2015 was a difficult year for Suzy Newson.
As a personal trainer working in the city, she was the epitome of health and fitness when a shock diagnosis turned her world upside down.
“I’d had a small, soft growth in my armpit for years,” explains 46-year-old Suzy.
“I had it checked by my GP long ago who confirmed it was just excessive breast tissue, nothing abnormal, and told me to come back if I ever decided I wanted it removing.
“Early last year it started to grow bigger, so last April I booked an appointment to have it removed and was sent to Sheffield Hallamshire for routine pre-op breast screening.”
What should have been a simple 20 minute appointment turned into two-and-a-half hours as doctors told Suzy the mamogram had revealed some pre-cancerous cells in her right breast and told her they needed to take a biopsy.
Once the biopsy was done, they performed an operation to remove the first lump, along with the pre-cancerous cells they’d found.
“I honestly thought that would be the end of it,” says Suzy, who lives in Dore with her husband Richard and their 12-year-old twin girls.
Relieved, Suzy went back to her life and didn’t give her close-call much more thought until she went back to the hospital for the results of her biopsy.
“I went on my own and was fully expecting to be given the all clear,” says Suzy.
“Instead, doctors told me that their biopsy had uncovered an invasive cancer cell. They said it was only very young and so I wouldn’t have felt it as a lump for a long time - if at all, as it was hidden away near my chest wall.
“I had to take the news on my own, as I hadn’t expected to need anyone with me,” Suzy recalls ruefully.
“The doctors started talking about putting me on immediate treatment, but my veins had just turned to ice. It was such a shock - I was young, very fit and well and there was no history of breast cancer in my family, I just hadn’t expected this could happen to me. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was going to have to tell my children that their mum had breast cancer.”
Suzy went home to her relatives, who were all distraught by the news.
She says: “The children were crying, they couldn’t really understand it, it was such a horrible time.”
But Suzy quickly sprang into action, readying herself for the battle ahead. She had another operation to check if the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes which, thankfully, it hadn’t. She started chemotherapy last July, followed by 15 doses of radiotherapy.
“The chemotherapy affected everything,” Suzy recalls.
“My body was in bits after the first one, I expected it to have a cumulative effect but the first one was the worst. Everyone responds differently and I was struck with horrendous hot sweats and shivers for the first 12 hours and wasn’t much use at all for those first two weeks.
“One thing I didn’t realise about chemotherapy is the list of side effects that hit you from tip to your toe, I went right down the list and back up again.
“It was a tough time but I had really good support from my husband and my girls, as well as my wonderful friends and family.”
Today Suzy is starting to feel more like her old self again.
“I’m tired, but that’s from the radiotherapy which I finished in December and is still in my system,” she says.
“I still have regular checkups and injections in my leg every three weeks, but I was given the all clear just before Christmas, meaning I haven’t got breast cancer anymore and that’s the main thing. My consultant says I’m very low risk and, though he can’t promise it won’t come back, he’s confident we’ve beaten it.”
And through it all, Suzy has kept working at ‘train with suzy,’ taking off just four weeks in the last six months - one week for each dose of chemotherapy.
“My clients have been amazing and they’ve respected me when I’ve said I just want to work with them and forget about everything else for a while. Work has been a great distraction - seeing my clients push on with their goals honestly inspired me to push on with mine and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings.
“I’ve also been focused on rebuilding my own fitness and I’ve started doing some gentle cycling and things, which has felt wonderful.”
And Suzy says the people of Sheffield should never forget how lucky they are to have Weston Park Cancer Support Centre right on their doorstep.
“Everyone, from the nurses and oncologists to the phlebotomists in that place are absolutely brilliant,” she smiles.
“They get you through the treatments, and your family and friends get you through at home. I’m incredibly lucky in that this was one small chunk of my, hopefully, long life and all I’ve had to do is stay positive and keep busy and look forward to a time when it’s over, but I met plenty of people in the last year who aren’t so lucky, people for whom the news hasn’t been so good.”
And Suzy’s story has one very important message, something she’s keen to share with as many people as possible.
“I was the last person in the world I thought would get cancer,” she says.
“I went into the hospital for something completely different and if I hadn’t gone for this routine screening, this cancer wouldn’t have been found until it was far too late.”
Visit www.cancerresearchuk.org to find out if you’re eligible for breast cancer screening.