North East Connected

Young mother scales the heights to battle breast cancer


A University of Sunderland lecturer who has overcome breast cancer is preparing to embark on a challenging trek across the Indian Himalayas to raise awareness of the disease.

Rachel Makin was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2022. This was devastating news, as a young mother of a two-year-old she knew the impact of cancer more than many. Rachel lost her mother to the disease when she was a four-year-old and lost her father to cancer when she was only 11.

Now, two years on from her diagnosis Rachel has been given the all-clear and is about to set out on the adventure of a lifetime to raise awareness of breast cancer among young people – both men and women. In November, Rachel will be trekking across the Indian Himalayas in support of the CoppaFeel charity.

“People think that breast cancer is an older person’s disease, and it’s not,’ says Rachel, from Darlington. “I was diagnosed when I was 35, but I caught mine early.”

In April 2022 Rachel was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and started six months of chemotherapy in June 2022. She had a lumpectomy in January 2023, then radiotherapy, and is on medication for the next five years.

“The result of my surgery was that I’d had what they call a “complete pathological response” which means I’m now cancer free. But it was a long old year!”

Rachel returned to the University in September 2023 and started teaching part time as an Academic Tutor in the Hospitality, Events, Aviation & Tourism (HEAT) team. She has just finished her first full academic year of teaching following her cancer diagnosis.

“You’re supposed to check your breasts once a month, but to be honest I was never very good at checking. I found a lump when I was in the shower, but I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I did go to the doctor because of my family history.

“My mum died of breast cancer when I was four, and her mum died of ovarian cancer. Because of that I was referred by my doctor within two weeks, and discovered I did have breast cancer.

“I also lost my father to cancer when I was 11-years-old and it was just me and my older sister Katie. When I got the diagnosis my first thought was “How can I tell Katie”. It was just awful, and the thought of going through chemotherapy and not being able to look after my daughter Robyn, who was only two at the time, was so hard.

“But part of the message of CoppaFeel is advocating for yourself. You know your body, you know your normal, and you’re the person who will notice something that is different, not your doctor.

“I wanted to do the trek because I think CoppaFeel are such a great charity and a great advocate for young people. It’s five days of trekking, and we’ll be going to around 2,800 metres. The trek is called ‘CoppaTrek with Gi’, as Giovanna Fletcher will be taking part as one of four celebrity trek captains.”

Writer and presenter Giovanna Fletcher is best known for the parenting podcast, Happy Mum, Happy Baby, and as winner of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here in 2020.

“Coming off the back of my cancer treatment my fitness levels were very low, so since January I’ve been working to get my general fitness better,” says Rachel. “The tallest ‘mountain’ I’ve ever climbed is probably Roseberry Topping, and that was a fair few years ago! Now I’m six months away from the trek, so I’m getting out a lot more and doing some hiking in the Lake District, and hopefully Ben Nevis this summer.

“I’m so thankful that I found my cancer early and my treatment was successful – I want to help raise awareness and money, so other people who find themselves in a similar situation have the best possible outcomes, and that’s through early detection. I’m grateful every day for charities and campaigns like CoppaFeel.”

CoppaFeel are on a mission to stamp out the late diagnosis of breast cancer by making sure that young people are regularly checking their boobs, pecs and chests and getting to know their bodies in order to have the confidence to see their GP if something just doesn’t feel normal.

Rachel is raising money for CoppaFeel. You can sponsor her on her ‘CoppaTrek’ adventure to the Himalayas through her Just Giving page.

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