As part of our Tickled Pink breast cancer charity campaign we're encouraging everyone to regularly check themselves for anything unusual – and Sarah-Jane Christian from our Bromborough store says she's the living proof of how important that message is.
Checkouts colleague Sarah-Jane, who's 47 and has worked part time at the store for 30 years, was getting changed for work at the store early one morning when she saw one of Asda’s signs and symptoms posters explaining how to check, and decided to act on it. She felt a pea-sized gristly lump and thought she'd better get it checked out.
She said: "I knew it was important to check myself because my mum has twice had breast cancer but I didn't do it as often as I should – partly because I was busy but also because I was a bit scared of what I might find.
"I cycle to work, so I was getting changed and the Tickled Pink poster telling everyone to check themselves was facing straight in front of me. It inspired me to check while I was there, and I felt something.
"That was at 4am, so I couldn't do anything right away, so I just carried on with my shift as normal. When I finished work I phoned the doctor's, they asked me to come in. It was during the Covid pandemic so I wasn't sure whether I should leave it and also because I would have had to leave work early and I didn't want to let anyone down. I wasn't really sure if there was anything there, but I went, and that decision was so important as it turned out I had stage two breast cancer."
She had an operation within two weeks of her diagnosis in September 2020 and after 15 sessions of radiotherapy she was given the all-clear in January 2021.
She said: "I often wonder 'what if' – what if that poster hadn't been there when I was getting changed; what if I hadn't decided to call the doctor; what if I didn't leave work early to go to the doctor's. There are so many little points where things could have gone in a different direction for me."
Sarah-Jane, who has two grown-up children, Travis and Owen, works during the week for electrical contractors The Rosebery Group and volunteers for Childline. She's also studying for a degree in psychology and counselling at the University of Chester.
She said: "It was such a whirlwind, having the operation two weeks after my diagnosis. I was worried about the kids, but just wanted to keep everything as normal as I could.
"You get this weird strength from dealing with everything that's thrown at you; something inside you feels really empowered knowing you can get through it.
When it was all over and I had time to reflect and think I started to worry that I had got off too lightly and that something would come back, but I got lots of support and aftercare to make sure I was dealing with it. My two fantastic boys, a group of close friends and my family gave me so much support too – it really meant a lot. I have to say the NHS were amazing as well and the staff at Clatterbridge Hospital were different class."
Sarah-Jane took part in a special photoshoot for this year's Tickled Pink T-shirts alongside some celebrities and other women who have also had a breast cancer diagnosis. She says she was inspired by her mum Jane, who's twice had breast cancer, once when she was 32 and then again in 2012. She's since made a good recovery.
"My mum's fantastic," said Sarah-Jane. "She was a massive inspiration for me and just thinking how she's coped with going through this twice is amazing."
Sarah-Jane says the support of her family and colleagues, especially Anne Loughlin, made a huge difference to her throughout her experience.
She said: "Asda were so great. They sent me cards and flowers and Anne left me lots of stuff on the doorstep, and even made scouse, which was so sweet and thoughtful.
"Going back to work after my radiotherapy was so good because it was normality. They really looked after me, phasing me back in; they were fantastic.
"I love my job at Asda and have always enjoyed working there. I really like the interaction with customers and love seeing them leave smiling. It's really rewarding, and there are people there who have grown to know me and say they notice when I'm not there. A lot of customers were asking, 'Where's Sarah-Jane?' when I was having my treatment, and that's really nice to know that they noticed I wasn't there.
"I think my breast cancer story all comes back to Asda. If that poster hadn't been there I don't know where I'd be now. I am so grateful for it. It made a huge difference to me. The lesson I've learned is not to be scared of what you find, and the earlier you get it dealt with the better. The treatments are so advanced and finding it earlier is really important."