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Sarah, diagnosed 2002

Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 32. At the time, she was living in the UK with her 16-month-old daughter. Sarah had a lumpectomy, then underwent further surgery as the cancer had spread. Afterwards, she had chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.

Sarah had genetic testing and found out she carried the BRCA 1 gene. In 2005, she had a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction. In 2007, she also opted to remove her ovaries as her risk of developing ovarian cancer was 80%. The following year, in 2008, Sarah and her family left London to move to Australia. Read her letter below.

Dear Sarah,

It’s me, the 2030 Sarah. The year I turned 60. I remember thinking whilst many of my similar age friends had a meltdown about this milestone, I was honestly just incredibly thankful to have reached this age.

Remember how on November 6, 2002, at 32 years old, you were diagnosed with breast cancer? Remember how were settling into life as a new mum, looking after beautiful Mia when you got the news? Remember those feelings of total shock, utter fear of the unknown and worry that there would be no future for you? Remember those days you kept saying to your husband, Howard, ‘I just want to be Mia’s mummy. I never want her to call anyone else Mummy.’

Well, it’s been one hell of a journey and despite the fact I know this sounds very cliched, I truly believe it shaped your family’s life, eventually in a positive way. It’s hard to imagine that any good came from those deepest darkest hours, but really, in the end it did – look at you all now.

You were a family living in London UK who moved to Melbourne, Australia – CRAZY! Breast cancer really did unleash your ‘live for the day’ streak. You love your Australian life and just think, you never wake up to dull grey London skies anymore!

Now, in 2030, NBCF have reached their goal of zero deaths from breast cancer. All the incredible research into breast cancer and into the BRCA1 gene that affects our family, our daughter’s Mia and Lila, plus all other family members, paid off! It means they no longer have to grow up in fear that one day they will hear those terrifying words, ‘You have breast cancer.’ I still remember that moment, hearing those words and the numbness….

Your treatment plan was put into place in less than 24 hours. You were rushed into surgery to have the lump removed, then back three days later to have more breast tissue removed, plus your lymph nodes were taken out as the cancer had spread to them. Thankfully, it hadn’t spread anywhere else in your body, but the significance of that, never really hit you until a few years later. When it did, you just broke down and cried, wondering how you got away with it when so many other women didn’t. It’s weird how emotional you can feel, even when something is in the past. That’s the power of cancer – it’s something that lives with you for the rest of your life.

I know you don’t like to be someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, but you and I know, cancer is such a part of your life. It’s why you got involved with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, why you stand up and tell your own cancer journey at events, why you have spoken about such a personal story on TV and in the papers and why you and your family have got involved with fundraising for them. You have tried to find ways to make a difference – through your Personal Styling business you give complimentary consultations to women going through breast cancer and try and help them deal with the effects treatment can have on self-esteem and confidence.

Your own treatment was tough, it was about your future, giving you the best chances of beating breast cancer. There were no options, you just had to put your life in the hands of the experts. Three weeks after your operations you started chemotherapy. It was everything you had heard it to be, but 10 times worse…. the sickness, the tiredness, the hair loss, the weight loss. I still shudder when I think what you went through. After chemo came radiotherapy, that wasn’t too bad compared to chemo. Soreness and having to travel every day for your session, but that was when you saw light at the end of the tunnel.

You then started getting back to ‘normal’ and began to feel like a proper hands-on mum and wife again. It was around a year later that your oncologist told you about new research into the BRCA gene (at this stage you weren’t aware of it and its significance). You had a blood test which showed you had the gene, making your risk of recurrence high and your risk of getting ovarian cancer high too. So, you were left with no choice, you felt. The only option was a mastectomy with a breast reconstruction. It was an incredibly painful op that took about nine hours (but has left you with boobs that belong to a someone half your age!). You recovered after many painful weeks, but you no longer felt like you had a ticking time bomb inside you.

You then had to make the choice to have your ovaries out too – not long before that operation was booked in you fell pregnant to your little miracle child Lila. The child that you never thought was possible because of all your cancer treatments. Your ovaries were then removed after she was born. Yes, in an ideal world you wanted three or four kids, but you were just so grateful to have Lila, to have beaten breast cancer and be a mum for two daughters!

Cancer changes the way you look at life – you appreciate so much more than before. You just feel so grateful and lucky that you were able to get through to the other side.

So, as I sit here and plan a 60th birthday party, a chance to celebrate and look forward to my life ahead and reflect on my life so far, I urge you to keep loving life. Stay positive, and never stop feeling grateful for the life you have.

Sarah x