Breaking my hip led me to finding my breast cancer tumour
I moved to Bath four and a half years ago from London. I had been putting on weight (stress eating lots of blue cheese/chocolate) and started cycling. Two months in, I embarrassingly fell off my bike and broke my hip clean through – at 45 I was way too young for that! I had emergency surgery that day (three titanium screws – very cool) followed by eight weeks hopping round my cottage on a walking frame. After intense physiotherapy with Laura at Fitguru, I was back to good health with better fitness levels than ever.
By December 2016, I had lost two stone, was swinging kettlebells, doing squats and planking. I was a pescatarian, non-drinking, non-smoking fitness fan and I was celebrating my 46th birthday. While staying at my parents that Christmas, I noticed a lump in my left breast that was really painful and swollen. I only noticed it as I had lost weight and was doing push-ups at the time. We had no history of breast cancer in the family, so I wasn’t worried. I had previously had cysts drained, biopsies taken from fibroids and even a mammogram in 2014. So for me it was just routine to go to my local surgery. My lovely GP checked the lump, thought it was a cyst, but suggested an urgent referral to the RUH Breast Clinic.
In early January 2017, I went for a 3D mammogram and ultrasound, as well as a core biopsy. The results came back a week later. I remember that day vividly. I was in a tiny, overheated consulting room when the surgeon Mr Sutton and Kate the Breast Care Nurse came in. The kind look on my surgeon’s face and slight head tilt told me this was serious. “I am sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer” are words no one wants to hear. I started to cry and felt sick, but I tried to control it as I knew that in order to get through this, I had to learn everything about what I had and what treatment I was facing. It was a Grade 3, 29mm tumour, HER2+, ER and PR-. He told me that this was one of the most aggressive kinds, but the good news was that it also tended to respond well to chemotherapy. My course of treatment would be neoadjuvant (pre-surgery) chemotherapy first, three rounds of FEC, followed by three rounds of TPH to hopefully shrink the little bugger, then surgery, then radiotherapy.
Once the initial shock wore off, I decided to take a pragmatic approach. I love to manage people and projects, and this was just another project, only it was my body and mind I had to manage. Ok Sarah, you have breast cancer – so let’s get a funky, sexy short hair cut in prep for the chemo. Once that starts falling out, let’s go to a barber and shave off the hair, GI Jane style. Let’s call the evil little tumour something to help me get angry and help others find humour in the tumour – let’s call it Donald (lump/Trump).
I also planned to work throughout treatment, and was helped considerably by my mum coming to live with me during chemo, as she took over cooking and ironing for me. Work arranged for a cleaner for the duration of treatment too.
I was definitely a little naive going into chemo; I’d eaten a spicy chickpea sandwich before my first session – little did I realise I would be re-visiting it many times that first night. After getting on top of the vomiting and nausea of the first few days, I then developed neutropenic sepsis and had to spend four days in isolation in hospital. Even my oncologist described my first two weeks as “torrid”, a perfect description.
With cancer treatments, you do get into a routine eventually. The worst parts were definitely the first few days following chemo, and even these became routine. I found women who were going through the same as me, or had been through it previously, and got in touch. Carmel was an amazing ‘Breast Buddy’ – we exchanged our fears and darkest thoughts, as well as lots of humour on Messenger. The chemo was very successful, considerably shrinking and splitting the tumour into two parts (I called the second bit Putin) to the point that they had to put in a metal marker. I had a lumpectomy removing the two sites and 4 sentinel lymph nodes at the end of June 2018, followed by four weeks of radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy, for me at least, was less physically and mentally invasive than the chemo had been. I then had a year of Herceptin injections (like a long five-minute bee sting with some great side effects – constant nasal drip!) and I completed active treatments in April 2018.
From March this year, I’ve been working hard to get back to fitness again (thank you Laura at Fitguru for adapting all my exercises) and challenged myself to raise money for Cancer Research UK by doing walking and running events, running my first 5K in June. I joined the Instagram community, and found some great people to follow and be inspired by. I sincerely thank my family and friends for putting up with me during the rough bits, my surgeons and oncologists at the RUH for their amazing work, as well as Karen my oncology nurse, and Kate my BCN.
Although my bones ache (I now take bisphosphonates to help bone density), I have large areas of numbness and neuropathy, and have eye issues (dryness, blepharitis), I’ve changed considerably after two years of surgeries and treatments. My hair grew back dark brown and wavy, and I now keep it short. I wear statement earrings and make bolder colour and clothing choices. I take more opportunities and love my life and my friends with passion. I’m moving to Boston in the new year, whereas the pre-cancer me may have decided that was way too risky. I am now a year and four months cancer free, and ready to live life with more pizazz!