Sheffield student’s breast cancer battle - aged just 21

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Cancer, the word everyone dreads, and the one which turned a Sheffield woman’s life upside down after her shock diagnosis at the age of just 21.

Chanté Sanderson-Williams was living life to the full at university, had planned a summer holiday abroad with friends and loved nights out, her hair and fashion.

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22,  found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22, found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe

She had just enjoyed a weekend at home celebrating her mum’s birthday when, out of the blue, she discovered a lump in her breast.

Chanté, who is in her third year at university and is now 22, was showering when she felt the lump and telephoned her mum in blind panic.

Two weeks later, after tests, a biopsy, scans and endless worrying, she was delivered her devastating diagnosis - that she had an aggressive, invasive tumour.

But Chanté, who lives with her mum and sister in Hackenthorpe, said despite the initial tears and fears that she might die, she is determined to fight the disease and wants to warn women that they can develop breast cancer at any age.

“Like many people I always thought of breast cancer as an older woman’s condition, but now I know from bitter experience that it can affect people of all ages,” said Chanté.

“Even though I spent the two weeks before my diagnosis worrying about the lump, everyone around me was saying not to worry and that it would just be a cyst or an infection, nobody expected it to be cancer but it was and I want younger people to realise that it can happen to them.”

She is now urging women to check their breasts for lumps and sudden changes and to seek medical help. But she also wants her experience to give hope to others battling breast cancer.

Chanté, who has had a mastectomy and endured gruelling chemotherapy, is due to begin radiotherapy, where she will undergo 25 sessions over five weeks in a bid to beat the disease.

Because of her age and the effect cancer killing drugs could have on her fertility, Chanté underwent a round of treatment where her eggs have been frozen in case she needs IVF.

But despite her ordeal, Chanté remains positive and determined not to let cancer beat her.

She has managed to continue with her studies, enjoyed a girls’ holiday abroad and says she feels brave enough now to start making plans for her future.

“I can still remember the moment when the doctor said ‘Chanté, I am sorry to say but you have breast cancer’, it was devastating,” she said.

“I didn’t expect them to say that because everyone had been telling me I was too young and it would be a cyst.

“Even though I knew from the size of the lump that it had to be something serious I didn’t want to believe it, so it did come as a massive shock and I just remember being in floods of tears, not knowing if I was going to live or die.

“They said it was treatable but I was crying so much I wasn’t taking it in.

“I remember calling my grandma to tell her and she dropped the phone.”

Chanté said despite her initial fears, she eventually began taking each day at a time and has now come to terms with her illness and its side effects.

In a bid to prevent the loss of her hair, Chanté was offered a ‘cool cap’ during chemotherapy where an ice-cold cap was placed on her head to try to freeze her hair follicles, but it failed to work and her beloved locks started to fall out.

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22,  found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22, found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe

“My hair was my everything - it was thick and long and when it started to fall out it was heartbreaking. I hung onto every strand as long as I could,” she said.

To protect Chanté, her mum, Coral, 47, covered up all the mirrors in their family home until she came to terms with her appearance.

She received two wigs, paid for by the Teenage Cancer Trust, but now wears one custom made by London firm Honey Hand, whose owner was so moved by Chanté’s plight that she gave it to her free of charge and uses Chanté to advertise her products.

Chanté who attended High Storrs School and Hillsborough College before starting university and worked as a steward at Sheffield Arena, said she is thankful to medics and Sheffield’s Weston Park and Hallamshire hospitals for helping her to fight cancer.

“I went through a phase of not wanting to plan anything but now I am confident that although I will have to live with certain side effects for the rest of my life, the worst is behind me and I now just make the most of every day,” she said.

CHECKING YOUR BREASTS:

* There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts. Whatever your age, it is simply important to get to know your breasts and what is normal for you

* Look for lumps, puckering or dimpling, redness or a rash, nipples becoming inverted or changing position or shape, a change in the size or shape of your breasts or any discharge from your nipples

* Remember to check all parts of your breast, including your armpits and up to your collarbone

* If you notice any unusual breast changes see your GP as soon as possible

* Call Breast Cancer Care’s nurses free on 0808 800 6000 or visit breastcancercare.org.uk

FACTFILE:

* One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime

* Around 11,500 people die from breast cancer in the UK every year - making it the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK

* Around 330 men are also diagnosed with it each year

* Eighty per cent of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50

* More than eight out of 10 people survive breast cancer beyond five years

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22, looks through information she was given after she found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chante Sanderson-Williams, 22, looks through information she was given after she found a lump on her breast, which was later diagnosed as breast cancer. Picture: Andrew Roe