‘My one piece of advice is to check yourself regularly’

Breast Cancer survivor Debbie Walton, of Balby. Picture: Marie Caley D5618MC
Breast Cancer survivor Debbie Walton, of Balby. Picture: Marie Caley D5618MC

One woman’s story of how she fought the disease that affects tens of thousands of women every year

When mum of three, Debbie Walton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 her world fell apart.

Sadly she was no stranger to the terrifying disease.

Not only had Debbie lost both her parents to forms of the disease but she was confronted by the realities of the disease that claims so many lives on a daily basis through her work as a nursing assistant at St John’s Hospice.

But despite the family history, Debbie, now 50, says she hadn’t even considered the possibility of breast cancer until she noticed a pain in her right breast.

She was convinced she had cancer immediately, and thought back to how unwell she’d been feeling over the previous nine months.

Eight years on, Debbie says she wouldn’t have been able to get through what followed without the support of her family, the determination to fight and a sense of humour.

She said: “For about nine months before I found the lump, I didn’t feel well and knew that something was wrong, but just didn’t know what it was. When I first went to the doctor’s about the lump, I just kept saying ‘I know I’ve got it’ and they would tell me you don’t know that. But I did. I just knew it.”

Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2005 when she was 42, and she says her first thought was her husband and children.

She added: “When you get news like that your world falls apart in an instant. I really thought I was going to die. I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband John until I had my results back, And the whole time I was waiting for my results, while I was still being tested, I just kept looking at my children and thinking about what would happen.

“Even though my daughter Jessica was only 15 at the time, she knew something was wrong. The worst part was having to tell my children. Tom was angry, Jack was inconsolable and Jessica said she knew something was wrong all along.”

Debbie’s doctor at Doncaster Royal Infirmary advised her would need a lumpectomy.

But Debbie says her experience of cancer meant she wouldn’t be confident that the cancer had gone unless she had the whole breast removed and says she ‘just wanted it out’ of her body.

After the mastectomy doctors found a second cancerous lump.

“One thing I have taken from this is to always act on your intuition and listen to what your body is telling you.”

Debbie returned to work at St John’s Hospice in 2007 after her treatment ended.

Returning to a job where ‘dealing with cancer on a daily basis was part of the job’ didn’t faze her - and now she says it helps her in her work with patients and their families.

“The way I see it - I’ve dealt with cancer, and watched as my family members have battled it so I’m well placed to know what patients and their families are going through.”

October is breast cancer awareness month, and Debbie says if she could pass on one piece of advice to women this month it would be to ‘check your breasts regularly’, which she admits is something she failed to do prior to diagnosis.

Debbie says a strong support network is important when you’re going through breast cancer- which is an ethos shared by the Doncaster Life After Breast Cancer support group which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Sue Story is one of the inspirational group’s founding members and says the key to helping women who have breast cancer, or who are recovering from the disease, is simply showing that someone is there for them. She said: “Sometimes it can be as simple as giving someone a lift to chemotherapy, or just listening.

“Not everyone who has beenw through cancer has had the same experiences, but being able to talk about it with other people who understand helps.”

The 66-year-old battled breast cancer in her early 40s and has also supported her mother and daughter through the disease, and says that while the breast cancer care nurses are ‘amazing,’ sometimes you want to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through, which is where the idea for the group came from.

The group meets at least once a month at the Jasmine centre at DRI.

Sue says the group has members of all ages and adds that she regards the women in the group as family now and is ‘proud’ of what they have been able to achieve.

Over the last 20 years the group has also raised thousands of pounds for cancer charities and causes including the lymphoedema ward at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

The Doncaster Life After Breast Cancer support group will mark its 20th anniversary with a party later this month, and also invites people to a fund-raising coffee morning at the St Leger Hotel which takes place on October 17 from 10am.

Breast cancer - what you need to look for

Every year nearly 55,000 people, including 400 men, in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer

And as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month people in Doncaster are being asked to check their bodies, and to be aware of the signs and symptoms.

The signs and symptoms people should look out for are:

l Changes in breast size or shape.

l Changes in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling

l An inverted nipple.

l A lump or thickening of breast tissue.

l Redness or a rash on the skin/around the nipple.

l Discharge from one or both nipples.

l Constant pain in the breast or armpit.

l Swelling in armpit/around collarbone.