Matt Jacobson interviews local author Sarah Vaughan on her life and battle with Breast Cancer.
“I was determined to be strong and positive. I had a mantra, it’s only breast cancer, I can do this.”
After being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 43 and being featured in local and national news, Sarah Vaughan started a blog (www.facebook.com/sarahvaughan74) to raise awareness of checking for lumps and changes. Sarah’s message was quickly turning a negative into a positive. Fast forward three years and Sarah has self-published a book about her experiences “Boobs are for Life, Not Just for Insta!”. It is essentially an uplifting read, witty but dark and brutal in places. The artwork and surgery photographs make it a very real, raw and gritty story, but Sarahs positive determination to beat cancer shines through.
Sarah is my cousin and a true inspiration, so it was an honour to interview Sarah about her experience, the support provided, advice for others and the journey to Author. We love her and I know you will too.
Before diagnosis, did you have a feeling, something wasn’t right?
It wasn’t until I found a hard mass in my right breast in October 2017 that I felt the need to go to the GP. I assumed it was a cyst or blocked milk duct and I genuinely wasn’t worried. I’d had many referrals to the breast clinic having been previously diagnosed with fibroidenoma’s, a harmless group of cells nicknamed breast mice, as they move freely in the breast when you press on them. I was in my 20’s when I’d first had ultrasounds and biopsies so it wasn’t an alien process. The reassurance of the results had always been worth the discomfort and anxiety these tests bring.
What made you think it was a cyst?
I was naive. I didn’t realise breast cancer could present in any other way than a pea sized lump. What I’ve learned since has really opened my eyes and is the reason I try to raise awareness through the first of the month check for a lump. Breast cancer can present as dimpling of the skin, a hard mass like mine, a lump, indentation, redness, change in size or shape, inverting of the nipple or discharge from the nipple.
The diagnosis, could you explain the day itself?
It was a really confusing time as I wasn’t officially diagnosed at that first referral appointment. But without telling me, deep down I knew. During the initial examination she confirmed I had a large lump, the size of a baby avocado (It was actually measured at 7cm by 9cm a couple of months later during an MRI) She then found a large lump in my armpit and I sensed her concern. After a very unusually painful mammogram, ultrasound and biopsies, I was called in to see a consultant who told me they would decide on a treatment plan in 19 days when the results would be back. He wouldn’t confirm or deny I had cancer which was frustrating and upsetting. However, this was the point previously where I’d been told there was nothing to worry about and sent home. the presence of a Macmillan nurse in the meeting told me different. By the time I returned 19 days later, also the day we got the keys to our new house, not only was it confirmed to be HER+ breast cancer, a meeting with the oncologist had been arranged for the following day. The treatment ball was rolling. I didn’t need toconfirmation. in that short time. My breast had become hot and red, the nipple had inverted and the mass had grown and was painful.
Did the hospital provide full options and full support?
I cannot fault the care and treatment I received from the hospitals I was treated at during my experiences (St.Helens, Whiston, Clatterbridge and Aintree) . I am in awe of the care and compassion provided during this time and feel so privileged to have all this on our doorstep.
During the treatment, you shared your story – posting a picture covered in the surgeon’s doodles the night before your mastectomy. It reached to over seventy thousand people all around the world and helped and educated so many, did their support also comfort you?
It’s funny you should mention this, when I came round from this 12 hour surgery one of the nurses commented that she had seen that post before her shift and told me it had already reached thousands. I never set out to narrate my journey online but did find it comforting. Many get well messages as well as comments detailing personal experiences with positive outcomes certainly brought me strength at such a difficult time.
Your wedding day was remarkable for a zillion reasons and I’ll never forget you throwing your wig onto the dancefloor, so many cheers and so many tears around the function room – truly inspiring. Your positive outlook was inspiring, was this outlook important to you?
Rob & Sarah Vaughan Sarah, Rob & Family
It was the only outlook. From the minute I found out I was ‘only’ dealing with breast cancer and it hadn’t spread further than my lymph nodes, I was determined to be strong and positive. I had a mantra, “its only breast cancer, I can do this” Throwing the wig was absolutely necessary, I was boiling hot and it was the first day I’d worn it having had to shave the last of my hair off two days before. It actually felt liberating.
How long was it before you were cancer free and could you explain those months and the impact on your family?
I was technically cancer free in June 2018 but still had to have radiotherapy for 3 weeks and a targeted therapy (to mop up stray cells) until January 2019. To hear the words ‘full pathological response’ was amazing. I cannot begin to explain how brutal the chemo was but somehow it had eradicated all the cancer. The impact on my family is painful to write about. Practically my husband had to look after 5 of us whilst working full time and overseeing renovations to our house. I do not know how he kept going. Emotionally the ripple effect of cancer is extensive and reaches far and wide. I refer to the impact a lot in my book and have had reviews suggesting its been really useful to read whilst supporting a loved one or friend through cancer.
You have since shared your experience across local, national media and you have penned your first book. What was the book writing experience like, did you find it emotionally difficult to write or a chance to reflect and to inspire others?
I didn’t find it difficult to write but I only re-read it recently as I wasn’t ready to relive all the experiences again. My aim was to inspire but also de-mystify cancer treatment and the ‘journey’ (I hate that term!) which is why I’ve included photographs of the outcome of the various surgeries as well as artwork to narrate my feelings. My book is a very raw account but I wanted it to be uplifting and humorous too. I took a negative into a positive and came through on the other side hopefully managing to change a few lives by raising awareness.
What advice would you give to others?
I think we need to be better at knowing our own bodies and recognising changes and how and when to act on them. Friends still tell me they are rubbish at checking. When I ask why, they say the fear of finding something or not knowing if they are checking properly puts them off. I get that, I really do but an optimistic bias approach doesn’t prevent cancer. We don’t have to be experts at checking, just habitual. Checking for visual changes as well as feeling for lumps and bumps is so important and doesn’t have to be a big deal if done regularly. Follow me on Facebook for more information how to check @firstofthethemonthcheckforalump
And finally, what next for my wonderful cousin?
I’m very excited to share that I’m in the process of setting up a charity to support children whose family members are going through cancer treatment. Although I’ve no idea how I’m going to fit it in around work and my family, but it’s been a pipe dream since I was diagnosed. It’s called Support Around Your Family (SAYF) and I will be busy fundraising over the next few years. There will be more information on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sarahvaughan74
With love and thanks to Sarah, “Thank You Cous”
Boobs Are For Life, Not Just For Insta!: Does life pause for Breast cancer? Making you laugh and cry, this brutally honest memoir is uplifting. Ordinary girl, extraordinary story.
Buy Sarah’s book here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/183845831X/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_glt_fabc_BJND0W0ZCYE7B8RQF19W