I found out I had breast cancer when I went for a routine mammogram when I turned 50.
You could moan and say what a rubbish birthday present, or you could say the diagnosis has given me the greatest gift in that I’m still here – and I definitely take the latter view!
I didn’t have the faintest inkling there was anything wrong until I got a letter confirming my appointment. The letter said to check yourself, so I did. As I was doing it I thought ‘Ooh what’s that on my right?’.
I went for my mammogram a week later. I mentioned the lump and two weeks later I had a biopsy, where they found I had grade two cancer in my left breast. I was then sent for an MRI scan and they found I had grade three cancer in my right breast.
I had a full mastectomy and lumpectomy, but I haven’t had to have chemotherapy. I was one of the first people to have the Oncotype DX test that’s been in the news recently.
The results of my biopsy were sent off to Chicago, where they analyse your sample and score you from 0 to 100. If your score’s low they say you don’t need chemo. My score was 11, even though my cancer was grade three, so that meant I didn’t need chemo and now I’m taking tamoxifen tablets.
Hearing that there are potentially lots more people who can avoid going through chemo because of this test is wonderful news and it’s amazing to think how much of a difference it will make to so many lives.
After my experience I’m on a mission to tell everyone who’ll listen just how important it is to check your breasts and to have these tests when they’re offered by the NHS.
I’ve got a friend who’s the same age as me who didn’t want to go because of the news I got. So I was saying to her, “Don’t be stupid, get yourself checked out. How would your grandkids feel if you popped off just because you didn’t get yourself checked?'
She was scared, but did it, and luckily her results have come back all clear. It’s made me realise how much it helps being able to share experiences and show that you can come through it, so I don’t stop nagging people now.
I've worked at Asda Abbey Park for 10 years – I'm on the deli and fish counters – and I have to say they've been the best ever to me. Darren Burrage, the manager at the store, has been fantastic, ringing me to see how I am and telling me not to worry about work. I even got a hug and a kiss off him – and nobody gets that! He’s been absolutely lovely.
It’s been great having the support of my husband Mark and daughters Danielle and Emma too. Mark made out he was really strong but I could see he was so low when I was diagnosed. He was trying so hard for me, but when you’ve been together for 33 years you can’t really hide things like that.
Although I’m still hurting, I’m hanging in there. I’m a fighter and I won’t allow myself to be down – I’ve got a lot to look forward to.
Store manager Darren Burrage writes: Sarah’s been through a lot, but her positive attitude and fighting spirit shines through. She’s a lovely lady, a very good colleague, and we could all learn a lesson from her positive way of looking at life.
Your health’s the main thing you’ve got to look after and thinking of what she’s been going through is a daily dose of humility and a reminder of what’s really important. Sarah’s got so many friends at Asda – the colleagues here have a real sense of loyalty to each other – and we’re all looking forward to seeing her back in the store.
Rachel Rawson, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, writes: Every day women with certain types of breast cancer face the terrible dilemma of whether or not to have chemotherapy without hard facts about the benefit for them. Side effects, such as hair loss, severe pain and infertility, can be utterly devastating and linger long after they walk out the hospital doors. Yet many endure it to try and avoid the cancer coming back.
The recent research into Oncotype DX means we now know a greater number of women can safely avoid chemotherapy.
More information: Find out more about chemotherapy and the Oncotype DX test on the Breast Cancer Care website here.