Coping With Breast Cancer – and a Baby

on Monday, 19 September 2016. Tags CancerCare, fundraising, Kendal, Lancaster, North Lancashire, South Lakeland

A young mum diagnosed with breast cancer just 12 months after giving birth to her baby son has shared her story in a bid to highlight the importance of being breast aware and the benefits of seeking emotional support during tough times.

Sarah Drake picMum of three Sarah Drake from Hest Bank in Lancashire was just 34 when she first discovered a small lump on her breast and decided to get it checked out by her local GP.

With no family history of breast cancer and Sarah’s young age, doctors didn’t seem initially concerned. And having just finished breast feeding, her GP believed her lump to be fibrous tissue, something common to new mums.

Despite reassurances, Sarah knew something was not quite right so returned to her doctor only to be told yet again that breast cancer wasn’t the likely cause. Sarah’s family also tried to persuade her that there was nothing to worry about but still, her anxiety continued.

Some weeks later, after returning home from a power walk, Sarah started experiencing throbbing pain in her breast and this time she insisted her G.P refer her for further tests.

Six months after her first GP visit, the hospital doctor’s finally confirmed Sarah’s worst fears – she had stage 2 breast cancer.

“I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed – it was schools sports day.”

Sarah’s treatment began straight away which included a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy. Months of painful recovery followed as well as Sarah having to undergo reconstructive surgery. Sarah also requested that her other breast be removed due to her fears that the cancer might come back.

Throughout her ordeal, Sarah did her best to keep the seriousness of her illness from loved ones around her, including her young children, then aged 8, 6 and 12 months.

Sarah and her boys before she was diagnosed with breast cancer

“The kids knew that mummy was poorly but didn’t know it was cancer – they were just too young to understand what that meant. I wanted to protect them and, at that time, going through all the tests and treatment, we just didn’t know what the outcome would be and there was so much uncertainty. I didn’t want to tell them anything until we knew what we were dealing with.”

“I felt so alone. I longed to be like the other mums in the playground and to be carefree again, I just wanted to go back to the way life was before, carefree and baking cakes. I felt as if I had been robbed from missing out on my baby’s precious early years. I found myself thinking that I might not see him or his brothers grow up.”

After Sarah’s treatment finished, she found it increasingly difficult to cope on her own and her Breast Care Nurse suggested contacting CancerCare, a local charity based in Lancaster that offer a range of support services for cancer patients & their loved ones.

“I was reaching crisis point. I’d made it through all the treatment and I was strong, but now I was really struggling. I felt as if I’d let everyone down. I felt like I had failed. But now, I realise, that asking for help is not admitting defeat - sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand for a bit.”

“My whole Breast Care team at the Oncology unit were amazing throughout everything but there's only so much time in their medical day to address every issue, so they suggested talking to someone at CancerCare.

I first came to their Lancaster centre for Counselling, which really helped. I’ve driven past the centre many times and you hope it’s a road you’ll never to have to turn down, but my perceptions of the place have totally changed. It’s not just somewhere where dying people go. It’s a positive, amazing, safe place. I’ve met so many people and just love going there.”

Since Sarah finished her treatment she has also joined an online group through CancerCare, offering support to local people who face similar issues to her.

Sarah and Andrea at talk

“During my diagnosis and treatment, I felt pure fear and loneliness. The support group is really important to me now because no one else should have to feel that way. I honestly couldn’t even bring myself to say the actual word ‘cancer’ before, but now I’m really comfortable talking about and sharing my experiences, especially if it helps others.”

Sarah has also received support from CancerCare’s specialist Children & Young People’s service after deciding to tell her eldest son George.

“He had started asking loads of questions about cancer and me and my husband Simon felt it was the right time to tell him. The children’s therapists were so great and gave us advice on what to say to him. I was really surprised at his reaction, he was amazing. Whilst getting ready for football training one night, one of his teammates asked him if he had ever heard of cancer before and he replied, “Heard of it? My mum’s smashed it!”

“We’ve recently told Will too and felt much more confident about telling him and better equipped to deal with his reactions. He told me that I am his hero - children are truly astonishing and have an ability to boost your strength no end. So has my husband, family & friends who have given me so much love, strength and support throughout and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.”

Nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year the equivalent of one person every 10 minutes. 1 in 3 women who get breast cancer are aged 70 or over but it can affect anyone of any age, including men. Early diagnosis offers the best chance of successful treatment with more than eight out of 10 (85%) people now surviving beyond five years.

Most breast cancers are discovered through self-checking however, it is thought that just 1 in 3 people check their breasts on a regular basis and many more do not know how to check or what to look out for.

Sarah’s message to others would be to “learn what's normal for your own boobs. Feel them regularly; get your partner to check as well and anything at all different, no matter how insignificant or small, get checked out. If you feel something isn't right please persist and get referred. It is scary and the thought you may find something is scary but the thought of not doing something is scarier!Sarah D 3 years on and the first time shed worn her hair up after losing it all

Lots of people have lumps and bumps that turn out to be harmless but if it is something that needs sorting, get it sorted. The earlier the better. And remember, there's a wealth of people here to support you all the way should you need it.”

Read our 'Breast Cancer: what you need to know' blog >>Breast Cancer Awareness Month logo

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or receiving treatment then find out more about our free local support services >>