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Nurse Debbie’s pedal push follows brave cancer journey

An Addenbrooke’s cancer nurse and keen cyclist has come through the most complicated ride of her life.

Debbie Pitfield, from Chrishall, was diagnosed with cancer in December last year.

She embarked upon a journey “with many ups and downs, quite a lot of potholes and one big mechanical failure”.

Now, having completed what Debbie has labelled her ‘Tour de Cancer’ by getting clear of the disease in March, she is preparing to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats for Cancer Research UK and has already raised over £4,300.

Cancer nurse Debbie Pitfield with bike
Debbie Pitfield

Debbie said: “The treatment I had has been completely changed by research, so has the type of surgery I had, how you do the biopsies, the fact I only had radiotherapy for five days rather than three weeks.

Without research we don’t move forward with treatments. We’ve come a really long way, but we’ve got a lot further to go.

Debbie Pitfield

“A cousin has recently died of cancer and I think that just highlights how, although we’re curing a lot more people, we still need more research to find out how to treat others better.”

Debbie attended a routine three-yearly breast screen at Trumpington park and ride on 24 November. An area of calcium was found on her left breast, so a biopsy was carried out and an appointment to discuss the results made on New Year’s Eve.

I knew the moment I went into the room this was cancer. I picked up on the body language of the consultant and specialist nurse as I’ve been on that side of the fence many times. As I heard my diagnosis, I felt like I was watching myself from above as well as desperately trying to take all the information in so that I could tell my husband, Ian.

Debbie Pitfield

Further testing revealed additional areas of concern, so an MRI scan and what was a fourth lot of biopsies by this point were booked for 20 January. Debbie explained:

This was the big mechanical failure,” said Debbie. “The scanner had broken down, so my MRI had to be rescheduled. This day was truly awful. I had a big meltdown and sobbed my heart out. I went home and just vegetated on the sofa, feeling very out of control and lost. I have no idea what I watched that afternoon on Netflix.

Debbie Pitfield

Debbie eventually got the scan and biopsies the following week, but the results were indeterminate. It was decided she would have surgery on 9 February, by which time she had undergone 64 scans. The surgery involved removal of the cancer and sentinel lymph nodes, surgical biopsy of the indeterminate lesions and bilateral mammoplasties. She said:

I received the best news ever on 4 March - my cancer was gone! It was so good to tell Ian and the children this news. I felt exhausted, but also elated and had the best night's sleep.

Debbie Pitfield

To reduce the risk of the cancer returning, Debbie underwent radiotherapy in mid-April and will take letrozole – a drug for which Cancer Research UK played a leading role in underpinning research – for the next five years.

Debbie added: “Throughout this, the care from the breast unit at Addenbrooke’s was outstanding and I felt safe and confident in the excellent care I was receiving.”

She is now looking forward to cycling the UK with Ian, beginning on 13 September, and “lots of crazy challenges” thereafter.

In the meantime, Debbie, formerly part of the Cambridge Cancer Trials Centre team, overseen by the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, has just started a phased return to her role as a specialist nurse looking after neuroendocrine tumours at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Debbie and Ian Pitfield
Debbie Pitfield and husband Ian

Debbie will be turning 60 on 19 September, a date that will also mark her and Ian’s 35th wedding anniversary, and by “sheer fluke” the couple are due to ride through Gretna Green that day.

They will be joined by others on the ride that is being organised by the Royal College of Pathologists in celebration of its 60th anniversary.

The riders together have so far raised over £15,000, with Debbie leading the way.

To sponsor Debbie go to fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/post-fc-challenge.