A mother-of-two is urging women to have regular breast scans after a routine mammogram revealed a cancerous lump so deep it was not noticeable to touch.
Sheelagh Davidson, 57, has since had the all-clear from cancer following a lumpectomy and chemotherapy, but says it was a shock to receive her results after a scan that she had a year early due to moving cities.
Sheelagh, a retired school secretary, who lives in Manchester with her husband, Stuart, 59, a chief operating officer for an industrial services company, said: “It’s so important to attend your check-ups and I’m so lucky that I had a mammogram a year earlier than scheduled, due to moving cities.”
She added: “Now, I’m focusing on raising awareness so that more women can get diagnosed sooner, which will hopefully mean easier treatment.”
For Sheelagh, who has two daughters, Caitlin, 28, and Kirsty, 26, her cancer journey began in June 2018.
She said: “I hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong but in the June I was sent a letter for a routine mammogram.”
She added: “It was actually a year sooner than I was due one because I’d recently moved from Lincoln to Manchester.”
Sheelagh says that when she received a call to attend an appointment for her results, alarm bells did not ring.
She said: “I’m naturally a very optimistic person so I just thought it’d be nothing, something simple that had flagged up.”
She added: “So when they told me I had stage 2 breast cancer, I was very shocked.
“There’s no history of cancer in my family and I hadn’t experienced any symptoms, so it was not what I was expecting at all.”
The lump found in Sheelagh’s left breast was deep and not noticeable to touch.
She said: “A mammogram would have been the only way this could have been found, so I was very lucky that I had ended up having my scan early.”
Sheelagh underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous lump from her left breast before starting chemotherapy.
She said: “I had three rounds of three-weekly chemotherapy, and then weekly treatment for nine weeks. During that time I wore a cold cap too in order to protect my hair, which helped me to keep around 70 percent of it.”
She added: “After that, I had three weeks of radiotherapy as a precaution.
“There had been no sign of cancer since the surgery but the additional treatment gave me some peace of mind that it was wasn’t coming back.”
When her radiotherapy treatment ended in March 2019, Sheelagh was given the all-clear.
She said: “I have annual mammograms now for the next 10 years but other than that, I’m back to normal.”
But after beating cancer, Sheelagh was searching for a way to give back.
She said: “I didn’t really know many people in Manchester, so some of the first friends I made were through a local Prevent Breast Cancer group that I joined.”
She added: “I really wanted to do something good and give back in some way, to show people that a cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world, so I began taking part in charity events.
“I volunteered to help with tea and coffee mornings at The Nightingale Centre in Wythenshawe Hospital and, in 2019, the charity had a double decker bus which I helped out on to spread awareness.”
During lockdown, Sheelagh took part in a virtual walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and this year she completed the Manchester Half Marathon to raise money for Prevent Breast Cancer.
She said: “My husband and I ran the half marathon together in May 2022.
“The past three or four years, I’ve really dedicated to giving back in whatever way I can.
“It’s become an outlet for me to do good and I want to continue to help in any way possible.”
To help spread her message further, Sheelagh has joined Prevent Breast Cancer’s BooBee campaign and signed up to be a BooBee ambassador.
The BooBees are 100 women who have been affected by breast cancer, who are joining together to spread awareness and fundraise for a future without breast cancer across Greater Manchester.
Sheelagh said: “A breast cancer-free future would mean no-one would have to go through the stress of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Being a mum to two beautiful daughters, I want to provide support to the effort that Prevent Breast Cancer is leading.”
She added: “This includes improved breast cancer detection breakthroughs hopefully helping prevent others, including my daughters, from suffering the effects of this terrible disease.”
Nikki Barraclough, executive director at Prevent Breast Cancer, said: “Sheelagh’s story highlights the importance of regularly attending mammograms, especially given that the earlier breast cancer is found, the greater the chance of survival.
“We know there are delays in the process, which means it’s more important than ever that women attend their screening appointments and are breast aware.”