Patient Story

Sylvia Burd

Early stage breast cancer patient

I am 75 years old and married to my husband Harry. We live close to Staines in Surrey with our Chihuahua. I used to work as a primary school teacher but I am now retired. I have recently had surgery and single dose intraoperative radiotherapy for early stage breast cancer.

Diagnosis

There is history of breast and ovarian cancer in my family; one of my sisters had breast cancer and the other breast and ovarian cancer. This puts me at an increased risk of getting cancer so I have a breast screening every year to check for the signs of a tumour. Annual screening wasn’t available to me on the NHS, so I took out private healthcare. I’ve always worried about getting cancer because I am more at risk so this was important to me. 
I’ve been going to my local private hospital every year, around Christmas time, to have a mammogram. And every year, my husband and I have been told that I don’t have breast cancer. We think of the ‘all clear’ news as our best Christmas present.  In December 2015, I went for my annual check-up at the Thames Valley Spire Hospital. I felt perfectly normal and was expecting my doctor to say the same thing he says every year. However, on 30th December, I was told that they had found early, stage 2, breast cancer. I felt surprised and anxious. I had been waiting to hear these words for 20 years but I had become used to receiving good news, so it was a real shock. My husband was very worried as he sadly lost both his first wife and his only daughter to breast cancer.

Treatment

Shortly after my initial diagnosis, I went to meet with my doctors at the hospital to discuss treatment options. They recommended an operation to remove the tumour followed by a course of radiotherapy. Mr Fazel suggested I consider a new type of radiotherapy called single-dose intraoperative radiotherapy which is given at the same time as the surgery, during the operation. The idea of having one dose of radiotherapy while I was under anaesthetic sounded a lot more appealing than having to travel back and forth to the hospital for weeks for conventional radiotherapy.  Also because I have a pacemaker, the doctors were concerned that I wouldn’t be suitable for conventional radiotherapy treatment.
Exactly two weeks after my initial diagnosis, on 13th January, I had my operation. I don’t remember anything as I was under general anaesthetic for the whole time. However, when I woke-up, I was told the procedure had been successful. I felt extremely relieved and was grateful that I could begin focusing on my recovery straightaway. I was in hospital for a total of three days before I was allowed to return home. 

Recovery and Impact on life

When I compare my radiotherapy to the daily radiotherapy my friends and sisters received previously, I feel very thankful. The intraoperative option was quick and convenient, and I liked that it was given at the same time as the operation. I’ve watched my friends go back and forth to the hospital for radiotherapy, every day for several weeks. I know I would have found this very debilitating and tiring. One friend had to go to London and back for her treatment (a 50 mile round-trip), which meant spending most of her week travelling.  My husband would have had to drive me to our local hospital every day so it would have been burdensome and tiring for him too. 
I am still taking things easy and I am slowly recovering from the surgery. After treatment, I had very minimal symptoms, I was a little sore but that is to be expected. I was surprised about how well I felt and I am pleased with the outcome of the operation. I have been staying indoors and resting as that’s what my doctor has recommended, but I’m looking forward to getting back to normal soon. My husband and I enjoy walking our dog, going away for a long-weekend each year and socialising with our friends who live nearby. 
I’m very grateful my cancer was diagnosed early and that I am fortunate enough to be able to access this treatment through my health insurance. Having seen the battle my sisters and my friends have had against cancer, it is good that new treatment options, such as the intraoperative radiotherapy, are becoming available. However, all breast cancer patients deserve access to a choice of radiotherapy treatment that suits their personal circumstances. Sadly, this choice isn’t currently available to them on the NHS.