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Leanne Pero: A Breast Cancer Survivor
Leanne Pero is an award-winning Dance entrepreneur who founded her community dance company, The Movement Factory at the tender age of 15 years old. Leanne shares her story about being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the end of 2016.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush, unfortunately we have found cancer.”
Those were the words my breast cancer consultant used to break this horrific news to me on October 20th, 2016. She was also the same breast cancer consultant who had told my mum the same thing just six months earlier. In that split second, as I sat with my younger brother and best friend, listening to the doctor’s declaration, I knew my life as I knew it, this moment would never be the same again.
“Wait. Hold on – me? Are you being serious? I’ve only just turned 31! I wasn’t expecting this – I didn’t see it coming. Mum has had this twice – the second diagnosis was just a few months ago. My uncle’s wife and my next-door neighbour have also just been diagnosed?!! And now me?? Am I going to die?? Is my life over ?” were the questions I asked myself.
I remember asking “What about work? what about university? Am I going to lose my hair?”
Then there was the surgery talk and what the best course of treatment was for me – full removal of my breast (a mastectomy)? Lump removal (a lumpectomy)? And they told me the worst of it – the cancer wasn’t present in just one lump, there were many particles surrounding the main one, so a full mastectomy of my right breast was the best course of action. I remember in that appointment saying, “Just take it off – I just want them both off. I want the cancer gone.” But as I learnt, it wasn’t as simple as that.
Next up on the consultant’s agenda was the fact my mum had breast cancer twice. Her first diagnosis was at 35, a similar age to me. I was told to consider genetic testing – that would provide me with more options when it came to the surgery, as I needed to think about the potential of it coming back in the future, like it had with my mum. Then the issue of my fertility came up. I was advised to freeze my eggs if I wanted to start a family. I remember thinking “why didn’t I have children sooner? Why didn’t I settle down when I had the chance?”
As a result of my diagnosis, over the 18 months that followed I endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, 18 injections of Herceptin, more than 100 hospital appointments and I had three operations to remove both my breasts after being advised to have a bilateral mastectomy. I gave up so much and had constant, anxiety-filled panic attacks. The breaking point through all this came when I lost my eyelashes and eyebrows because before I lost them, I admit they were some of the only things that were making me feel womanly and this loss along with my head of hair made me struggle to look at myself in the mirror. I used to wake up and before I faced anyone including the postman, I would get a full face of makeup on, pop on a wig, draw on my eyebrows and stick on a set of fake eyelashes, truth was underneath the bravado, bravery and positivity I presented - I felt ugly, I felt inhumane and I felt worthless.
I was given the all clear on June 29th, 2017!
In March 2018, I set up the Leanne Pero Foundation to house various cancer initiatives aimed at mentally supporting the cancer community during and after treatment. My first project, Black Women Rising, was born a few weeks later – a free, safe, friendly open access meet-up group aimed at getting more BME female cancer patients connecting and talking about our cancer experiences, to aid our recovery process, spread some much-needed cancer awareness amongst our communities and educate some of the UK’s leading cancer care organisations including the NHS about our needs.
We must face up to the likelihood that cancer is something that will affect us all either directly or indirectly at some point in our life time. So, let’s start the necessary conversations about cancer awareness within our households, because cancer doesn’t exclude regardless of race.