Brave terminally ill woman (27) comes to terms with harsh reality

Mandie Stevenson and pug Frank surrounded by her family  dad John, mum Pauline, sister Nicola, twin brother Gary and sister-in-law Laura, back right. Picture: Michael Gillen
Mandie Stevenson and pug Frank surrounded by her family  dad John, mum Pauline, sister Nicola, twin brother Gary and sister-in-law Laura, back right. Picture: Michael Gillen

Mandie Stevenson is a young woman on a mission – and one who is determined to do all she can to stop others going through her ordeal.

The vivacious 27-year-old has terminal breast cancer.

The lump that she initially thought was “nothing” has spread this horrible disease to other parts of her body.

When she was told in September 2015 that her life expectancy was five years, but probably less, she was determined not to waste a moment.

She drew up a bucket list of things she wants to do and places she wants to see, and thanks to support from family and friends, most have already been ticked off with additional ones added.

But even more important for Mandie is her determination that women of all ages should be aware of all the warning signs of breast cancer and act immediately to get treatment.

She has already worked with Breast Cancer Now, the leading charity in its field in Scotland, to raise awareness, and backs its TLC campaign – touch your breasts, look for change, check anything unusual.

“It was just before my 26th birthday when I first noticed my lump,” she explains, “but I didn’t know how to check myself. I used to lie on my stomach and felt something was different but thought it was just tissue.

“After a couple of months I started getting some pain and decided that I better get it checked out, but still never thinking it would be cancer.

“I went to my GP in Polmont and was referred straight away to Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert for a biopsy. However, showing how naive I was, I still never thought there was anything to worry about.

“A week later I returned to the hospital for the result. My mum was with me and when they said ‘you have cancer’ I thought this can’t be happening to me. I’ve just turned 26.

“I was sent for a scan to check the rest of my body and when those results came back I was told it was also in my liver and it was terminal.”

She admits that she went into a “bubble” when she first received the devastating news, initially struggling to cope with the implications.

But quickly her determination and the support from her family and tight-knit group of friends, many from her schooldays at St Mungo’s High in Falkirk, have helped her cope with what lies ahead.

In the last 18 months she has faced six bouts of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a mastectomy, as well as having to take daily medication which has seen her have to deal with an early menopause.

“Most of the time I don’t feel unwell and I try to lead as normal a life as possible.

“I’ve had to learn to live with a lot of change but losing my hair and my breast hasn’t changed who I am. I’ve also not lost my confidence and believe people have to take me for who I am, not that I have cancer.”

She is so determined that other people know what signs to look out for she has been encouraging everyone she knows to check their breasts, even allowing her friends to feel her lump to understand what to look out for.

“It’s so important and I don’t think, particularly young women, are aware of the signs.”

Mandie has continued to live in her Falkirk home but returned to her family in Redding for spells after treatment sessions and surgery.

Mum and dad, Pauline (54) and John (51), twin brother Gary, sister Nicola (23) and sister-in-law Laura have also been forced to come to terms with the harsh reality of her diagnosis.

“It’s not been easy for anyone but my family has been great. They keep me feeling strong and we are all determined not to waste any time. But we want to be as normal as possible.”

She has also had the support of her bosses and colleagues at IFDS, formerly Prudential, in Stirling, where she continues to work four days a week.

“Initially I thought about giving up work, but then realised that I wanted to keep as focused as possible on normality – and I needed the money to help do everything I wanted.

“I’m trying to lead a normal life but also have check-ups at hospital every three or four months. They’ve discovered the cancer is also in my sternum so that’s something else to deal with.

“All the medical staff have been great – they said I’m one of the youngest people diagnosed with breast cancer that they’ve had to deal with in a while, although I believe recently someone else who is very young has started treatment.”

Looking ahead, Mandie said: “Planning my future is very difficult. Cancer can be very cruel.

“My mum and dad always say take one day at a time, stay positive and good things will happen. That’s what I have to believe.”