Sarah’s Story


Sarah McLellanIn February 2015, I found a lump in my breast. I didn’t ever routinely check my breasts, but tried to do it as often as possible.  My right breast was also itchy and that’s why I found the lump as I was just itching it while I was on the phone to a friend.  I waited a couple of weeks as I had my period but it was still there so I booked a GP appointment.

A week later I was booked in for a mammogram and then an ultrasound.  As I lay there on the bed in the Ultrasound room, I was still thinking really positively as that is all I know how to do.  However when she said ‘I need to do a needle biopsy, now…actually 4 of them’ my heart sank. I just about held it together but I was so grateful a nurse friend of mine had insisted on accompanying me, as I was a wreck when they were done.

A week later I was called to the Breast Clinic, 18 March, sat in the waiting room, I was surrounded by women all at different stages of breast cancer, yet I still was convincing myself it was a cyst. I finally got called in and the doctor introduced herself and also ‘Ruth, the Macmillan Nurse’ which kind of gave it away!

She started to speak and just said I am sorry it’s cancer and it is multicentric (I had no idea what that meant).  As you can imagine it was a massive shock and my life literally flashed in front of my eyes. At no point did the doctor say it was treatable she initially gave me the impression that I had months to live because there were actually 3 tumours. They had sat my husband on the other side of the room and I just felt so alone, I just sat there with my head in my hands.  I had no family history of breast cancer, my dad had testicular cancer when he was thirty but that was it in my family. She just said this is really bad luck.

She waffled on for a while and with hindsight I realise she was trying to get the words out that as I was a b cup and there were in actual fact 3 tumours, a mastectomy was the best option.  As soon as she actually said that, it made sense to me and I could focus on a plan, also having had two healthy children, my breastfeeding days were over, I didn’t have an emotional attachment to my breast especially if it was full of cancer!

Then the appointment was over, I had to rearrange my face and walk out into the waiting room full of people and pretend like nothing had happened.  Then the wonderful Breast Cancer Nurse took over and said the words ‘you know it’s treatable don’t you?’  no, I didn’t, I literally thought I had months to live and she explained that she was going to take me to see Mr Daoud an Oncoplastic Surgeon who could explain the next steps.

This is where I started to feel I had a plan. His recommendation was a mastectomy as 3 lumpectomies in a b cup would leave very little tissue, but he said he could do an immediate reconstruction.  I hadn’t realised that was possible and I felt palpable relief and I knew I could get through this.  We opted for surgery first as we felt comfortable with the mastectomy decision.  In hindsight I am so pleased we did that as 3 weeks later, he had removed the cancer from my body.

This was my diagnosis – Right breast cancer. Multi-Focal IDC 15mm Grade 2, 16mm Grade 3, 12mm Grade 2.  ER8, PR7, HER2 Negative, N1/12

The hardest part was keeping it from the children until we had a surgery date, they were 7 and 10 and I knew I was about to break their hearts.  The surgery was scheduled for 7th April 2015.

I hadn’t realised how many pre-op appointments and scans were necessary in all of this. I spent most of my time at the hospital, which is luckily round the corner. I had a bone scan, CT scan both of which were clear. The stress and emotion attached to all of this were horrible, I was actually relieved when the surgery date came around if that makes sense.

The most painful part of recovery was the node removal, I doubted whether I would move my arm again above my head it was that sore. (but now I am back doing yoga!).

I believe that everyone has a storm in their life and faces challenges and it shows us who is meant to be in our lives.  We only moved to our town 8 years ago and until this time I didn’t feel I had made ‘good’ friends, they were mostly through the kids and were all lovely but cancer changed all that.  It really does bring out the best in people, the meals that appeared on our doorstep, the parents that dropped the kids off at school and collected them so I didn’t have to go out. We had got a new puppy at the end of January. When all of this happened we did think, what bad timing, but actually, once I was up and about, it made me go out for a walk every morning, it introduced me to people in the park, previous strangers that once they knew my story, couldn’t do enough for me.  It restores your faith in your community!

I started Chemotherapy on 12th May 2015, 3 EC and then 4 Taxol, every two weeks.  It was easier than I thought it was going to be. Yes for a few days I felt rubbish but in the second week, I felt relatively normal.  The worst part?  My hair falling out, I was using the cold cap and they warned me 50% would still fall out and they were right. Everyone says it’s only hair and it grows back but it’s all about your confidence and I found it very hard.  I had my eyebrows tattooed which I would highly recommend as it frames your face and you don’t have the cancer look about you as much!

I joined the Younger Breast Cancer Network Facebook Group which was my lifeline, women diagnosed under 45 in the UK.  It was a safe place to ask questions, be with people going through the same thing at the same time. They would set groups up each month of all those going through chemo so you could chat with people going through the same thing at the same time.  It gives you a sense of perspective, I realised how lucky I was to have had my children, I didn’t have to have my eggs frozen prior to treatment and all of the emotional issues for some of them of being in their twenties and thirties and still dating and not having that solid family unit behind them.  I realised I had so much to be grateful for.

I have made some amazing friends through this whole process and realised that I am stronger than I thought. I hate it when people say ‘you are so brave’. I am not brave, I simply made a decision to live, to take the doctors advice and to trust them so that I would be here for my children.

I am grateful to be able to take Tamoxifen now, my friends who are Triple Negative don’t have that luxury, they just have to hope it doesn’t come back. I, at least, can help prevent it. I still have some minor surgery to be done this year on my reconstruction, but nothing compared to what’s already happened!

I am a big believer in positive thinking and one of my favourite books is The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I listen to the audio most days and it keeps my mind positive.  This is THE most important thing – Thoughts become things.

If I can help someone else going through this situation then it is all worth it.  I have so much to be grateful for, a solid family, my own business that I work from home so I have had no financial worries, the personal development I have done from building my business, all prepared me for this challenge.

I am so honoured to be a part of the Life after Breast Cancer fund and my story be a small part of it, because if I can help even one person then its all worth it.


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