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Racing for research – Lucy and Suzie’s stories of running the London Marathon for the ICR


Completing a marathon is no easy feat – but this year two of our #TeamICR runners who took on the London Marathon had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in the past five years. They tell us what cancer research means to them.

Posted on 01 May, 2024 by Lucy Shepherd and Suzie Hammett

Lucy wearing an ICR vest poses in front of the Trafalgar Square pond with her medal

Image: Lucy celebrates with her London Marathon medal. Credit: Lucy Shepherd

Lucy’s story

Lucy works in the quality assurance team in the Governance Office at Mount Vernon Hospital and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Lucy ran the London Marathon this year in just over four and a half hours.

“The ICR is really close to my heart. For five years before I was diagnosed, I worked for the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Greater London, and we’ve run a lot of the ICR trials for many years. I personally benefitted from the output of that during my cancer treatment. It was always on my mind that if I ever did the marathon, I would run it for the ICR.

“Over the past several years there’s been a mixture of sadness and hope for me. Sadness because I’ve lost two close friends to cancer but hope because after being diagnosed with breast cancer I’m still here and I’m still alive. All the treatment I’ve had, and that standard of care is due to research.

“To me that shows what we can do. But the fact that my friends have died, and we couldn’t do more for them shows what we have left to do.”

Progress in research has been remarkable

“I’m here and, had I been diagnosed twenty years earlier, I can’t say that I would be alive or living without evidence of disease. That’s remarkable and I think people need to see that side. Working in clinical trials, I’ve seen the progress that has been made and all the changes in standard of care.

“I was diagnosed at the end of 2019, about six months before the pandemic. I had chemotherapy first because I had quite a lot of disease, I had more than one tumour and I had a node affected. I was diagnosed as triple positive – so this means you win the treatment lottery and get every treatment available – I work in clinical trials but I’m not clinically trained so there was a lot to learn.

“As I finished treatments, except for the targeted treatment Herceptin, we went into lockdown. I had the last few sessions of chemotherapy on my own and my operation was delayed. I had been scheduled for a full mastectomy and partial reconstruction and I had that about a month later. Then I had an implant infection, and then more drug treatment.

“Around that time we found out there was a change in the standard of care, and it was then possible for me to then receive another drug, Kadycla, which is also known as trastuzumab emtansine.”

My treatment had to be stopped

“Then they discovered I was going into heart failure due to the Herceptin, which was really scary. But I recovered from that, even though my heart function had been significantly affected.

“It took time though and I was on cardio-protection medication for about four years and have come off that now. My heart has completely recovered, so much so that I was able to run the marathon.

“But the heart failure meant I couldn't have breast cancer treatment. That was all stopped for a while. When I recovered, I had radiotherapy and started hormone therapy. The only thing I'm on now is extended duration hormone therapy.

“It’s full circle for me – in my role at work I’m aware of the SOFT (Suppression of ovarian function) trial that the ICR’s Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit led on in the UK, and it has been pivotal in recommending particular types of hormone therapy for patients – in fact I’m now on that treatment.

“It really does bring it home that even just 10 years ago, I would have had different treatment and a different outcome. It's amazing to see the changes.”

Lucy in a foil warmth cape wearing an ICR vest smiles to the camera at the London marathon finishing line

Image: Lucy with her medal at the finish line. Credit: Lucy Shepherd

Still a long way to go

“But there’s still a long way to go. Another reason I wanted to support the ICR was because of the number of cancers that their researchers are investigating – including rare and difficult to treat cancers. One of my friends, Nicola, my oldest friend, died of head and neck cancer. She had a potentially curable but aggressive cancer and also suffered from quite severe Crohn’s disease, so couldn’t receive the full treatments.

“It’s about more than developing one particular drug it is about looking at people’s individual situations and what treatments they can tolerate – it’s about quality of life as well and I know that’s something the ICR is very aware of.”

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Suzie in an ICR vest, shorts and yellow cap runs the London Marathon

Image: Suzie at mile 12 of the London Marathon. Credit: Institute of Cancer Research

Suzie’s story

Last year, Suzie Hammett, 56, decided to check her breasts ahead of a routine mammogram. She was shocked to find a lump. Here, Suzie spoke with us ahead of the London Marathon and shared how a test, which was trialled by researchers at the ICR, played a pivotal role in shaping her treatment journey.

“We’re an active family. We do a lot of sailing, skiing in the winter and we’re keen runners. As far as I was concerned, my name wasn’t on the list for cancer.

"I don’t usually check my breasts, but I had a mammogram appointment coming up, so I thought I should. I felt a lump, so I went to the GP straight away.

“I was referred to see a breast consultant. She reassured me that she thought it was probably benign, but that I should have a mammogram and ultrasound. The tests showed that I had very dense breast tissue which was making it difficult to identify the lump.

“I had an MRI and another ultrasound which were all inconclusive because of the density of my breast tissue. So, I had to go for a biopsy under ultrasound. The appointment was on my birthday. I got given the news that the lump was benign as the consultant thought, but they’d found something else. There was an invasive form of cancer elsewhere in my breast. This means it had started to break out of the cells.”

A period of deep uncertainty

“In many ways I was lucky, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. If it wasn’t for the lump I’d found, I would’ve never had the investigative procedure which found the cancer. From there, I was thrown into a world of MRIs and CT scans while they worked out whether it had spread and what type of breast cancer it was.

“I went through a period of deep uncertainty when I had to put my life in the hands of my medical team. I had a lymph node removed from under my armpit so they could biopsy it to see whether the cancer had spread.

“At the beginning of May last year, I had surgery to remove the cancer which was successful. They removed a 30mm ball of cells and they found another area directly next to it which they also took out. I went into a period of recovery. I was told I would need some more treatment, but it would depend on the histology of the cancer and the results from the lymph node.”

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Suzie and her husband Paul run together along a country road

Image: Suzie and her husband Paul in training. Credit: Suzie Hammett

Genomic testing to make treatment decisions

“Ten days later I went back to the hospital and was told it had spread to one of my lymph nodes. I was looking at having to go through four months of chemotherapy. I was put under the care of an oncologist, and I was sent for a genomic test, called Oncotype DX, which predicts how likely breast cancer is to spread or reoccur if you take hormone therapy. It helps doctors make decisions about the treatment that will most benefit you.

“While we waited for the results, I had a port fitted ready for chemo. After three weeks, my recurrence score came back and it was low. This meant that due to the type and spread of my cancer, chemotherapy wasn’t the right course of treatment for me. The oncologist recommended a month of daily radiotherapy.

“I was put on hormone therapy, aromatase inhibitors, which reduce the amount of oestrogen being produced in my body which can lead to cancers growing. I also have a bisphosphonate infusion once every six months. This protects against rogue cells going into my bones and osteoporosis which I’m more prone to as a side effect of the medication.”

Research changed the course of my treatment

“Were it not for the Oncotype DX test I would’ve probably been through 16 weeks of chemotherapy which would’ve put extra pressure on my body; physically, emotionally and mentally. The research that came up with that test completely changed the course of my treatment.

“With tests like these, medical teams can measure the risk and reward of different treatments. The more research there is, the more tools there are to provide nuanced treatment for each person. It means people don’t need to go through unnecessary treatment."

Making peoples’ outcomes more bearable

“When you’re going through a cancer diagnosis, the anxiety and uncertainty is very difficult to live with. Walking really helped me and when I felt up to it, I returned to running.

“When I was diagnosed, my husband Paul had joked about us doing the London Marathon. I’ve run it twice before, but with my diagnosis and treatment, it seemed a huge task. But research into cancer has meant so much to me, that I was determined to give something back. So, we signed up to run for the ICR. Our daughter Jess is running too and between the three of us we’ve raised almost £7,000.

“At Christmas, I could only run three miles. But we’ve upped our training and I’ve done a 20-mile run. One way or another, I will get my legs around that course. When you’re raising money for a worthwhile cause, there’s that extra push for why you’re doing it. I’m trying not to get nervous. It’s such a huge privilege to be in a position that I can run it. I’m just going to go and enjoy the whole experience.

“I’m now in remission and I see my oncologist every six months. I’m still on medication for the long term and have the infusions for the next three years. I’m so thankful that the advancements in breast cancer research are so great, that every step forward is making peoples’ outcomes more bearable. That’s why we’re so driven to support cancer research and the ICR to do all they can.”

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clinical trials breast cancer London Marathon events runner cancer survivor genomic testing
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