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SARAH'S STORY

"It’s strange when you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, particularly when you have no eyelashes or eyebrows. "

Note: this story briefly mentions miscarriage


Sarah noticed dimpling on her breast while applying suncream, which lead to a breast cancer diagnosis at 6 weeks pregnant.

This is her story...

My husband and I had been trying for a second child, but after two miscarriages in a short space of time (one of which was a non-cancerous molar pregnancy) we decided to take a break from trying. We decided to take a relaxing holiday and one day when I was applying suncream in front of a mirror, I noticed the skin on my left breast was dimpled. I’d found a lump in the same breast the year before, but had it checked and was assured it was normal. I was healthy, didn’t smoke and had no family history of cancer, but seeing the dimpling I knew something wasn’t right so I decided to get it checked as soon as I got home. Upon returning home, I also found out that, despite not actively trying, I was once again pregnant. 

 

As soon as we got home, I tried to see my GP but couldn’t get an appointment. Thankfully, I had medical insurance, so I arranged for a consultation through their service.


My husband refused to believe we could be so unlucky that it would be cancer, after everything we’d already been through in the previous year, but I knew it was possible. I think, on some level, I already knew it was bad news. 

 

Our eldest child was three at the time, and on the day of the appointment, he wasn’t feeling well. My husband had to stay at home to look after him, and I attended the hospital alone. They did an ultrasound of my breast but as soon as they started scanning my armpit, I knew it wasn’t good news. I had to wait a while to speak to a consultant, who confirmed they were really concerned.  

 

Ten days later, at 31 years old and six weeks pregnant, the doctor told me I had breast cancer.

The tumour was just under 2 cm, but thankfully they thought it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. They recommended a full mastectomy of the affected breast and were confident that would be enough to clear it. I agreed to the procedure but had to wait until after my 12 week scan, because the consultants didn’t want to risk another miscarriage. I kept working for a few weeks after my diagnosis. I was very career focused and my employer was extremely supportive too. When I stopped working to have my treatment, my husband was luckily able to take time off to care for me and our family. 

 

During the surgery, they also took a biopsy of my lymph nodes, and discovered that the cancer had spread to a few of them. I needed a second surgery immediately, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  

 

We had a holiday to Spain booked and I really wanted to go. Thankfully, my team were supportive of me taking the break before starting chemo treatment. I had a bit of trouble arranging health insurance, but eventually I was able to go away with my family and it was so lovely to have that time together. 

 

I don’t think I really let myself think about my pregnancy in the early stages. Because of my previous experiences, I found it difficult to believe I would have a baby at the end of it, so I tried my best to focus on getting through the treatment.


I honestly think that if I’d sat and let myself think in detail about everything that was happening, I wouldn’t have gotten through it. 

 

During my treatment, my cancer was still being dealt with privately, while my pregnancy was handled by the NHS and the two services didn’t seem to talk to each other. Everyone was trying their best but early on I felt I was having to project manage everything, calling their receptionists to pass on information etc. which really frustrated me.

 

During my treatment, I focused on the positives and tried to stay active. I wanted to know all the details of my condition because it helped me feel in control, so I did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions. I had a notebook where I would write down any questions I had for my doctors and nurses, jotting them down whenever they came to me. I took these lists to my appointments and rattled through them; it helped me feel prepared and remember what I wanted to know more about which meant I wasn’t sitting at home worrying about them. My Breast Cancer Specialist Nurses were always on the end of the phone to give much needed support, if I had any questions, or if anything didn’t make sense. 

 

I started chemotherapy at 20 weeks pregnant and had the full course of six sessions during my pregnancy, with the last falling just 3 weeks before my daughter was born.  

 

Despite the pregnancy, I breezed through chemo without getting too ill or overwhelmed. I stayed focused on being positive and just getting through it. My priority was always the future I wanted to see, the bigger picture, and I rationalized that it was better to be doing chemo than dying. Because of that, I never really mourned what I couldn’t do during my pregnancy or after, I just wanted to focus on what I could do and get better, doing whatever it took to do so. 

 

During chemotherapy, I lost all my hair and I struggled with the change to my appearance - I really didn’t feel like myself. It’s strange when you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, particularly when you have no eyelashes or eyebrows. I started getting up every morning, putting on my wig and make up straight away. It made me feel more like myself and able to face the day. I also made sure we left plenty of time before leaving the house for me to put on my false eyelashes. It might seem silly, but this was really important to me as it meant I could go about my day without any awkward stares from people.

 

My obstetrician was phenomenal and I had scans every two weeks to check the baby was safe. Her attentiveness and thoroughness really reassured me through what was a very uncertain time. 

 

I contacted Mummy’s Star when I was around 6 months pregnant. Their Peer Support Forum really helped. It was nice to see and speak with other people in a similar situation and I even met up with one of the mums who lived near me.  

 

During my treatment and pregnancy, I tried to keep doing things I always did, to keep my mood up. I carried on with my regular yoga classes, until my PICC line made it too painful, then I switched to pregnancy yoga. I didn’t find it easy to be surrounded by the other mums, many of whom would complain about trivial things like their sore feet. I knew they had every right to, but this was one of the few things that really upset me. I couldn’t help but think they didn’t know how lucky they were. I had already been through two surgeries, was having chemo and had radiotherapy coming up once my baby was born. It wasn’t easy to feel the difference between our experiences. 

 

My son handled it all so well. He knew something was wrong, even though we didn’t tell him exactly what. He would ask me lots of questions and sometimes he would tell me “Mummy, I don’t want you to go away.” We did everything we could to keep his routine the same so he wasn’t too unsettled.   

 

Our daughter was born in February 2024. I had a couple of weeks to recover and then had to start planning for radiotherapy. I also had a lot of staging scans which couldn’t be done while I was pregnant - thankfully they came back clear. 

 

Radiotherapy started seven weeks post-partum and I had 15 sessions over 4 weeks. It seemed I was the youngest on the ward by about 20 years.

When you go in with a baby everyone looks at you, because it’s so unusual, and it feels like they are pitying you. But, to keep things positive, we would make a day out of it; this treatment happened in the city centre so my husband and I would always treat ourselves to a nice meal or coffee afterwards.  

 

I finished radiotherapy in April 2024. I started taking Tamoxifen during radiotherapy and now I’m also on estrogen suppressors. Because of this, I’m in a state of medically induced menopause which, at 32, isn’t ideal but it’s better than still having cancer. My hair has started to grow back and I’m so grateful to have eyebrows and eyelashes again.

 

I have a breast reconstruction planned for the end of 2024. I’ve been able to go private again which I’m so grateful for as it’s come round quicker than it would on NHS. Once that’s done it will feel like this chapter of my life will be closed, the final piece of the puzzle placed. 

 

I never thought I’d be in this situation. It really changes your perspective on life and what is important.  I used to worry about things that seem so trivial in comparison to what I know actually matters now.  I’m just so happy to be here. 


Sarah x






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