Woman who was ‘terrified’ of breast cancer diagnosed twice before turning 30

·6 min read
 (PA Ready)
(PA Ready)

A mum whose fear of getting breast cancer prompted her to check daily for lumps for years only to have the disease twice by the time she was 30 is campaigning for kinder treatments after chemotherapy made her so sick she was hospitalised.

Jade Townsend, 32, is “still terrified” the disease will strike again – even after having a double mastectomy – and says seeing her mother go through breast cancer, which she survived, made her positive from a young age that she would follow suit.

And when she first found a lump in the summer of 2017, even though she was just 27, she insisted on a referral as she “always knew” she would not escape its curse.

Former teaching assistant Jade, who lives with her marine engineer partner Jack Shelton, 37, and children Charlie, six, and Margot, two, in Westbury, Wiltshire, started checking her breasts at 20. She said: “I always knew that one day I would end up with breast cancer because of my family history.”

She added: “I was terrified for years and checked myself every single day in the shower. Then it happened twice.

“I’m terrified even now that my breasts have been removed and reconstructed.

“There’s a 98 per cent chance I won’t get breast cancer again, but you never know.”

Jade first found a small lump on the underside of her left breast in 2017.

She said: “I saw the doctor who told me it didn’t feel like anything sinister. They said to go back in four weeks if I was still concerned.

“I actually went back in just three weeks, as the lump had tripled in size and I insisted on a referral.”

Sent to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset, she received her results that October.

She said: “I was in this small white box room. I remember the doctor saying, ‘I am sorry, but you have stage three triple negative breast cancer.’”

Jade added: “There was a black dot on the wall. It felt like my whole world became focused on that dot as everything fell apart.

“Charlie was just 18 months old. I remember asking the doctor if I would die and him telling me he didn’t know. I don’t remember anything else. It was all a blur.”

Jade had triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, and was told she needed to quickly begin chemotherapy that would make her infertile.

Given the option of harvesting her eggs prior to treatment, she decided against it, saying: “I didn’t want anything to delay my treatment.”

She added: “I decided not to have my eggs harvested and to focus on Charlie, not any children I may have had in the future.

“It was incredibly difficult, but felt like the right choice.”

Falling horrifically ill in response to the chemotherapy drugs, Jade was in and out of hospital for months.

She said: “On one occasion, I was taken into hospital on Christmas Eve, which was awful as my little boy had just started to realise what Christmas was about.”

Jade added: “I told the team I’d discharge myself to be with Charlie at Christmas, but the doctor told me, ‘If you discharge yourself, you won’t see another Christmas,’ so I had to stay.”

Following chemotherapy, Jade had a lumpectomy that showed no signs of the tumour remaining, followed by two types of radiotherapy. She then finished her treatment in May 2018.

She said: “I thought I’d done it. I’d got through it and could start living my life again.

“Apart from knowing I wouldn’t have any more children, I was ecstatic. We were all really, really happy.”

Incredibly, Jade then found out she was pregnant with Margot, who she calls a “miracle” baby.

Giving birth to a healthy baby girl in January 2020, she says her little family could not have been happier.

But, in August 2020, Jade discovered a dimple in her left breast.

She said: “I knew straight away it was cancer. I thought, ‘Here it is again. It’s come back.'”

Jade added: “I just didn’t want to do anything to burst our bubble. I was so, so happy with my partner and my kids, being well enough to be the mum I wanted to be.”

After two weeks of watching the dimple grow larger, Jade knew she had to seek help.

In October 2020, nearly three years to the day from her first diagnosis, she was once again told she had breast cancer, this time stage two.

She said: “It was a lower stage and had been caught earlier, which is brilliant. But, as I’d already had cancer, I was told I would need a mastectomy. That was incredibly hard, as I was still breastfeeding my daughter.”

Jade had a single mastectomy followed by recommencing chemotherapy.

Due to the risk of catching Covid and the repression of her immune system, this meant she  could not hug her children – including baby Margot – for two heartbreaking months.

She said: “My mum or sister would bring Margot up to see me, but I couldn’t even touch her. It was so difficult. I felt like an awful mother.

“It was Charlie’s first year at school and he couldn’t even come in and see me because the risk of me catching Covid or even a cold was too high.”

Last November, after finishing chemotherapy, Jade had her right breast removed as a precaution and is now planning a hysterectomy, after discovering she has the PALB2 gene that increases the risk of developing certain cancers.

Jade, who is currently cancer-free, now plans to have both her children tested for the gene when they turn 18.

While she is still tired from the lasting impact of treatment and has been thrown into the menopause, she said: “I am finally the mum I want to be.

“We are definitely making up for lost time. I am calmer than I’ve ever been. I don’t tell the kids off as much. Why would I? They’re just kids. I just don’t sweat the small stuff.”

And she is keen to speak out in support of charity Breast Cancer Now, which is funding research that could lead to more treatment options for cancer patients, by adapting lessons learned from the Covid-19 vaccine.

She said: “I wanted to share my story, because I’m hoping they’ll find a kinder treatment for breast cancer. My chemo was horrendously gruelling.

“My white blood cell count would drop to nothing in reaction to the drugs then I’d then get an infection and be unable to fight it off. I’d have to be admitted to hospital to be treated, or there was a danger it would kill me.

“If there’s anything that can be done so that chemo isn’t that horrific, so people like me could be more of a mum during treatment, that will be a massive improvement.”

For more information visit the Breast Cancer Now website at www.breastcancernow.org