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Woman Opens Up About Discovering Cancerous Lump During Birthday Trip To Disney World

Sam now (PA Real Life/Collect)

A business analyst told how her 30th birthday trip to Disney World – nicknamed the "Happiest Place on Earth" – became the scene of her worst nightmare when a lump she found while applying sunscreen turned out to be aggressive breast cancer.

Celebrating her milestone in October 2017 with an unforgettable holiday to the US, first Sam Hutchins, now 32, spent five nights in the Nevada gambling mecca, Las Vegas, with a friend, before jetting to Orlando, Florida, to meet her husband Dan, 36, who works in insurance.

Heading to Disney World together, the world's most joyful destination became a living hell for Sam, of Canvey Island, Essex, England, when she felt a worrying lump in her right breast one morning as she put sunscreen on.

Sam at Disney World (PA Real Life/Collect)

She said:

“As soon as I felt the lump, my heart sank. I'm quite an anxious person when it comes to my health, so my mind went straight to cancer."
“I was in Disney World – which, ironically, calls itself the 'Happiest Place on Earth'. For me, it soon became the worst."
“I tried to reassure myself that I was only 30 and was too young for breast cancer, but the reality is that it affects people of all ages. You're never too young – I've seen that first-hand."

Sam during treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)

Heading straight to the GP when she landed back in the UK five days after finding the lump, Sam was referred for further tests, which revealed that she had stage two breast cancer.

She continued:

“It was very difficult, as I was of the age where people were having children, buying houses and getting married. I'd see all these happy announcements on Facebook knowing that my news was that I had cancer."

Seemingly fit and healthy, Sam – who is speaking out to make people aware that young women get breast cancer, too – had spent a few days enjoying the sights of Disney World with Dan, her husband of five years, before making her shocking discovery.

Sam and Dan now (PA Real Life/Collect)

She recalled:

“I felt a large, hard lump in my right breast. It was like nothing I'd ever felt before. Straight away my blood ran cold and I feared the worst. I had no idea what to do and felt very far away from home."
“Dan was great and got on the phone to our GP to organize an appointment as soon as we got back."
“I still had five days of the holiday left, though. The rest of the trip was surreal. I didn't want to be there and was just biding my time until I could go home."

Sam in Vegas (PA Real Life/Collect)

Despite having no family history of the disease, or any other symptoms, Sam was convinced she had breast cancer.

She added:

“Dan was trying to reassure me, but the thought was already in my mind and it was so hard to get rid of."

Back home, Sam went to her GP, who examined her and, agreeing that the lump was worrying, referred her to a breast clinic.

Facing a two-week wait on the NHS, thankfully, Dan had health insurance through his work, so she had a private appointment the following day, where medics performed a mammogram and two ultrasound scans, confirming her worst fears.

“As the radiographer was doing the second scan, I asked her, 'What is it?' She replied very honestly, 'I think it might be cancer,'" Sam said.

“An absolute whirlwind of emotions hit me. I was so upset. I kept asking if I was going to die."

Sam in the States on the holiday where she found the lump (PA Real Life/Collect)

A biopsy followed, confirming the cancer diagnosis and what form of the disease she had.

“Waiting for the results was horrible," she said. “I could barely eat because of the worry. Some days even getting out of bed was an effort. I was in an awful limbo."

A week later, the results showed that she had stage two HER2 positive breast cancer.

Sam at Disney World (PA Real Life/Collect)

The charity Breast Cancer Now, who have supported Sam tirelessly throughout her journey, say this means some breast cancer cells have a higher than normal level of a protein called HER2 on their surface, which stimulates them to grow.

She added:

“Sometimes being stage two means that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Thankfully, that wasn't the case with me. It was still contained in my breast, but the tumor was 5cm, so quite large."
“Doctors promised they'd throw everything they had at it to try and beat it."

Sam during treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)

But before she could begin treatment, Sam had some difficult decisions to make surrounding her fertility, which can be affected in several ways by cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy may cause fewer, or no, eggs to be produced, while radiotherapy can damage the ovaries and womb, or reduce hormone levels, according to the NHS.

“I was told I could freeze my eggs, but that would delay treatment," Sam explained. “I wanted to get started as quickly as possible, so in the end, I opted to have injections of a hormone blocker that would temporarily stop my periods."

Sam during treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)

Then, in December 2017, she began a six-round course of chemotherapy, which left her nauseous and fatigued.

In a bid to keep as many of her blonde locks as possible, she wore a special cold cap during treatments, designed to cut off the blood supply to the scalp and protect against hair loss.

Sam said:

“I managed to keep about 50 percent of my hair and also wore a wig during treatment."

She continued:

“I'm not a vain person, but I didn't want to be looked at as a cancer patient. My way of gaining back a little control was by really limiting who I told."
“I didn't post anything on social media and only a handful of people like family, close friends and those who needed to – such as colleagues – knew what I was going through."
“I don't know why, but I felt almost like there was a stigma attached to being a young cancer patient, which is something I'm now determined to change."

Sam and Dan in Disney World (PA Real Life/Collect)

After her chemotherapy finished, Sam had a lumpectomy – surgery to remove just the tumor and surrounding tissue rather than the entire breast – at a private hospital in April 2018, followed by 20 sessions of radiotherapy.

“As the radiotherapy drew to a close, I started feeling more like myself. I was able to go to work more and keep a bit more normality in my life," she said. “There was a light at the end of the tunnel."

Mercifully, follow-up tests showed that Sam's treatment was successful.

Sam and her husband Dan (PA Real Life/Collect)

Annual mammograms in the two years since have found no evidence of the cancer returning, and she remains positive about the future.

Speaking out as Breast Cancer Now statistics reveal that just one in two women regularly check their breasts for signs of cancer, she wants to encourage others to be mindful of changes in their bodies and not to think they are too young to develop the disease.

One of 11 women globally to have taken part in beauty brand ghd's Take Control Now campaign, in partnership with Breast Cancer Now, for which they have launched a limited-edition collection to remind women to self-check – donating £10 from every purchase to the charity towards vital research – she said:

“The campaign features women who had the disease under 35, like me."

Sam at the photoshoot for the Take Control Now campaign (PA Real Life/Kayla Varley @ AMP Agency/www.ampagency.co.uk/photographers/kayla-varley)

“This is something that's very important to me, as when I was first diagnosed, there was hardly any information out there about having breast cancer as a younger woman," she added.

“Going through this in your 30s presents a completely different list of challenges and obstacles. I wanted to see information about fertility, but all the resources were geared towards women of an age where they'd already had a family."

“Younger women might be starting out in their careers, or getting on the property ladder and want advice about finance and that sort of thing."

Sam now (PA Real Life/Collect)

Luckily, Sam found Breast Cancer Now's forum on the internet, and was put in touch with several other young survivors, which she has found hugely comforting.

Now she has finished her treatment, stopped taking her hormone blockers, and her periods have returned as normal, but her consultants have recommended her to wait for two years before trying for a family, although they are confident that her fertility has been unaffected.

Reflecting on her journey, Sam said:

“When you're going through cancer treatment, it's the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning and last thing as you go to sleep at night."

Sam (PA Real Life/Collect)

She concluded:

“I still have moments where something will trigger me and take me back to that place, but it's not as all-consuming anymore."
“My goal now is to use my story to help others, either by encouraging women to check their breasts and get to know their bodies and what's normal for them, or by giving hope to someone who has just been diagnosed."
“I hope I can show that there is life at the other side of all this."

For information, visit breastcancernow.org