• Tanya Louise

Health: Why Sarah Harding's Story Is So Devastating and What We Can Learn From It










I can't get her off my mind.

Partly selfish reasons, pitying myself because of my past, partly because that poor poor young women has a terminal diagnosis, with from the sounds of it, not long to live.

Our own mortality hangs over us every day, the one certain thing in life is that one day we will all die, but we always hope, not now, not me.

Sarah Harding had everything; the looks, the career, the pop star lifestyle, money, Cancer doesn't care who it takes whether we're rich, poor, black, white. Of course there are known risk factors and no doubt some do gooders will be laying blame on lifestyle, because of course Sarah had a party girl image too.

I don't know. All I know is, it's not fair. It's a cruel cruel disease. When we first heard about Sarah's diagnosis a few months back, the line 'it had travelled to other parts of her body' struck me. I'm no medical professional, but to my knowledge, once the disease has metasised (travelled) from the breast to another area of the body, it can not be cured. Treated but not cured. (Note: many can't but I believe some cancers, such as testicular can)

To put it simply, this means that medical professionals will try and keep the disease stable and prevent further spread in order to prolong life. Some people can live for a number of years like this, but eventually the cancer will win and the treatment will stop working.

Why can some live for years and others, like Sarah, won't? There can be a number of reasons. Firstly, there is not 'just breast cancer' there are several types of breast cancer, it can be slow growing or aggressive. It can depend where in the breast it is, it can also depend when the cancer is found and how quickly it is acted upon.

From what we've read, Sarah didn't act quickly because of the pandemic and self-medicated for pain. Had she have acted quicker would the final prognosis have been the same? We can't say as we're not her medical team, however, she could certainly have stood a better chance or lived longer.

This is because the cancer had spread beyond her breast and into the lymph nodes. Our lymph nodes act as a filter in our body, they fight disease, they also carry cells around the body - that includes cancer cells that can then start to grow elsewhere. Had the cancer been detected earlier and confined to her breast, it could perhaps have been removed and followed up with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I don't know if her prognosis would have been different, but it certainly might have been.

Sarah writes that 'she is reluctant to undergo radiotherapy as this would cause her to lose her hair...that although some may consider her decision “vain”, if she only has a few months left to live, it won’t be worth it to lose her hair'. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but you only lose hair on the area treated with radiotherapy, so although the articles say it may have got to her brain, from reading that, it sounds fairly certain it has. It also references her Mum as acting as her carer. Another factor which suggests how poorly she is.

The article also reads 'the television personality was left devastated when she lost her breast, so is keen to hold onto her blonde hair. Losing your hair, as a woman is a massive deal, to most anyway. It's not only part of our femininity, but also our identity, and large or small so are our breasts. It is down to the individual of course on each. That surgery alone is hard to get your mind around, and you are offered no support or counselling. It may differ at other hospitals, but I certainly wasn't. Thank God for Maggie's Centres who thankfully do offer it, and I was at least pointed in their direction. I can't fault the medical treatment I received though. Luckily I had a mastectomy and silicone reconstruction at the same time, but even then, it's like you suddenly have these 'things' stuck on your body. They felt alien to me. It took me a while to get used to looking, never mind touching them. As time has gone on and things settled they have become part of me, and thankfully look more natural. I still fear touching the area where the tumours were. For one the fear of finding another, and secondly the fact that there is nerve damage and can still be swelling.

I've had breast cancer twice. The first time in 2016 it appeared to be confined to my right breast. As I was small chested, I went with the option of double mastectomy and reconstruction. This I was told was the best option in terms of preventing a future recurrence and also cosmetically. At the time, they took three lymph nodes from the nearby area (this is known as a sentinel lymph node biopsy) they were tested for signs of cancer. Thankfully, there was none. So I was treated with chemotherapy to mop up any rouge cells that might be remaining.

Go and get on with your life - that's the instructions you get. They believed I had a very small chance of it coming back.

Just getting on with your life isn't that easy. You've been faced with your own mortality and cancer hangs over you like a dark black cloud, someone with their finger on a trigger. The gun is at your head and could go off at any time. The mental side is awful.

Despite my medical teams confidence, I did have a recurrence. Because of this they arranged a scan to check if it was already anywhere else. The scan came back clear, however, when this tumour was removed and a further sample of lymph nodes taken (5), cancer was found in one of them. It was on its way. That node also showed signs of vascular involvement, it had started to find a way ('grown a tiny vein' as they put it) to spread to another part of my body. Its weird isn't it. Your own body is trying to kill you. As the CT had been clear, they hit me with strong chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy.

I often think how had I not acted when I did, the prognosis would have been very different. So when I saw the update on Sarah's story it hit me hard. I cried for her and the future she'll never have, and I cried for me - what could have very nearly been. I don't cry because I was a Girls Aloud fan - I wasn't. I cry because she's a human being, because she's another young woman who will die far too young. She may well have lived a life that many of us will never know, but at the end of the day, money can't save her. Nothing can. I hope she finds peace in the time she has left, I hope she can still smile and feel love.

Please if anything, let Sarah's story alert more women to the fact that it can happen to them, at any age. Check yourself regularly and always go to your GP. Do not put it off or be fobbed off. Early detection is essential.


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