In August 2019, Sharon Button was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer after her routine mammogram uncovered she had developed cancer in her right breast.
During her treatment, she visited the Big C Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) usually after she and her dog Winnie would go for a walk at the nearby Colney Lane woods.
During the lockdown, she has continued to access Big C’s services.
This is her story…
Before her Triple Negative Breast Cancer diagnosis, Sharon did not experience any symptoms or notice any changes in her body which were unusual for her.
In fact, doctors stated that had she not attended her routine mammogram, her cancer could have potentially gone unnoticed. This is because it was not palpable and therefore could not be felt during a breast self-examination.
Sharon said: “I’m a huge advocate for women attending their routine mammogram appointments alongside performing a breast self-examination. By attending, you’re giving yourself a better chance of catching cancer early on where treatment is more likely to be successful.”
After the first mammogram, Sharon was called back for a second mammogram and then referred to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) for an ultrasound and biopsy. She was told that she would need surgery to remove her cancer and would also need radiotherapy.
In September 2019, Sharon had surgery to remove her cancer. During the surgery, she also underwent a sentinel node biopsy, a surgical procedure which determines whether cancer has spread beyond the primary tumour into the lymphatic system. During the process, it was discovered the cancer had progressed, and surgeons removed eleven of her lymph nodes, four of which were positive for cancer.
Since her cancer had progressed, Sharon’s oncologist told her she would also need chemotherapy before radiotherapy to help prevent the further spread of the cancer.
In October 2019, she began her treatment, and she received six rounds of docetaxel and carboplatin, two different types of chemotherapy which can be used to treat breast and some other cancers.
Unfortunately, Sharon experienced severe side effects during the treatment. She said: “I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital during chemotherapy. I experienced a lot of bad side effects, which surprised me as I’ve always been an active, healthy person.”
During her chemotherapy treatment, Sharon began to visit the Big C Centre at the NNUH, even although at first she was hesitant to access Big C’s support services.
She said: “Due to my profession, I’ve always been the person who is there to give advice and support, so I was not used to receiving it. I remember walking into the Centre for the first time and thinking that it wasn’t what I had imagined it be – it was different from a clinical environment and people weren’t just sat around crying.”
During her first visit, Sharon only stopped by the Centre to look at Big C’s library, which includes literature about cancer diagnosis, treatment and support. The second time she visited, Sharon and her daughter attended the NHS Wig Clinic, but Sharon was still not yet comfortable enough to talk to the Support team at the Centre.
It wasn’t until the third visit when Sharon was told by Centre staff that she could bring her dog, Winnie, with her during visits that she became more comfortable and started to drop by the Centre regularly.
She said: “Since I love to go for a walk with Winnie in the woods around Colney Lane, I used to stop by the Centre afterwards to have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Having her there made me feel comfortable, and everyone else also seemed to enjoy her company.
“What’s great about the Centre is that there was no pressure to talk about your diagnosis. It’s a very welcoming place and the team there are always there to talk to you. You also get to meet other people who may be going through a similar situation to you.”
From the end of March to the end of April this year, Sharon received twenty rounds of radiotherapy, fifteen routine and another five in her armpit due to the lymph node involvement.
During lockdown, she has continued to access Big C services online, including attending the virtual meetings for the Women’s Support Group and participating in the ‘Get Moving with Big C’ programme.
She said: “It’s unfortunate that the Centre is still temporarily closed as I miss popping in to have a chat with the team there. I’m looking forward to when the Centre re-opens, as I’ve seen how beneficial it is for those diagnosed with cancer and for their loved ones.”
At her most recent mammogram, Sharon’s results came back clear. She will continue to be monitored by her team at the NNUH and will have to go back every six months for supportive therapy which is part of her treatment plane.
She said: “I hope women who’ve heard my story are encouraged to attend their routine mammogram appointment. By attending, you’re giving yourself a higher chance of catching cancer earlier on, and giving yourself the right to make choices about your body.”
Big C is still here if you need support. Our services are available for those diagnosed with cancer and those close to them, with many of these services now available over the phone and online. For more information, call us at 0800 092 7640 (free to call Monday to Friday 9am-5pm) or email support.big-c.co.uk