A Channel 4 documentary follows TV presenter and property expert, Sarah Beeny, through her cancer diagnosis as she explores the past, present and future of breast cancer treatment
In August last year, TV star Sarah Beeny was diagnosed with breast cancer — 50 years after her mother died from the same diagnosis when Sarah was just 10 years old.
The diagnosis raised some difficult questions for Sarah about prognosis and how cancer treatment has evolved since her mother’s passing. “They say: ‘You’ve got cancer.’ And you hear: ‘What kind of coffin do you want?’” she says.
In her moving documentary, ‘Sarah Beeny vs Cancer’, Sarah learns about the developments in breast cancer treatment compared to that of her mother’s, four decades previously. With powerful video diaries, the programme follows Sarah on her journey with chemotherapy and the days after her treatment. It also explores the impact that her diagnosis had on her family. “Living with the fear of cancer is really hard. It’s disproportionate to the risk.”
After her chemotherapy, Sarah opts to have a double mastectomy. Having been told that her treatment was successful in March this year, Sarah draws a line under this difficult time in her life. She is determined to use her experience to shed light on cancer and share an important message with anyone that has also been affected by the disease.
Sarah hopes that viewers of the documentary will take away the importance of early diagnosis and going to the doctor at the first signs, or slightest suspicion, that something isn’t right. Early diagnosis has a huge impact on the effectiveness of treatment. “The big message is, if you have any kind of suspicion, go to the doctor. Don’t delay, because if you do get a diagnosis early, cancer is no longer terminal…”
I was so scared of getting cancer, and now I’m not scared of cancer.
"We’re all slightly hindered by historical opinions which are not necessarily based on the reality of treatment today,” Sarah says. “If I told this story, there might be loads of people who wouldn’t be so scared. I’m not going to say that all cancer is the same, breast cancer is completely different. But I do know that with all cancer treatment, we can base our fears largely on something that happened 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, to someone we loved.
“I’d lived with fear of cancer since my mother died… So I suppose, first of all, I started making the documentary largely because I thought it might help other people if they watched what I went through,” says Sarah. “I wanted to go on a journey where I sort of had something I wanted to find out, which is that cancer treatment was better than it used to be when my mother died. And then it was.”
Sarah is also hopeful that things will continue to get better every day, having seen how bright the future is for breast cancer treatment.
How do I check my breasts?
Sarah’s documentary highlights the importance of early diagnosis and recognising the signs of breast cancer, so how do you go about checking your breasts?
It’s recommended to check your breasts at least once a month. It’s best to do this after your period when your breasts are less swollen, tender and lumpy, but an easy way to remember is to ‘feel on the first’ of the month!
The important thing to note here is that there is no right or wrong way to examine your breasts. You’re learning to be breast aware and recognise what is normal for you. Everyone's breasts are different, they range in size and shape, and some people might even have one breast larger than the other. Get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month - before, during and after your period. For people who are post-menopause, the breasts are usually softer, less firm and not as lumpy.
When doing a breast examination, you can sit up straight or stand up. You may find it useful to face a mirror so you can learn how your breasts look as well as feel. Some people also find it easier to check their breasts in the shower or bath with a soapy hand.
Using three fingers, start at the top of the breast – as high as the collarbone – and slowly work your way down and around the area. Be sure to feel underneath with gentle pressure and move across to your armpit. Repeat this on the other breast. It’s recommended to examine them with your arms raised and by your side.
The NHS has outlined a five-point plan for being breast aware:
- Know what's normal for you.
- Look at your breasts and feel them.
- Know what changes to look for.
- Report any changes to a GP without delay.
- Attend routine screenings if you're aged 50 to 70.
What should I be checking for?
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you notice any of the following:
- A change in the look or feel of the skin on your breast, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness.
- A change in the size, outline or shape of your breast.
- A new lump, swelling, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that was not there before.
- Fluid discharge from the nipples.
- Any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently.
- A rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple.
- Discomfort or pain in one breast.
Finding support following a cancer diagnosis
Whilst cancer treatment has advanced greatly in recent years, getting a diagnosis can be an incredibly scary time. Here are some resources that can support you, whether you’ve been diagnosed yourself or you’ve been affected by the diagnosis of a loved one.
Find out how more about how counselling can support you through a cancer diagnosis on Counselling Directory.
- Finding financial support following a cancer diagnosis
- Caring for a loved one through cancer
- 5 ways I stayed strong during cancer treatment
- Deborah Jame: F**k you cancer
- Macmillan Cancer Support
- Cancer Support UK
- Cancer Research UK
- Teenage Cancer Trust
- Breast Cancer Now
Sarah Beeny’s documentary, ‘Sarah Beeny vs Cancer’ airs on Monday 12th June at 9 pm on Channel 4.
Read the full article in the Independent.