ve reached a point in my life now where all I want to feel is gratitude and thanks for the extra time I’ve been given.

I’ve got time for…

My voluntary work as a speaker for Breast Cancer Care and as an Ambassador for Cancer Research UK, within their Cancer Campaigns division. Being involved in their Secondary Not Second Rate Campaign (which has highlighted the lack of secondary breast cancer nurse specialists), has helped me feel as though I’m helping others who live with secondary breast cancer. This disease can be very isolating.

GENERATION AGELESS: LAURA ASHURSTThings are different because…

I’ve been given something that is cherished in patients like me, and that is extra time. Time, that ten years ago, I was told I wouldn’t have; time to spend with the love of my life Paul, my two lovely children and my wonderful family and friends.

I live with a disease that’s incurable but I’m living through exciting times in the field of cancer treatments. If I look back 16 years ago when I was first diagnosed, there have been so many drug developments during that time. I try to remember that every day when I’m going about my daily life, there are scientists working in research labs in Newcastle, making crucial steps towards better understanding this disease.

A day in the life of me…

I wake up at around 6.30am and spend time with my son Jack before he leaves for college. I’ll go to my local leisure centre early. I’ve recently started blogging so I’ll try to get some words down. I like to include some meditation at some point in each day too: it helps me focus and think more clearly. If my husband is working from home, I often have lunch with him and then I’ll catch up on emails. I spend quite a bit of time reading. I like to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of cancer and health and wellbeing. Everything seems to take me so much longer these days and I’m always trying to remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

I might catch up with a friend in the afternoon or update myself on some of my volunteering work. I’ve recently started doing some personal public speaking too. I always like to check in with Megan, see how her day’s going. Evenings are usually spent relaxing and family time. My eyes close easily on the settee by 9.30pm!

The people who are important…

My husband Paul, my children, my siblings (Laura’s twin sister is the actress Liz Carling) and my parents, but it also includes my wider, extended family.

I also have very close friends who I enjoy spending time with. They have propped me up and helped me so much to cope, often with a good dose of humour along the way.

If cancer has taught me one thing, it’s to appreciate everybody around you. None of us can exist in isolation. I have a whole team of people who help me to be Laura. This also includes the staff at The James Cook University Hospital and The Friarage Hospital. I will always be grateful to them too.

Work/life balance…

Is crucial and without it you soon come unstuck. All of us think we are invincible to a certain degree and then life has a way of reminding us we’re not. Advice to my younger self would be to take care of your wellbeing. You have one mind and body; look after it.

I thrive on…

Being able to wake up each day, say ‘thank-you’ and whatever the day throws at me, it’s a day I’m grateful I’ve had.

What mid life means to me…

Reaching 50 when I never thought I would and having the chance to celebrate this milestone with my twin-sister. Being 50 is wonderful. Many of my friends didn’t get the chance to see their 50th birthdays and that’s a sobering thought. At my mid-life, there’s not much point in worrying about anything any more.

My biggest dream has been achieved: to see my children grow to be young, happy adults.  Everything else is a bonus. I want to be able to look back at my life and say it was well lived and that worrying about my future and being anxious didn’t get in the way. It’s that time of year, when I’m looking forward to watching one of my favourite films, It’s a Wonderful Life and to smiling and thinking, it is indeed!


Laura has recently started blogging at: lauraashurst.com

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