A runner who thought a patch of raw skin on her breast was down to her sports bra chafing has spoken of her devastation at learning it was actually cancer.
Sarah Lang, 32, of Bristol, first noticed the mysterious rash-like mark on her right breast in December 2015.
Having just taken up running at the time, she thought it might be her sportswear rubbing against her skin.
But, when the welt wouldn’t heal, she sought help from her doctor and, after a lengthy string of tests, received the devastating news that she has three rapidly growing tumours.
Now she has made the difficult decision to have a full mastectomy. She underwent the surgery on 10 August.
”At first, I just thought the mark was chafing, but it got to the point where my skin would rip off my nipple whenever I took my bra off. It was really painful,” said production editor Lang.
“Deep down, I knew I wasn’t okay. I just had this gut feeling.
“Through all this, I’ve learned how important it is to listen to your own body. If something isn’t right, keep pushing to get it checked out.”
After weeks of the raw skin on her breast healing then reappearing, Lang visited her GP in early February 2016.
Following an examination, she was referred to Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset.
There, she was prescribed a cream used to treat dermatitis, a condition usually characterised by inflammation or blistering of the skin.
A week later, she returned for a routine follow up appointment – her symptoms showing little signs of improvement – and was given a biopsy.
Another week later, medics broke the news that she had Paget’s disease of the nipple, a rare type of breast cancer which occurs when the normal cycle of bone growth is disrupted.
“Suddenly, I was being handed all these cancer leaflets. It was terrifying,” she said.
Lang then underwent extensive tests, including an MRI scan, ultrasound and mammogram, in order for doctors to determine exactly what they were dealing with.
Results revealed an ominous mass, which required a lumpectomy – the surgical removal of a portion of the breast – to get rid of it.
Heartbreakingly, she was dealt another blow when, during her pre-operative assessment, a second mass was found.
She said: “My doctor said I was being moved into a private room. I know it sounds silly now, but at the time, I didn’t click that that meant I’d be getting some bad news.”
Following another mammogram to examine the newly-discovered mass, surgeons told Lang the best course of action was to undergo a partial mastectomy rather than two lumpectomies.
Though the operation went well, follow-up tests revealed a further three tumours growing in her breasts.
“It was a real shock. I’d had no lumps or anything to indicate they were there,” she said.
“At the moment, I’m still waiting on a full diagnosis so I don’t know what stage my cancer is, or what the next steps are.
“All I know is that the tumours are grade 3, which means they’re aggressive.”
As she waits to hear more about exactly what is happening to her body, Lang is due to begin fertility treatment so she can still have children in the future with her partner, 37-year-old Matthew Wood.
“It’s very important to me to have children some day. I’ve always wanted to be a mum and I finally found the right man,” she said.
“Throughout all of this, Matthew has been my rock. I know we’re meant to be together.”
Though Lang said it’s been “exhausting” being given so much difficult news in such a short space of time, she is determined to keep as positive an attitude as possible.
However, she admitted the idea of chemotherapy – which she is due to start in the next couple of months – terrifies her.
“Everything is so up in the air at the moment. Just when I get my head round one diagnosis, everything changes,” she said.
“I think chemotherapy will make everything seem real. Then, I’ll actually look and feel like a cancer patient.
“I’m sure I’ll have lots of love and support around me, but I miss being myself and being healthy.
“It’s amazing how much my priorities have changed in time, though. I’ve gone from freaking out about losing my nipple, to barely flinching about having a mastectomy.
“The way I see it, if it’s a way forward to getting better, then I don’t have an option not to do it.”
Sarah Lang is fundraising for a wig at www.gofundme.com/hairyaffair.