Woodbridge mum Kirstie Boxall tells story of rare cancer diagnosis and her journey to swimming the length of the channel and back for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals
A Woodbridge mum who overcame a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer has vowed to support the hospitals which saved her life.
Kirstie Boxall was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at Ipswich Hospital in April 2017, which is considered to be more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer as it does not respond to the usual treatments.
"It was a type of breast cancer I wasn't familiar with at all," the 55 year old told Suffolk News.
"Obviously when you're told that you've got breast cancer it's not very good but then they say in the next breath that it's one called triple negative so it certainly doesn't make you feel very good."
Kirstie was then put on a specialist trial study at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, which later saw her accepted for a trial drug - olaparib - to treat the disease.
"I was so lucky. I went to Colchester Hospital and met with the team which was brilliant," she said.
"I found out then I was on the trial drug and every extra bit just fills you with more positivity.
"They were so brilliant in Colchester as well so I just thought I'm not going to look at the internet I'm just going to put myself in their hands and that's what I did. I put my blinkers on and just went from there. It was an absolute rollercoaster."
Kirstie, who lives with her husband David and 18-year-old son Adam, then had a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy - a process which seeks to determine if the cancer has spread - and a Picc line - which is used for long-term antibiotics and medication - inserted.
The following nine months saw Kirstie undergo 15 sessions of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy to remove the tumour, a partial breast reconstruction surgery, and 24 sessions of radiotherapy.
"They were brilliant at Ipswich Hospital because when everything was finished, they wanted me to be happy with the way I looked," she said.
"I went back for a check-up after the operation and they were so kind in how they spoke about how you felt and how they could improve that."
Following her treatment, which left her exhausted and weak, Kirstie was determined to find a way to get back to her 'normal self' and joined Ipswich Hospital's Helping to Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) course.
"I wanted to try and regain my strength and that was just what I needed when I finished the treatment," she said.
"Visits to hospital becomes such a big part of your life for so long and it is almost like it's your safety blanket.
"When it all finishes you really are left floundering and it's very difficult psychologically to come to terms with everything because the last thing you want to do is worry or talk to your family about it because they've been wonderful throughout it and you don't want to put another burden on them."
Kirstie decided to swim the length of the English Channel in aid of the Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals' Blossom Appeal - which seeks to raise £1.2million to build a state-of-the-art Breast Care Centre.
"I was going to swim 19 miles in a month but with another looming operation, I had to swim 138 lengths in just 17 days," said Kirstie, who undertook the challenge in the swimming pool at Ufford Park Hotel in February 2019.
"I managed to swim the 19 miles and then I thought this is daft, in the virtual world I'm stuck in France so I might as well swim back to England. So I decided to swim another 19 miles back again."
And she was so dedicated to the cause that Kirstie delayed her final operation - a lipofill reconstruction surgery - in order to reach her goal.
"I raised over £3,000 and it was fantastic to be able to do that and get that sense of purpose back again," she said.
"It's nice to think that other people will be able to benefit from it and it was my way of saying thank you to all the wonderful people who were involved in my treatment and aftercare as well."
Kirstie added that she still can't believe all that her body has been through since that day almost four years ago on which she was diagnosed.
"I find it quite unbelievable. I find it difficult to look back because it's someone I don't realise was me," she said.
"I was on automatic through it and obviously felt so awful that you just focus on getting through it. It's not until now that you start processing it all and starting putting it all together.
"When I swim now, I think how on earth did I manage to do that feeling the way I did and with the restricted movement? There's a lion inside me definitely."