A cancer survivor who has battled breast cancer three times has revealed how she feels lucky to have been diagnosed.
Mum-of-one Sam Reynolds felt like a “ticking time bomb” each time she was told she had the deadly disease – when she was 26, 34 and again at 36.
Now 38, Reynolds of Guilford, Surrey, who has had a double mastectomy in a bid to beat cancer for good, said: “People ask me if I feel unlucky, but I don’t – I actually feel really lucky.
“I’m alive, and I can talk about everything I’ve been through. It’s third time lucky for me.”
Sam was first diagnosed in December 2005, after discovering a small pea-sized lump on her left breast.
“Both my mum and grandmother had developed breast cancer, so I thought I’d see the doctor,” she recalled.
But, in March she visited the private consultant, who her mum had visited about her cancer, but he believed the lump to be fibroadenoma – a very common, benign condition, where lumps are found in the breast.
Feeling reassured, she thought no more of it until she went on holiday to Kenya nine months later.
Getting changed out of her bikini in the hotel bathroom, she caught the lump with her fingertips and noticed it had grown.
“It looked like it had been puckered, like a piece of thread that had been pulled,” she explained.
When she returned home, she visited the consultant again, who was unhappy about the growth so took a biopsy straight away.
Two days later, at Mount Alvernia Hospital in Guildford, Surrey, she was told she had grade two, stage three breast cancer.
“It was devastating. Being 26, I had everything going for me,” she said. “I was a personal assistant working in the film industry, I had a great boyfriend, owned my own flat and had a brilliant group of girlfriends.
“Getting that diagnosis was like someone hit the pause button on all of that. Everything that was normal in my life would suddenly change.”
The following January, Sam had a lumpectomy to remove the growth, followed by six gruelling months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiotherapy.
She was also tested for the BRCA1 or 2 genes, indicating hereditary breast cancer, but both came back negative.
Then, in October 2006, Sam was told she was in remission.
“It was a relief that the treatment was over, but I knew I had a lot healing to do. I needed time to process everything that had happened to me.”
Splitting up with her boyfriend a couple of months later, Sam focussed on getting her life back to normal and in September 2007 she met her now husband, lawyer Peter, now 37,at a friend’s wedding.
Sam married Peter in a countryside church in Godalming, Surrey, in June 2009 and the following year, when she stopped taking Tamoxifen – a drug used to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning – she fell pregnant.
“We’d always wanted to start a family so were over the moon when I gave birth to Lottie in October 2010,” she said.
“But the thought of cancer was still in the back of my mind. I was worried about what would happen if it came back now that I was going to be a mum.”
Tragically, Sam’s worst nightmare was confirmed when, in June 2012, during a routine check-up, a 2cm lump was found on her collarbone. Tests confirmed it was a grade 2, stage 2 cancer.
“I was a mother now so things felt a lot worse. I had so much more to lose,” she said.
“We had to tell our little girl, who was only turning two, that Mummy wasn’t very well.”
In the September, Sam had surgery to remove the lump at the Mount Alvernia Hospital in Guildford, followed by seven weeks of radiotherapy.
After the treatment, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but had therapy sessions, and was given the all clear in January 2012.
“I still felt like a ticking time bomb,” she admitted. “I felt like it had come back twice already, it would probably come back again.”
A further blow came when doctors told Peter and Sam they would not be able to have any more children, because Sam needed to stay on Tamoxifen.
The drug can harm a developing baby.
“That was heartbreaking to hear. All my friends were having their second children, and I’d always wanted a big family. But at least I was well and healthy,” she said.
The family hoped the worst was behind them, but in February 2014 they received more heartbreaking news.
“We had just come back from holiday in Antigua when I went for a routine check-up,” continued Sam. “The doctor was feeling around and this time found a lump on my right breast.”
Two days later she was told the cancer had developed in her right breast too.
“The other times when I was told I had cancer I didn’t cry,” said Sam.” This time I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe it. It was grade 2, stage 2, just like the second time.
Doctors suggested a double mastectomy, as well as reconstructive surgery with silicone implants.
“I knew I wanted to have both my breasts removed, to just get rid of them and get rid of the cancer, and hopefully stop it from coming back.”
After the six hour operation at Mount Alvernia Hospital, Sam says she instantly felt empowered.
“I made the decision so quickly, and when it was done I felt so different,” Sam recalled.
“I knew there was a chance the cancer could come back and spread elsewhere, but it was gone for now, and I could get on with living my life, being a mum, a friend, a wife.”
Now, three years this week since the double mastectomy, Sam is making it her mission to help other women in her situation.
She has set up a website called SamSpaces which provides support groups in Surrey and a wellbeing blog for people after they have finished cancer treatment.
“I want to help women connect with each other and feel empowered to make their healing journey proactive and personal,” Sam explained.
“Since I set the site up two years ago and the support group a year later, I’ve had some amazing feedback. I’ve been told how helpful it is having people in the same boat post cancer.
“It’s such a vulnerable time and there is so much to process. The support can fall away at this stage, but knowing wobbly days are normal and you can share your fears of check-ups, it’s really great.”
She has been supported by cancer support charity Trekstock as well as writing on her blog. For more information, visit trekstock.com