As part of this year's Tickled Pink campaign, which raises awareness and funds for charity partners Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel!, we're highlighting the different experiences of our 'Real Self Checkers' – like our Dundee Kirkton store's wonderful community champion Sam Will.
She's normally right at the heart of her store's activity, but this year will be different as she's currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer herself.
Sam had established a regular routine of checking herself after helping to spread the word as part of our Tickled Pink campaign, and it was while doing her checks that she noticed her skin was dimpling, which she knew was one of the signs to watch out for.
She said: "I was in a good routine of doing my checks every month and put reminders on Facebook for all my friends to check. Then one day I was in the shower and felt something that didn't feel right. It was right underneath, so was a difficult place to find but when I looked in the mirror and lifted my arms my skin was like orange peel. Dimpling is one of the signs to look out for, as it's caused by the tumour pulling in your skin."
Sam was seen by her GP and referred to a breast clinic for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. She was diagnosed with grade two invasive ductal carcinoma and was scheduled to have a lumpectomy to remove the tumour and one lymph node. When Sam went for the operation, doctors discovered the tumour had grown and found a smaller tumour hiding behind it, then when they saw the lymph nodes, they decided to take three out as they looked a bit different. When the pathology of the tumour came back it was upgraded to grade three. Sam's since been having chemotherapy – and has six more sessions to go.
She said: "What my experience shows is that the Tickled Pink messages are right. I can't stress how important it is to check. I understand why some people are scared and don't want to know, but getting into the habit of doing these checks will stop that fear and make it all much more normal. And for most people, most of the time, things will be absolutely fine."
Sam, who's married to Stephen and has three children – Dylan, 22, Emma, who's 18 and also works at the store, and 16-year-old Evie – says she's determined to use her experience to get everyone into good habits.
She said: "I have been very open about it with all my friends and family about checking because I want them to understand that you need to know your own body. It's only by being familiar with how things normally look and feel that you can notice if there's something different. If there is anything different please get it checked out as the earlier you catch it the better.
"I sometimes think what if I didn't have this job and didn't know what to look for, or hadn't been in the routine of checking myself then who knows how different things might have been for me."
Breast cancer can affect anyone, and our Real Self-Checkers like Sam reflect different experiences of the disease, including primary and secondary breast cancer, male breast cancer, breast cancer in different ethnicities and in different age groups.
Now in its 27th year, Asda Tickled Pink is one of the UK’s longest running corporate charity partnerships and aims to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer charity partners Breast Cancer Now and Coppafeel!. The 2023 Tickled Pink range will see over 200 pink products from over 50 different suppliers hit the supermarket shelves, and online, including the George clothing range and Asda own label lines.
Sam is pictured at the top of the page before her diagnosis with former nurse Pam Woodfield, who's become a friend after getting to know her in the store during her Tickled Pink events. Pam has made an excellent recovery after her own breast cancer diagnosis two years ago. And after Sam used to take her to her treatment Pam's returned the favour by supporting Sam.
"Pam drove me to the clinic and took me in to the appointment,'" said Sam. "She was such a calming influence, telling me what would happen. It's a real role-reversal, because I was doing that role for Pam last year."
Sam's still keeping a close eye on the store's Tickled Pink activity, and has even been popping into the store at quiet times of the day so she can see this year's Tickled Pink range, as well as managing her community budget to help local charities, groups and good causes.
She said: "I live just five minutes from the store. This is my community as well. Everybody – colleagues and customers – want to speak to me and know how I'm doing. Emma's always coming home saying who's been asking after me that day.
"Estelle from Home Start, a local charity I work closely with at Christmas, has organised for a group of girls to come in to do a sponsored bag pack for Tickled Pink for me on the 28th, and I really want to do as much as I can to raise awareness even though I'm not there in person. I want to have a table at the front of the store to tell people about doing their checks."
Sam is full of praise for the staff at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee who've been caring for her.
"The nurses have been amazing," she said. "In the chemo ward the nurses know exactly what's going on and how to stop it. Every time I mention a side effect I'm feeling they come back with an answer. The speed and efficiency they do things with is incredible. If you're feeling down in the dumps they don't let you feel sorry for yourself and are always positive."