The young terminally ill mother who may not see the other side of self-isolation


A brave young mother with terminal cancer wants to make the most of her time by moving Christmas to Easter.

Rhiann Breen also plans to bring her the aquarium she was supposed to visit Max for his birthday in July, and she writes letters and cards to read to her children when she is no longer here.

The 31-year-old Newport woman must check her bucket list at home because she is concerned that the coronavirus epidemic will see her spend the rest of her life in isolation.

It all started when she first felt a lump in her left breast while examining a bruise caused when her three-year-old son Max jumped on her while they were playing together. She never dreamed that it would be something sinister.

But in August 2019, while still breastfeeding her three-month-old daughter Isobel, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

With Isobel

Rhiann was breastfeeding Isobel when she was diagnosed
Rhiann was breastfeeding Isobel when she was diagnosed

Former retail team leader, married to Gavin, a young 32-year-old worker, tried to fight the disease with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy – but tragically, it has now spread to his lungs , his bones and his brain.

In early March, she had three to four months to live and started making a bucket list – but her plans were dashed when she found out that she was considered extremely vulnerable, so she had to self-isolate for 12 weeks under public health advice regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rather than losing her mind, she does everything she can to continue making priceless memories with her family at home, by moving Christmas to Easter weekend, bringing the aquarium home that she was to visit Max for his birthday in July. and write letters and cards for her children to read when she’s gone.

Last week, she wrote a powerful blog post about her situation, saying, “Imagine seeing online messages telling you that you are in the vulnerable category, you have to be in solitary confinement for 12 weeks – which I think , is equal to the rest of my life.

“Imagine having to tell an extremely large percentage of your family, as well as your lifelong friends – most of whom are front-line workers – that you will never see them again, and those who do not put their own health in jeopardy. danger have a list of extremely strict rules to follow if they wish to see you before moving on.

“Imagine using this time to plan your own funeral knowing that no one will be able to attend.

“Imagine that you want normality for your children so much right now, because absolutely everything in their innocent and carefree life is about to change seismic level. “

Rhiann creates special memories for his children
Rhiann creates special memories for his children

Previously fit and healthy, Rhiann lived an idyllic life with her husband and two young children.

Then she was playing with Max one day when he jumped on him, accidentally punching her in the chest.

A nasty bruise was left on her left breast – and, one day examining it, she discovered a 3 cm bump.

Tests followed, including an ultrasound, and on August 16, 2019, doctors announced that she had breast cancer.

“At the time, I was still breastfeeding Isobel. It sounds stupid now, but one of the most difficult parts of the diagnosis was knowing that I should stop, “she said.

“I felt like I had learned so much from Max. I knew what I was doing with Isobel, and it was a way of bonding. “

Rhiann with husband Gavin
Rhiann with husband Gavin

Shortly after her diagnosis, Rhiann underwent a biopsy to confirm exactly what form of breast cancer she had.

The results showed that it was triple negative, which, according to Cancer Research, is when cancer cells have no receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or for the protein Her2.

Compounding around 15 in 100 breast cancer cases in the UK, symptoms include a change in the size, shape or feel of the breast, dimpling of the skin, change in the nipple as it becomes inverted or irregular shape, blood-stained discharge from the nipple, rash or swelling in the armpit.

“I thought it best not to search a lot online because it wouldn’t be good for my mental health,” said Rhiann.

“It is such a shame that research on the triple negative does not seem to go as far as other breast cancers. This must desperately change so that other families do not experience what we are. “

Then Rhiann, who was tested and does not have the BRCA1 gene mutation which can sometimes increase the risk of breast cancer, underwent a computed tomography scan, which revealed more shocking news.

“There were a total of three bumps in my chest – the one I felt, plus two more,” she said.

“The scan also revealed spots in my lung. They were too small to be biopsied at this point, so the doctors said they would monitor them with progress tests. “

The family plans to hold a Christmas party on Easter Sunday
The family plans to hold a Christmas party on Easter Sunday

From there, Rhiann started chemotherapy, which left her nauseous and exhausted.

“I tried to be strong, but you get those moments when you ask,” Why me? “” She remembers sincerely.

“The nausea was overwhelming. The only thing I could do was try to sleep her.

“In the end, I went to my general practitioner and I was put on antidepressants. I knew I could get therapy too, but there was a long wait and I needed something that could help me right away.

“I always felt physically sick, but with them, at least I didn’t cry all the time. “

In two weeks, Rhiann’s long black hair began to fall, so, to regain a flap of control, she decided to shave it in September 2019, Gavin doing the same out of solidarity.

Little Isobel didn’t notice the change and Max quickly got used to her new bald appearance.

“When I decided to shave, I already bought a wig, but I took it off one day and Max said,” No, mom “,” she said. “He just needed a moment to get used to me, because in a few minutes he was fine, he didn’t want any more hugs. “

Halfway through chemotherapy in late October, Rhiann underwent a progress analysis which showed that the bumps in her breast had halved and that some spots in her lung had completely disappeared.

“It seemed like my body was really reacting to chemo. Everyone was confident that I would be able to survive for many years to come, ”she said.

But then another scan after her last session on December 27 revealed that, tragically, the disease had spread to her breastbone.

Rhiann and Gavin with Max
Rhiann and Gavin with Max

For the first time, Rhiann’s life was limited in time as doctors gave him a 10-year prognosis.

“It was horrible to hear,” she admitted. “I started thinking about all the things I was going to miss, all the milestones, the Christmases and the birthdays.”

To give Rhiann the best possible chance, the doctors decided to have a mastectomy before having her undergo radiation therapy.

But, with her immune system virtually nonexistent, she continued to suffer from chest infections, leaving doctors worried that she might not be strong enough for surgery, and worrying about the healing time could delay the rest of her treatment.

Then, when she felt one of her breast lumps grow, she had an analysis in February, which revealed that the cancer was active again in her bones and lungs.

“They told me it meant that my prognosis was only a year away,” she said. “Just like that, I lost nine years.

“My mastectomy was to take place the following week, but it was decided that I might not be strong enough and that healing time would delay everything else, so I continued with radiation therapy right away. “

Watch our video to discover the symptoms of breast cancer

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So Rhiann started having weekly sessions, which meant spending two hours in the hospital each time.

Fortunately, she was able to stay home the rest of the time to be with her children.

Then, in early March, she started having daily headaches.

“It was like a pressure headache, but just in one area, which was really unusual,” she said.

Worried, she spoke to her oncologist, who arranged an MRI scan – which also revealed that the disease had spread to her brain.

“My brain scan was the same as my lung scan – covered in small spots,” she said. “I worry about what cancer in my brain will mean for things like my ability and my memory.

“This disease has taken me so much already – will I also become a completely different person? “

Rhiann writes letters for his children
Rhiann writes letters for his children

Worse still, Rhiann’s test results have meant that his prognosis has declined again, and now he has three to four months left.

She continued, “I was destroyed by this. I cannot understand that my children will grow up without me.

“Isobel is so small that she won’t even remember me, and Max may ask me at first, but he’s still so small too, so someday he will stop. “

To create as many special memories as possible with the time remaining, Rhiann quickly began to create a bucket list, which included things like a last visit to Weymouth, Dorset – a place that contains many childhood memories of family vacation – and a trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

However, since she is still undergoing cancer treatment that compromised her immunity, she is considered a vulnerable person, so she was advised to self-isolate for 12 weeks to protect herself from the spread of the coronavirus.

“It basically means spending the rest of my life in isolation,” she said. “I didn’t go out much anyway, because my immune system is so compromised, but now people can’t even visit me, and things like traveling abroad or going out with family are unlikely to happen. “

Now Rhiann is figuring out how to check her bucket list at home.

Max with his father Gavin in an aquarium
Max with his father Gavin in an aquarium

Instead of taking Max to the aquarium, she plans to bring it to him by buying him a fish and an aquarium to keep it.

She will also be hosting Christmas and Easter the same weekend, where the family will have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, as well as an egg hunt in the garden.

She was supported by the incredible kindness of a group of friends, whom she never met in real life, but linked with on Instagram.

The network of women across the UK has created a GoFundMe page to help them create as many special memories as possible, as well as ease the financial burden on their family after their death.

“I never even met these women in person. I was so blown away by them, “she said.

“The money will really help with things like keepsake boxes that I want to make for the kids, with cards and gifts from me for the birthdays that I will miss.

“I’m thinking of making them engrave something for their 18th birthday.

“It would also help if Gavin and the kids want to take a break when they’re allowed to travel again, to forget everything.”

The young family had so much love and support
Family with Rhiann Christine and John’s mom and dad, brother Ryan and girlfriend Sarah

Rhiann has also been overwhelmed by the support of local businesses, who send her things to do on her own, such as DIY kits and kids’ activities, and help her find ways to complete as much of her list as possible.

By sharing her story, she also wants to encourage other women to check their breasts and be aware of the changes to watch for.

“This is the purpose of all of this,” she said. “I can’t change my own story – but maybe I can change someone else’s. “

To donate, visit the fundraising pager here.


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