March 30, 2019
Sarah West, 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. She has two daughters, Olivia, seven, and Amelia, four, and lives with her parents, Barbara and Brian.
I didn’t find a lump but my breast was painful and I’d developed a terrible cough, so I went to see my GP. She was dismissive at first but I began to monitor when I had more discomfort or my breast felt bigger. I went back to the doctor and she referred me to the consultant for an ultrasound. Her silence while looking at the screen told me everything I needed to know but it took a mammogram and biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of cancer. I was later told it was metastatic and had spread to my lymph nodes, lungs and brain. I had chemotherapy and whole-brain radiotherapy but my last treatment was in June last year.
I was a busy primary school teacher working three days a week and my life is very different now. My daughters and I live with my mum and dad, who are my idols. They make me feel safe and looked after; they tell me off if I even try to empty the dishwasher. We eat together every night. My mum cooks, adapting meals to suit me.
I contacted Jane because I wanted to do everything I could to support my health. I’d asked the hospital what I should eat and was told, ‘Have what you like’. I was shocked because we’re told to eat healthily and have our 10 a day, and suddenly I was poorly and told nutrition didn’t matter! While I didn’t have too many side effects from my chemotherapy, the radiotherapy sent me into a deep depression and I lost my appetite. I wanted to use diet as a form of treatment and to help me feel more in control.
Before I met Jane, I thought I was eating a good diet but she’s opened my eyes to the lack of nutrients in a ‘healthy’ soup or prepared pasta dish, or the sugar that’s added to low-fat foods. She’s pointed me towards more fresh fruit and vegetables for their antioxidants; suggested dairy foods and oily fish for their vitamin D; and suggested I have turmeric as a shot or to spice my food, as it’s anti-inflammatory. I also drink lots of green tea. I have more energy now and also seem to be able to manage my emotions better. I want to be able to go for a long walk to clear my head, or have fun with my girls, and Jane’s advice is helping me to do that. I trust her completely.
It’s the hardest thing to be a mum when you have cancer. We’d all had bad coughs at the time I was diagnosed, so Olivia would tell me I had to take my medicine to get better. I had to explain that mummy isn’t well and that I’d need to take different medicine that might make me lose my hair. Having young children is probably the worst thing about having cancer, as they do struggle. But without them I may have given up already; I want to see them grow up.
One really bad day, I wrote a rhyming story called Mummy’s Got a Poorly for the girls to help explain why I might not feel well enough to get out of bed some days. A pair of governors from the school sponsored and printed it for me, with pictures by Olivia, and now it’s on sale on The Osborne Trust website. It’s a charity that provides support for children that have a parent with cancer and I’m in awe of their work; all proceeds from the book go to the Trust.
My family and friends have been incredible. My sister Jolene came with me to every chemo session in the first few months and took a sobbing call from me every week for a long time. She also came along to my appointment with Jane. Since my illness she’s become a fitness freak and I’m so proud of her. She and her husband are my role models. Michelle is one my best mates; we used to be colleagues and we still laugh together every day. She was Olivia’s first-ever teacher and both the girls adore her and her husband. Michelle comes to tea with us every Wednesday.
I’ve created memory boxes and books for my girls. They’ll have tangible things after I’m gone. But until then, we’re making the most of every day. Eating well has made such a difference, not just to my health but to us all. My dad has arthritis, so eating anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding trigger ingredients means he has less pain. And my girls are learning to eat well. I think nutrition should be taught in school so everyone can benefit. We redecorate our houses and buy new clothes, and we need to know how to look after our bodies just as well.