If anyone can convince you to join the Race for Life it is cancer survivors Sam Plumtree and her mum Christine Lewis. Reporter Nancy Fielder tells their family’s incredible story
Sam was just an ordinary young Sheffield mum trying to balance the demands of family life with work when her whole world fell apart and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Less than two years earlier her mum Christine Lewis had faced her own battle with the killer disease but Sam’s was a genetic cancer – passed down through her dad’s side of the family.
At the age of 30 Sam had already lost one aunt, seen another suffer with cancer and now believed she had just a year to live herself. But that wasn’t the end of her fears.
Sam’s daughter Emma was just two when the devastating extent of the gene on female relatives became all too painfully clear. Now aged six, Emma is still too young to be tested for the gene and Sam considers herself lucky to still be around for the daily chores of motherhood.
All three generations do the Race for Life each year and look determinedly forward to a future where a cure, vaccine or better treatments are found before today’s children need them.
Christine was 53 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago.
She said: “We do the Race for Life because we feel it is a way of raising money to help future generations including our own future generations.
“As soon as you mention cancer no matter where it is, it is just devastating. You know it is quite common really but you don’t expect it to be you.
“It is a different thing entirely when it is your daughter or perhaps your son. You feel you are not in control and it is awful. Anybody who has got children no matter what age knows they are always your babies.
“I was lucky because I didn’t need to have chemotherapy but when my daughter was at the point where she needed chemo we knew there was more of a chance that it had spread and I knew she was in a worse place than I had been.”
Christine, who lives near Sam in Mosborough, says cancer has changed her outlook completely.
“I was really shocked because there were no symptoms, it was picked up during an ordinary mammogram.
“Once you have had cancer you realise that you have to make the most of now because you don’t know what is coming. You have to put it to the back of your mind because there are places where you don’t even go, especially when it comes to the genetics because you just don’t know if other relatives, particularly grandchildren, are carrying the gene.”
Sam was aware of the breast cancer gene on her dad’s side so went to the Children’s Hospital genetics department in her 20s to uncover her own chances.
Using information from her family tree and her age, she was relieved to be told she was unlikely to suffer so young. She was to be invited for regular mammograms from the age of 40, instead of the usual 50. So when she discovered a small lump just after turning 30 she went to the doctors thinking it would be something as harmless as a blocked duct.
She was instantly referred to the hospital and within days was told she had cancer in her right breast.
“I was devastated. The consultant didn’t say straight away that it was cancer so I was still in my own little world thinking I wasn’t really at risk before 40 and it couldn’t happen to me. When I went back for the results they said the ‘c’ word and my whole world fell apart. I had a young child and it just didn’t seem fair.”
The lump was growing so quickly there were concerns that it could have already spread to Sam’s organs and she endured ‘the longest week of my life’ waiting for the results.
“In that time I had planned my future and what I was going to do and the things I wanted to do before I died,” she said. “I was convinced I had probably got about 12 months to live.
“When the results came back it was obvious that I was very, very lucky that we had caught it when we did because if it had just passed the final layer of lymph glands it could have gone everywhere and it would have been a completely different story.”
Since her first trip to the doctors in October 2007 Sam had undergone four months of chemotherapy, had her ovaries removed and still faces a double mastectomy to reduce the chances of the cancer returning.
“Chemotherapy was quite hard going,” she said. “I lost all my hair straight away and that was one of the biggest things for me because it makes you look ill and until then I hadn’t looked poorly. Emma was two and because she was so young she was unaware how serious things were. She knew her mummy was very poorly but even now she doesn’t fully know the severity of it.
“The only thing that bothered her at first was when my hair came out. We took her with me to pick a wig and she had a bright pink wig herself and that helped a lot.
“There is a chance of my cancer coming back and when Emma is older we have to find out if she has the gene.
“But she is only six now and hopefully by the time it could affect her there will be other treatments available and it won’t affect her in the same way.”
And that’s the real reason Sam, Christine, Emma and their female friends and family do the Race for Life every year.
In the hope that spending one day a year having fun with thousands of other Sheffield women will help future generations and those suffering today in their battle against breast cancer.
“Everybody has got a reason for doing the Race for Life,” Sam said. “I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m still here to do it myself and not just a name on the back of somebody’s T-shirt.”
n You can sign up for this Sunday’s Race For Life at www.raceforlife.org or sponsor Sam at www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/samplumtree19
n Call 0871 6411111 for more information about.the details of the Sheffield event
n The Race for Life route: see tomorrow’s Star.
n Star Opinion: P8