Nicole Little is one of Scotland's youngest breast cancer survivors
One of Scotland’s youngest breast cancer survivors whose mum died from the disease has been chosen as the face of a campaign to save lives.
Courageous Nicole Little - who was diagnosed aged 27 - is launching World Cancer Day in Scotland. She’s urging people to unite for World Cancer Day on 4 February by making a donation to Cancer Research UK or wearing the charity’s Unity band. The band is available online in three different colours- pink, navy and blue. It can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.
Supporting vital research means so much to ambulance dispatcher Nicole, who was just seven when breast cancer claimed the life of her mum Celine Mason at the heartbreakingly young age of 32. Today Nicole, who carries the faulty BRCA1 gene, known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, is determined to help uncover everything she can about that genetic link to cancer which has cast a shadow over her family’s life.
Nicole of Bathgate, West Lothian, said: “Most people are lucky enough to grow up with a mum but I was so young when cancer took my mum away.
“I still miss her every day and when it was me in the hospital room being told I had cancer, my first thought was for my mum. I feared at first it was like history repeating itself. I said to the doctor, ‘that’s what killed my mum.’ But the doctors quickly explained there have been huge advances in treatment for breast cancer since my mum went through it in the 1990s. My mum didn’t know she had the faulty BRCA1 gene as tests weren’t available to her then. That’s so unfair. They’re so much better at treating breast cancer today thanks to research, something which gave me hope. Now I want to support research, not just for me and for future generations but in honour of my mum too.”
In the 1970s, four in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer survived their disease beyond 10 years, now it’s around eight in 10. Cancer Research UK funded scientists played a vital role in the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Faults in these genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Thanks to Cancer Research UK’s work, women like Nicole with a family history can today find out whether they’re at increased risk and potentially take steps to prevent breast cancer.
Every year, around 32,400 people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland. By donating or getting a Unity band, people across Scotland will be raising money to help get life-saving research back on track after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cancer Research UK expects to see its fundraising income decline by a staggering £300m over the next three years, which could put future breakthroughs at risk. A donation means raising money for life-saving research and treatments which help give people more precious time with their families doing the things they love.
Nicole vividly recalls her shock when doctors told her she had triple negative breast cancer on 11 July 2019 at St John’s hospital, Livingston. She’d gone for tests after discovering a lump in her right breast. Determined to have a family of her own one day but concerned the treatment may affect her fertility, Nicole started IVF treatment at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary hospital, undergoing a series of injections over 12 days, stimulating the production of 14 eggs which were then harvested under sedation and frozen for the future. And on 9 August, Nicole had surgery to remove the tumour.
The results of genetic tests on 12 August revealed Nicole carried the faulty BRCA1 gene. Specialists estimate that around seven in 10 women (70 per cent) with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer by the age of 80. These genes also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
A course of six chemotherapy sessions which started on 9 September meant Nicole’s long blonde hair fell out. But her dad Andy Little, 53, was there to support her even during the down days.
Nicole said: “Dad helped me shave off my hair as it was coming away in handfuls every time I went for a shower.
“At times I felt angry with my life but my dad was brilliant. At night when I couldn’t sleep he’d get up with me and we’d talk. Other times we’d just sit and do a jigsaw together. I felt like a child again. Dad is bald. He’d say to me, ‘I always told you, ‘bald is beautiful’.”
Nicole was also supported by her best friend Kelsey Robertson,28. Nicole and Kelsey have been best friends for 21 years since they met on Nicole’s first day at Balbardie primary school when they were in the same class. Nicole started at the new school following the death of her mum on January 21 1999.
Nicole said: “The first thing I ever said to Kelsey in the classroom on that first day was, ‘Hello, my name is Nicole and my mum’s just died.'
“It was quite an introduction but Kelsey looked after me from day one. Years later after we’d grown up and Kelsey lost her own mum Christine to lung cancer aged 52, I was there for Kelsey. And when I faced cancer, Kelsey was right there for me again. She made me a glass jar full of inspirational quotes. Every day I had the chance to pick out a quote from the jar. It made a big difference. She really has proved my guardian angel- not once but twice.”
Nicole endured an operation to remove her ovaries on 19 January last year and on 28 March last year, just days after lockdown across Scotland started, Nicole had surgery to remove both her breasts followed by reconstruction.
Now back at work, Nicole is in remission. She’s written a poem about her experiences and believes going through cancer has changed her perspective on things.
Nicole said: “All my life I worried that I’d get breast cancer like my mum.
“I felt angry when it finally happened but I got through it and I’m still here. Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me. Now
"I’d like to make them all proud by doing what I can to help other families have more time with their loved ones. That’s why I want everyone in Scotland to mark World Cancer Day. Just by wearing a Unity band or making a donation, everyone can help make a real difference to people with cancer.”
World Cancer Day is an international initiative, uniting people around the world on February 4 to beat the disease. In the UK, cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress. But right now, research is facing a crisis where every day and every pound counts. One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime, which is why the charity is absolutely determined to continue to create better cancer treatments for tomorrow.
Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, said: “Covid-19 has hit us hard, so we are very grateful to Nicole and her family for their support, for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation.
“Our research has played a role in developing eight of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs. We’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone.
“By donating to mark World Cancer Day people in Scotland will be funding world-class research to help more people survive. Together, we will beat cancer.”