About me

My name is Irene Tuffrey

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in April 2014, aged 50, following investigations for a breast lump. The cancer is still in the early stages, I was told. The outlook is very good, I was told. I believe that it is.

I live in London with my husband and children. At the time of diagnosis, my son was 16 and my daughters were 14 and 10. I come from the Netherlands but have lived and worked in England for more than 30 years.

I started this blog because it is an easy way to keep family and friends up to date. I have been overwhelmed by the love, concern and interest they have shown.

And I started this blog because I found myself brimming with words, stories and reflections. I have always made sense of challenging stretches on life's journey through writing.

Writing about cancer, death and dying is also my job. I am a nurse by training. I have worked in palliative care, and I have worked with people who have intellectual disabilities. For over a decade, I have done research on the cancer and end-of-life care needs of people with intellectual disabilities. I have even written books about their experiences, focusing on these questions: What is it like to have cancer? and How can we help people to understand and process bad news? If you are interested in my work, you can find out more on my professional website.
(Professionally, and in all my publications, I use my full name: Irene Tuffrey-Wijne. Twitter @TuffreyWijne)

When cancer has entered my own personal life, it seemed only natural to turn the spotlight on my own experiences. The research method I love best is ethnography. Like an anthropologist, I have been trying to understand cancer experiences from the inside, trying to become one with the natives.

Now, I have truly become a native in cancer-land. I cannot help myself being an observer, but now I am also the observed.

This blog is the most personal writing I have ever done, and the first publication that has not been scrutinised by editors or peer-reviewers. 

There are stories about the cancer journey itself, with all its highs and lows; about a healthcare professional who has suddenly become a patient; about how a stuffed owl has helped not only my children but also myself to make sense of it all; about love, friendship, loss and life.

This blog journey starts at the death of my mother, four days after my mastectomy. Somehow, these two major life events have become inextricably connected.

I finished writing this blog three years later, in the summer of 2017, when I had well and truly emerged from cancer's trials and tribulation. When Owl had cancer.

You are welcome to comment or share these stories. I am writing mostly for myself, but if it helps you too, I am glad.


Eight years after my initial breast cancer diagnosis, and all the treatments to remove it, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again. A new cancer, it seems, in the surviving breast. So... after a happy absence of several years, I picked up where I left off. A much more seasoned patient this time.

You can read about the new cancer here. I really do hope (and believe, and trust) that I can put this cancer behind me just as effectively.


  1. Irene,

    With much love and good wishes for you from Australia.

  2. Irene, strong woman!!
    You are helping us with your experience.
    You are an example for every single woman.

    Very best wishes

    Esther Carapeto Moreno

  3. Hello Irene, I am so sad today about the Malaysian Airlines flight. My thoughts are with you again, this time for you and all your home-country people. With warmest wishes and thoughts to you, Michele


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