Mum thought she’d slipped disc during Zoom yoga but it was return of cancer
A mum who thought she had slipped her disc during a yoga lesson on Zoom was devastated to find out her aggressive cancer has returned.
Katie Okonkwo, 34, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2019 after finding a lump.
The mum-of-one underwent treatment and just when her family was preparing to put it behind them, the cancer returned.
During lockdown earlier this year, Katie was given the devastating news that the disease had spread aggressively and despite every treatment the NHS can provide, she is running out of options.
A new drug, Trodelvy, has been launched in the USA designed to tackle solid tumours like hers.
And in the hope of getting there before time runs out, Katie has launched a GoFundMe campaign because, she says, her life savings won’t cover the cost.
At the time of writing, more than £23,000 have been raised out of her £50,000 target.
Katie, whose maiden name is Thomas, was on maternity leave when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2019.
She said: “I was 32 years old with a 10 month old baby and a husband who worked away. I was fit and healthy and training to be a yoga teacher. I had no family history of breast cancer at all.
“They started to say words like ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘hair loss’ and I just couldn’t believe they were about me. I’d never heard of anyone my age having breast cancer.
“I had no idea that I was supposed to check myself for lumps regularly in my 20s and early 30s.
“Initially, I focused on losing my hair and my appearance changing. I still catch myself in the mirror sometimes and think ‘What happened to you?'”
She was told her type of cancer, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, typically responds well to chemotherapy and began treatment for it.
She got through it and celebrated with a family holiday in Marrakech thinking they could put it behind them.
Nine months later, though, she started to get pain in her hips, groin and legs.
She said: “I thought it may have been a slipped disc as I’d been teaching yoga on Zoom a lot during lockdown.
“The doctors thought it would be nothing serious, but sent me for a scan anyway, as I’d had cancer before.
“A couple of days later, we heard the worst news imaginable. That the cancer was back and had spread to my pelvis, spine and liver. I remember calling dad in the corridor and telling him I didn’t want to die.
“Luckily, a new targeted immunotherapy treatment had just that week been approved for my type of cancer, called Tentriq. I was on that for six months before it stopped working.
“This is the thing with stage 4 breast cancer; you stay on a treatment until it stops working and then you move onto a different treatment. And having that option is extremely important.
“Your options are your hope and buy you time for more drugs to be researched and approved.”
She heard about Trodelvy in the USA and began researching it.
She hopes to raise enough money through the GoFundMe page to be able to get the treatment which is offered in Houston and Chicago.
She said: “Of course, like any treatment, we don’t know for definite it will work, but as soon as I read about it, I knew I needed to have it in the bag as one of my options.
“I knew it would be expensive. We still don’t know just how much it will be but from our estimates our life savings won’t cover it.
“I put off setting up the Go Fund Me page for a while because I just didn’t want to ask for money. It didn’t seem right.
“But one night, as I was bathing my little girl, I just thought I’m going to give it a go so that she knows that I did everything. My drive to survive for her is so strong. It’s my only job now.
“I was blown away with the response. The donations, the messages, the shares on social media. The names I saw appearing, old school friends, old colleagues, people I hadn’t seen for years giving me what they could. It was like everyone I’d ever known started rallying round me, rooting for me.
“Cancer takes so much from you, but this week, seeing the goodness of people and what can happen when people come together. We still have a way to go, but it’s given me hope.”
Katie left Teesside eight years ago and moved to Manchester where her doctor husband Oke had a job.
She worked as an English teacher there for seven years before the couple moved to Cheltenham at the start of 2020. Their daughter Ariela is now two.
She has written three children’s books during lockdown and has continued practising yoga – when she was diagnosed with cancer, Katie was in the middle of a yoga teacher training course.
“Staying positive is not always easy or even possible. In fact, it’s unrealistic. For a month after my diagnosis I struggled to get out of bed. There are still dark days, dark thoughts.
“I allow myself to feel them, but I try not to get stuck in them for too long. There comes a point when you think, I’m still here and I’ve got to get on with my life! I still have so many things I want to do,” she said.