A self-professed ‘gym hater’ claims working out saved her life after discovering a lump in her breast that turned out to be cancer – despite doctors ‘fobbing her off’ and telling her to ‘stop coming back’.
Sarah Bailey from Brooklands, Greater Manchester was lifting weights towards the end of November 2020 when she suddenly suffered a shooting pain in her right breast.
Crying out in pain, the 35-year-old released the weight and then felt her breast and was horrified to discover a golf ball-sized lump.
The personal injury specialist told accounts manager boyfriend Leon Jeffrey, 38, about her discovery and then fled the gym floor to her car.
After two trips to her GP and a hospital breast care centre, Sarah was stunned to be diagnosed with DCIS and HER-2-positive breast cancer.
Having completed her final session of chemotherapy at the end of November, Sarah is sharing her ordeal to urge people to regularly check themselves and seek medical help if they experience unusual symptoms.
Left: Sarah pre-surgery in her local gym where she found the cancerous lump in her breast. Right: While undergoing chemotherapy sessions, she started wearing a wig to conceal the fact that she was losing her hair
Sarah on the day of her surgery to get the golf ball-sized lump out of her breast she discovered while working out in the gym
Sarah said: ‘Going to that gym session saved my life.
‘I hate the gym, it’s ironic really, but I dread to think if I’d just left it alone. It’s not worth thinking about.
‘I was doing a [chest-supported] lateral pull-down – an exercise where you have to lean on your chest.
‘As I went to get the weights I felt this awful shooting pain in my right breast.
WHAT IS HER-2-POSITIVE BREAST CANCER?
Some breast cancers have too much of a protein (receptor) called HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) on the surface of their cells.
This is called HER2-positive breast cancer. The extra HER2 protein encourages the cancer cells to divide and grow.
Between 15 and 20 out of every 100 women with breast cancer (15 to 20%) have HER2-positive cancers. Specific targeted therapy drugs are used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.
They lock on to the HER2 protein and stop the cells dividing and growing. (Information from Macmillan Cancer Support)
‘I dropped the weight and I must have made a noise. The gym was dead, there was no-one in there, so I had a feel round and felt this really obvious lump – it felt like a golf ball.
‘I panicked and finished my gym session there and then, told my boyfriend and ran to the car.
‘I sat in the car and phoned my best friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. She told me I was best getting it checked out – it was really scary.’
Sarah booked an appointment with her GP who referred her to cancer treatment centre The Nightingale Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester.
There, she was examined by a doctor who told her there was ‘nothing really to worry about’ and that it was likely a cyst before being referred for an ultrasound scan that didn’t flag anything concerning.
The final hurdle: the 35-year-old ringing the bell to mark the end of her chemotherapy treatment
Sarah said: ‘I requested a GP appointment and within days I was seen, she took it really seriously and referred me to the Nightingale in Wythenshawe Hospital.
‘I was examined by a doctor and he told me there and then that there was nothing really to worry about and he believed it was just a cyst that would need to be lanced.
‘I then went for the ultrasound, it was a lady sonographer who was being really friendly and asked if I was concerned.
‘I said “yes” and then she started laughing, in a nice, reassuring way, and said “I can’t see anything on here”.
A self-professed ‘gym hater’, Sarah is grateful that working out saved her life. ‘I dropped the weight and I must have made a noise. The gym was dead, there was no-one in there, so I had a feel round and felt this really obvious lump – it felt like a golf ball. I panicked and finished my gym session there and then, told my boyfriend and ran to the car,’ she said
Despite nothing ominous being discovered right away during her examination, she continued to suffer with shooting pains in her breast and believed the lump was growing until she went back to her doctors again in March 2021
‘I was just so relieved I remember thinking “thank goodness for that”. They didn’t really give me an answer for what it was, but they couldn’t see anything sinister so off I went.’
Sarah said despite nothing ominous being discovered during her examination, she continued to suffer with shooting pains in her breast and believed the lump was growing.
In March 2021 she decided to go back to her doctor as she knew something wasn’t right and got another hospital appointment on April 23.
Sarah said: ‘After the appointment it was around Christmas time, so I just enjoyed my Christmas, but the pain was still there and the lump in my opinion was growing.
‘At my best friend’s birthday I happened to say the lump was still there. She felt it for me and she said, “If you’re concerned, just go back”.
‘After the appointment it was around Christmas time so I just enjoyed my Christmas but the pain was still there and the lump in my opinion was growing,’ Sarah said. She’s pictured here around Christmas
‘It felt bigger and continued to be painful. It just became more obvious and you could even see it when I was lying down.
‘I was trying to put this to bed but for some reason, this gut feeling was telling me to go and get it checked.
‘I ended up booking an appointment on the back of that and was referred to the same doctor again.
‘He was a bit abrupt this time and basically said, “You can’t keep coming back, you need to trust us. There’s nothing wrong with you”.
‘He felt me again and he was just saying the same thing – “We’ll have to send you for an ultrasound because that’s normal procedure”.
‘I went to get my ultrasound done and it was a different sonographer.
Sarah was referred back to the same doctor, who had told her that she can’t keep coming back and that she needs to trust the hospitals
Just five days after her sonograph, she was invited to a follow-up appointment and was told the devastating news that she had cancer
‘He went really quiet and there and then I knew that there was something wrong.
‘He left the room and when he came back into the room he told me he was going to do some biopsies “to cover all bases”.’
Just five days later on April 28 she was invited to a follow-up appointment and was told the devastating news that she had cancer.
Sarah said: ‘Waiting for the follow-up appointment my anxiety was going through the roof.
‘While in the hospital waiting room I remember this couple came out and the man was comforting his partner who was crying.
Sarah pictured with her boyfriend Leon who she says was a tremendous support to her during treatment for breast cancer
‘I looked at Leon and he just pulled a face to say, “This isn’t good”.
‘When we went in, the doctor introduced the nurse sat there as my breast care nurse.
‘I can’t tell you the feeling I felt. It was awful, it was absolutely heartbreaking.
‘I was very shocked, I never thought this would happen to me. I just started crying.
‘I looked over at Leon and he looked in absolute shock, it was just so surreal.
‘I just thought ‘somebody wake me up, this has got to be a dream’. I was in a state of shock – and anger that I’d been fobbed off.’
On August 16, she underwent the first of six gruelling rounds of chemo, completing it on November 30. Sarah started wearing a wig while undergoing her treatments
Throughout the cancer treatment, Sarah said that her boyfriend had been a huge throughout the process and that he went to nearly every appointment he could with her
The doctor gently explained that Sarah had an early-stage cancer called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and that due to the large size of the mass she would need a mastectomy.
Sarah underwent a gruelling six-hour operation at Wythenshawe Hospital on June 18 to remove the 10cm long mass.
While having surgery, doctors also discovered seven or eight smaller tumours, less than 0.5cm in size, that were HER2 positive.
On August 16 Sarah underwent the first of six gruelling rounds of chemo, completing it on November 30.
WHAT IS DUCTAL CARCINOMA IN SITU (DCIS)?
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the earliest possible form of breast cancer. It needs to be treated but is not life-threatening.
In DCIS, the cancer cells are completely contained in the ducts and lobules.
The cells have not broken through the walls of the lobules or ducts or grown into surrounding breast tissue.
This is because the cells are not yet able to invade other tissues.
Sarah said boyfriend Leon has been a huge support throughout her diagnosis and treatment.
Sarah said: ‘Leon’s helped me throughout and he’s been to nearly every appointment he could come to.
‘He’s taken me and picked me up from chemo and been there for me throughout.’
Sarah has completed her six rounds of chemo and proudly rang the bell to mark the end of her treatment on Tuesday [Nov 30].
She will be kept under the watchful eye of doctors and experts and undergo hormone therapy treatment for the next five to ten years.
Now Sarah is urging people to undertake regular self-examinations and ‘mither’ the doctor if they notice any abnormalities.
Sarah said: ‘My advice would be to check regularly. Anything strange, any little change, any kind of discharge from the nipple, anything at all, you’re best mithering the doctor.
‘100% go and get checked, because unfortunately it affects so many women.
‘One in two people get cancer, so if you notice something different it’s not worth leaving it.’
A spokesperson for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We wish to apologise to Sarah for her experiences. We would encourage her to contact our dedicated Patient Advice and Liaison Service so we can listen to her concerns and discuss more fully with her.’