On 16 June 2015 my beautiful, brilliant wife, Rosie Choueka, lost her brief battle with secondary breast cancer. She was 38 years old, a mother of two little children, a wife, a daughter and a hugely successful City lawyer.
Rosie found a lump in her breast in June 2014. She had a lumpectomy and soon after began chemotherapy. But the cancer was aggressive. Less than a year after the diagnosis she died.
This week we celebrated Rosie’s life by honouring the wish she made in her final days by launching a charity, Secondary1st, to raise money for secondary breast cancer research.
Rosie was a super-woman. She achieved a double first in jurisprudence at Oxford University. She interned at the European Commission and then joined the law firm Linklaters. She rose quickly in the legal world. Aged 33 she became a partner at Lawrence Graham. In early 2014, she moved to Bristows as a partner.
As she built her practice Rosie somehow found time to have two children, run a household and make sure her husband knew which socks to wear in the morning.
She had a huge circle of friends who were very important to her. She loved birthday parties and was already planning her 40th bash, two years before the big day. That’s when the devastating cancer diagnosis came. We took strength from both her mum and best friend’s experiences of breast cancer. They had fought the disease and seemed to have beaten it.
After she found the lump Rosie underwent a battery of tests, surgery and chemo. She took everything in her stride, making sure that everyone around her remained optimistic. She continued to work, supported by a phenomenal group of colleagues. She still managed to run the home and be the world’s best mum. She loved nothing more than spending a day with the children, seeing them enjoying themselves.
She found an outlet through a private journal Fighting Genghis. At first Rosie wrote for herself, expressing her deepest, darkest feelings. At the end of her treatment for the primary tumour she published the diary online. The impact was immediate and dramatic. It became a phenomenon, attracting thousands of readers from all over the world.
After the first tumour had been removed and she had finished chemotherapy she found another, second lump in her breast; tests showed that it had spread to her liver. To say that this was a shock is an understatement. As with every other aspect of her illness, Rosie contemplated the likely outcomes and treatments. But above all she maintained a level of positivity which was truly remarkable.
In the devastating months that followed she tried and tried to beat this disease. Just a week before she died Rosie gave me a list of instructions to carry out after her death. Some were easy, like making sure I ate. Others less so. Setting up a charity to research secondary breast cancer was high on Rosie’s list. So we — Rosie’s parents, brother, her friends and myself — did it.
It’s obvious why we, as a group of family and friends, have chosen to put all of our energy and efforts into this cause. But for me it’s so much more. Beyond losing a wife to this wretched disease I also have a daughter. I want to know that this is never going to happen to her.
There is another pressing reason for the charity’s existence. Of the more than £10 billion spent globally on breast cancer research from 2000 to 2013 only seven per cent has been spent on research into secondary breast cancer. This isn’t enough. The more money given to this underfunded type of cancer the more likely it is that scientists will find a cure.
Each year in the UK 12,000 women die from secondary breast cancer; it’s the leading cause of death in women under 40 and is the second biggest cause of death from cancer in women.
I have spoken with researchers working for Breast Cancer Now. The challenges to researchers are enormous. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body it remains breast cancer. The way it interacts in each part of the body is different; how and why it grows in one part of the body as opposed to another isn’t fully understood.
What that means is there needs to be different focuses of research to address why breast cancer that spreads to the liver, for instance, behaves in one way and behaves in a different way when it spreads to the bone.
It’s too late for my beloved Rosie but it gives me and her family some comfort to know that through the work of Secondary1st we will keep her memory bright and help others.
If you would like to donate to Secondary1st please go to: Secondary1st.org.uk. If you would like to get involved with Secondary1st please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.