A young mom who feared she had the virus but discovered she has terminal cancer is raising money to buy her family a pet dog to comfort them when she has gone – after being inspired by the hit Netflix show After Life.
Told back in July 2018 that she had beaten stage three breast cancer after 18 months of grueling treatment, with her inimitable humor, full-time mom Beth Pitt-Roche, 25, celebrated by dyeing her hair purple and going to a music festival.
But, in March this year, after struggling with a relentless cough, fearing she had the virus, she was tested twice, but the negative results prompted further investigations, and in April a CT scan confirmed her cancer was back and is now in her hips, spine, liver and lungs.
Nick, Eden, Indigo and Beth (PA Real Life/Collect)
Beth, a former law student, of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, who has a son, Eden, six, and daughter, Indigo, three, with her husband Nick, 28 – now her full time carer – said:
“I told the doctors to give me the news straight."
“They told me without treatment I had up to eight months left to live – it was indescribable."
“It was heart-wrenching. I couldn't catch my breath, but I didn't cry."
Eden, Beth and Indigo (PA Real Life/Collect)
“All we have as a family is the day ahead now and that's how we live our lives. I don't want to dwell on what I can't change."
Now having targeted therapy, which doctors expect to prolong her life from the five to eight months she would have without treatment to at least another five years, Beth has one four-legged item on her bucket list – a French bulldog.
“During lockdown, we binge watched 'After Life' on Netflix, in which a man, played by Ricky Gervais, loses his wife to cancer."
“The only thing that keeps him going is her dog, Brandy. It was amazing seeing how much the dog helped him cope."
“Obviously, it's just a TV show, but I talked to Nick about it and, after doing some research, decided that's what I wanted us to do – get a dog."
“Knowing that the family will have the unconditional love of a devoted dog when I'm not here is a reassuring thought."
Back at the end of 2016, the plans Beth is making now would have seemed incomprehensible.
Married to the man of her dreams, on September 28, their second child, Indigo, had arrived – a happy and healthy 7lb 9oz bundle – at West Suffolk Hospital and life seemed pretty perfect.
But her world came crashing down after she noticed a small lump on her left breast.
Beth has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was in the kitchen one day talking to Nick and my hand was just drawn to it."
“I felt it and straight away thought, 'That's weird,' and booked in to see my GP the next day."
Beth was told that the lump was most likely hormonal, having recently given birth, and that she should return if it grew any larger.
Beth embracing her bald do (PA Real Life/Collect)
In a matter of weeks, with the lump getting bigger, she revisited her GP, who referred her to the breast clinic at West Suffolk Hospital, where she had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
“I remember looking at the ultrasound and the lump looked like one of those novelty lamps – a plasma globe – you'd see in a museum."
“That, combined with the look on the nurses' faces, meant I just knew it wasn't going to be good news."
Eight days later, on March 1, 2017, Beth's suspicions were confirmed.
“Nick and I were sat in the waiting room," she said. “The wall was full of cancer posters and leaflets."
“They played Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars' twice in a row and I felt like I was losing it – I almost got up and left."
“When they told me it was cancer all I could muster was, 'It can't be – I've just had a baby.'"
“I couldn't even look at Nick for support. I've never seen someone look so broken before in my life."
Told she had an 8cm tumor in her breast, the biopsy also revealed that the cancer was stage three and that she had tested positive for HER2 – a protein that causes cancer cells to reproduce faster than normal.
Beth undergoing chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Collect)
With just 14 days before she started chemotherapy, Beth started explaining to Eden, then three, that his Mommy was “very poorly."
“We decided not to use the word cancer. You can't shelter your children from everything, but I wanted to do whatever I could to protect Eden from this."
“I simply told him, 'Mummy has a poorly booby.' That's all he needed to know."
Starting chemotherapy on March 15, Beth had cancer-fighting drugs administered once every three weeks for four months.
Plagued with nausea, bone ache and a dry mouth throughout the treatment, when Beth started to lose her hair she thought of an inventive way to explain it to Indigo, then six months old.
“I went online and found some images of all the Disney princesses with bald heads," Beth recalled.
Beth dyed her hair purple after being given the all clear from cancer the first time (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I wanted her to know that with or without any hair you can still be a princess."
After finishing chemotherapy, Beth then had a two-hour lumpectomy at Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital on August 1, 2017 – her husband's birthday.
“Nick was nauseous all day and we thought it was nerves," she said.
“But when we got back we realized he'd eaten some eggs by accident. He's quite allergic, so he spent the whole evening throwing up."
“It wasn't his best birthday, but at least that bit wasn't my fault!"
A week later, told that they had successfully removed the tumor, Beth began 17 sessions of radiotherapy, over three weeks, to “mop up," any leftover cancer cells.
Wiped out from the treatment, with Nick then working full-time as a health and safety manager, Beth relied on friends and family – including her mom, nursing student Kate Welford, 42 – to help.
“If it wasn't for Mum driving me to the appointments or helping out with the kids, I don't know how I would have coped."
“It made such a difference for the children, especially Eden. I don't think he even realized Mummy was sick. He was too distracted having fun with Nana and making things with Play-Doh!"
While her radiotherapy ended in September, it was not until July 2018 that Beth's treatment ended – when she stopped having injections of Herceptin – a form of targeted therapy used to control the growth of cancer cells that contain high amounts of HER2.
“I felt like I'd lost out on so many moments and memories with the family," she said.
“Fun days out, holidays and quiet time at home. I don't like to think about all the things I missed out on, it's endless."
Beth and Nick (PA Real Life/Collect)
Vowing to make the most of life after treatment, Beth focused on ticking “crazy little things," off her bucket list.
“I dyed my hair purple, went to Reading festival and relished spending time with the kids."
At her yearly check-up, in September last year, she was given the option to have a double mastectomy – a preventative measure to guard against further breast cancer – and decided to go ahead.
Explaining her decision, Beth said:
“I'd always known it was an option and, after a year to properly think about it, I decided it was the right thing to do."
“Indigo was old enough to go to nursery and Eden had started preschool, which meant I was not running around as much."
Going under the knife on November 20, 2019, Beth had both breasts removed and reconstructed.
A bra size 36F for most of her adult life, Beth was shocked when she first saw her new 36C breasts, saying:
“Doctors said because my skin was quite tight, and I didn't have much weight on me, they couldn't go any bigger than a C-cup."
“I'd been an F cup for as long as I could remember and having big boobs was part of my identity, in a way, so, for a few weeks, it felt like I'd lost a bit of my femininity."
Still, always a positive thinker, Beth now felt ready to grab life by the horns.
But, after developing flu-like symptoms over Christmas, instead she was relegated to bed, completely exhausted.
“I couldn't believe how ill I was," Beth explained. “I was full of a cold, I had a high temperature and fever and it felt like I was going through chemo all over again."
With no sign of the symptoms alleviating, at the end of February, she was told she had a chest infection and given antibiotics.
“I really did think I just had a nasty cold or flu," she continued. “I thought my immune system had taken a battering."
But, as news of the global pandemic started to hit headlines, Beth grew worried that her symptoms might be a result of the virus.
“One second I'd be like, 'Oh my god – what if it is,'" she recalled. “The next I'd be calming myself down, telling myself there's no way I could have had it since Christmas."
Sadly, when she did have a test, doctors discovered it wasn't a virus that was laying her so low – but, rather, cancer was now working its way through her body.
Following her diagnosis, Beth had five rounds of chemotherapy, which finished at the end of May, and she is having Herceptin injections again, every three weeks, which she will take indefinitely.
“We've all been stuck at home because of lockdown and, in a way, it's been amazing."
“Having quality time with Nick and the kids 24 hours a day, every day."
It was during lockdown that Beth came up with the idea of getting a dog, to provide her family with the affection they will miss from her when she passes.
And her friend Karis Nurse, 25, launched a GoFundMe page with a £3,500 (~$4,390) target – enough to buy Beth's dream dog, a French Bulldog.
Beth and Indigo (PA Real Life/Collect)
With the page already surpassing its initial goal, Beth said:
“I try not to think too far into the future."
“Although I do feel physically unwell every day, some days worse than others, the more I focus on having a positive outlook, the more empowered I feel in myself and that in itself makes me feel healthier."
“Sadly, I won't be here forever. I haven't told the children yet."
Beth and Nick (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I will tell them in time, and I will know in the moment when that time has come, but until then, they don't need know."
“Knowing that there will be a little dog here for Nick and the kids to cuddle up to at night when I'm gone is a real comfort to me."
To donate to the fundraiser, visit here.