When Jen Hardy’s voice turned to a “papery whisper” she went to the doctor thinking it was a throat infection.
The Edinburgh mother-of-two was told she had laryngitis and that she should rest.
But after five weeks of hardly being able to make a sound, she returned to her GP and was sent for a hospital scan.
The 54-year-old told BBC Scotland she was in Dubai on a work trip as a university timetable planner when she received a call to say she had stage four breast cancer.
“I wrote it down on a piece of paper while I was on the phone and was stabbing at it with a pen and mouthing to my colleague, I have this,” she said.
“And even when I was told it was incurable I still didn’t appreciate what it meant.
“I had lost my voice for weeks but I never thought that it would be cancer and had no concept of the urgency when I was told to come straight home.”
She was on a plane four hours later.
People had been saying they could not hear her and asking her what was wrong with her voice but she had no idea it was down to secondary cancer that had spread from her chest.
She said: “I didn’t have any lumps in my breasts and had no idea anything was wrong. There was a small lump near my collarbone but I had just thought it was a knot in my muscle.
“I always checked my boobs and had never found anything that would flag up breast cancer to me.
“So to hear I had advanced breast cancer, I couldn’t understand it.”
Doctor’s injected a filler into Jen’s vocal chords, which had become paralysed with a tumour. It has returned her voice back to almost full strength, although she can no longer sing.
When she was diagnosed with cancer in October 2017, she was told she would only have two or three years to live.
She said: “I thought I was going to die and that I only had months to live, and so did my family.
“My concept of cancer was you either get cancer and you are cured or you die, I had no idea about living with it.”
She had chemotherapy from November 2017 to April 2018 and radiotherapy from October 2018.
And now, after recent tests following new medication, she has been given several more years to live.
She said: “It feels so surreal, mind-blowing to suddenly have a future.
“When I was first diagnosed I felt robbed. I had to leave my job, think I wouldn’t see my kids graduate, and I had been looking forward to going travelling.
“So to hear I now have years and years is incredible. I don’t think I will make it past 60 but I’m thrilled I get some future and that it won’t all be about cancer, treatment and hospitals.”
Jen has now joined a cancer fitness class, goes for facials and is looking forward to several events next year.
They include a trip to Italy that should have taken place last year for her daughter Carys’ 21st birthday, but was cancelled due to lockdown restrictions.
She will also be delighted to see Carys graduate from Dundee University next summer.
“I’ll be the proudest mum and in floods of tears. It will be so momentous as I never thought I would reach that day,” she said.
She is also looking forward to a rescheduled Lionel Ritchie concert in Edinburgh next summer that she thought she would never make.
“I might not be able to dance as I get very tired, but I’ll be there in my wheelchair,” she said.
“That’s the most important thing, that I will be there.”
Jen’s main aim over the next few years is to launch Cancer Card, a one-stop shop for everything you need when you are diagnosed with cancer.
It will have links to charities, shops that sell items such as mastectomy pillows, and support services.
She said: “It will be the Google of cancer.
“I have found so many amazing charities over the last few years that help to improve the lives of those affected by cancer and others who give free chemo boxes full of items you need.
“It has taken me a long time to find them all and I want to have a place where others can go to find all the information very easily. I don’t know why there isn’t one already.”