When Sara Gohl went on a dream family holiday to the Balearic Islands last year, she made a discovery which would change her life forever.
The 35-year-old from Cowplain found a lump on her breast which turned out to be cancerous.
She began a difficult journey – but she has come out the other side and is positive about the future for herself, her husband Richard, 48, and her four-year-old son Robin.
But how did her cancer journey begin?
Sara discovered a lump on her breast while she was on holiday in Menorca.
‘It was the holiday that saved my life. We went on a big family holiday which we had never done before. There were about 10 of us,’ she says.
‘I was in my element. I was having the time of my life. I was in the shower and I put my arm up and felt a lump on my left breast.
‘I thought it was a bit strange. I didn’t think much of it and I carried on. I felt it again the next day.’
Sara called the doctor when she got home and was told to go to the surgery straight away. She was referred to the hospital for tests which revealed there were two lumps.
‘They told me there was an 80 per cent chance of cancer,’ she adds. ‘We went back the following week. I was called in and they said they were cancerous cells.
‘I couldn’t comprehend it. It was the shock of being told at 34 that you have breast cancer. They said that it was already at stage three and was very aggressive.
‘It was an overwhelming shock. It’s something that I have never experienced before. But you have to believe in your own body and your own mind. Your body knows what to do.
‘So yes, it’s upsetting but I think it’s actually harder for the people around you to hear it because your body protects you and your mind prepares you to be able to deal with it.’
Sara needed further urgent tests, which she had done privately. Doctors told her there were some suspected cells on her liver.
‘I looked at my three-year-old and I thought that I owed it to him to get on with this. I had a liver scan. It was so frightening but everything was normal.’
Sara then decided to have a mastectomy.
‘For me the physical side of it wasn’t going to be as big a challenge as the mental side,’ she says.
She had the whole of her left breast removed and 21 lymph nodes under the armpit.
Sara now has a prosthetic breast.
After a six week recovery, she went on to have four and a half months of chemotherapy.
‘I lost all my hair,’ she recalls.
‘The hardest part was losing my hair – not my breast. I had long hair.
‘I got my son to cut the first bit of my hair as I wanted to involve him.’
After that, Sara started a three week course of radiotherapy.
One of the most difficult parts of the whole process though, was the fact that Sara and her husband were told shortly before her chemotherapy treatment began that they were unlikely to be able to have any more children.
This was due to her age and the drugs and injections that she has to take for years to come.
‘They talked us through the treatment options. We were about to start trying for our second baby,’ she says. ‘I can’t fault the doctors, nurses and staff. They said I could have eggs frozen but time was of the essence and they didn’t want to hang around waiting for the eggs.
‘But I was being positive. At least we have one, happy, healthy child.’
Sara is now in remission but is still in active treatment and on regular medication through oral drugs and injections.
‘I have learnt to live with cancer,’ she says.
‘It’s part of my life and it always will be. I’ve got a reminder every day that I haven’t got a breast.
‘It’s how I deal with it and how I approach it that gets me through it.’
Sara has received support from cancer centre The Haven, based in Titchfield. She has helped raise £2,500 for the centre through fundraising events.
The Haven offers services for breast cancer sufferers including nutritional advice, acupuncture, reflexology and counselling.
‘I want to inspire people. I have had so many people say “because of you, I’ve checked myself and been to the doctor”,’ she says.
‘I want to use my story to the advantage of cancer and cancer treatment. I was determined not to be a typical cancer patient.
‘I want to inspire and be a role model for others.’
Sara has seen her life turned upside down since being diagnosed with cancer. She was a busy career woman running a compliance consultancy.
And she hasn’t stopped working, it’s just meant reducing her hours.
‘I have worked through my whole treatment,’ she says.
‘My work has kept me going. It gave me a great focus.
‘Cancer has taken some stuff away from me but it’s not taking that. I’m not a quitter. It’s about moving forward.
‘I’m not giving up work. I am a role model for my son. I need to show him that if you have a dream, you live it, and you believe you can achieve it.
‘This is just another chapter.
‘I’ll carry on working and take time for the smaller things which are the bigger things.’
HOW TO CHECK
The NHS says the first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in their breast.
Most breast lumps (90 per cent) aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor.
You should see your GP if you notice any of the following:
n a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
n a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
n bloodstained discharge from either of your nipples
n a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
n dimpling on the skin of your breasts
n a rash on or around your nipple
n a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.