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I was treated for secondary breast cancer for a year before doctors realised they’d misdiagnosed me

After being diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, and undergoing a mastectomy, lymph node surgery and chemotherapy, Donna wasn’t prepared for another medical shock.

After being diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, and undergoing a mastectomy, lymph node surgery and chemotherapy, Donna wasn’t prepared for another medical shock.

Mortality was constantly on my mind

My story starts with a routine trip to my GP. I had made an appointment for something else, then on the day, my right nipple had inverted. I was sent straight to the hospital.

Life suddenly became a blur of tests and scans. Waiting for results was agony. I hoped it wasn’t what I feared. But it was. I had cancer. One in two people, the ads said. Well, now I had become the one.

Initially, I was told it had been caught early and a lumpectomy would be needed. But it soon became apparent after another CT scan that a mastectomy was necessary.

Three weeks after diagnosis, I had my right breast removed. Another operation later and the cancer had spread to 13 of the 14 lymph nodes tested.

Nothing in my half-century of being a girl, woman, wife, mother or grandma had prepared me for the emotional implosion of this cancer diagnosis.

Mortality was constantly on my mind. How long would I live? Would I see my son graduate next year? I needed to distract myself. My happy place has always been my garden – it was now time to dig in.

At times, cancer felt like something of a dark gift

We kept my condition secret from our son until after his final BA exams. Now, post-op, I had to break the news to him and other family. They were all as stoic and supportive as I expected. Every day a new bouquet arrived and each one raised my spirits a little.

Gradually, I felt more lucky than sad. Cancer was turning out to be a dark gift. In frightening you with death, it also makes you appreciate every sunrise, every sunset and everything in between.

My secondary cancer diagnosis had been made on the basis of two small nodules in my chest. After a year of scans, they hadn’t responded to treatment.

Despite targeted chemotherapy drugs, they weren’t shrinking. On the positive side, they were not growing. Every month my nurses said that ‘no change’ was good. And it had been. Post-surgery, I’d actually felt very well other than a tickly morning cough.

But now, my oncologist was concerned. He ordered more scans and the horror that is a bronchoscopy. I’m not only scared of surgery, I’m also claustrophobic. Doctors pinning me down and interfering with my breathing is my perfect storm of phobias.

Sadly, the procedure was so traumatic that months later I had a near meltdown during a routine dental check. And, on top of the bronchoscopy trauma came another anxious wait for results.

After a year of treatment, it turned out I didn’t have secondary breast cancer

Finally, one Friday afternoon, just before I resigned myself to another weekend of garden distraction therapy, news came via the Chest Clinic. It left me almost as shocked as I had been in receiving my original diagnosis.

The nodules were not cancer.

I had a rare condition called sarcoidosis. It wasn’t secondary breast cancer. It never had been. Sarcoidosis is a disease which can be mild or severe. Mine was mild. So mild that I am only monitored annually. It was what had been responsible for my tickly cough.

The chances of having breast cancer and sarcoidosis at the same time are incredibly rare. It took me some time though to realise I had been misdiagnosed. However, I don’t blame anyone. Thankfully, they’d all been cautious. They’d caught my breast cancer early and from the scans had presumed the nodules meant a spread.

Imagine if they’d made the mistake the other way around: the outcome could have been fatally different. So I feel grateful, not angry or litigious. Everyone’s cancer is personal. Individual. Unique.

I have found hope where I least expected it

Admittedly, the good news threw up questions. Was this new diagnosis reliable? Why hadn’t they done a bronchoscopy earlier? Had I been diagnosed correctly initially, would I have had different treatment?

In truth, the answers don’t matter. The past is irrelevant. With cancer, only today matters. How you feel today. What you do today. And today, like every day since that second diagnosis, I have found hope in the place I had least expected it, which is amazing.

I wanted to share this story, not only because there’s always a chance of spotting light at the end of life’s darkest of tunnels, but because I’ve learned we can all create our own light. Create it by enjoying life’s simple gifts – such as the beauty of flowers.

I’ve now turned my passion into a way to give back

Breast Cancer Now helped me following my initial diagnosis - it’s a charity close to my heart. This year, my third year of treatment, I’ve set up ‘Flowers Against Cancer’ and I raise funds by making bespoke floral arrangements, selling them at cost and asking for a donation.

Flowers helped me during my darkest times, now I hope I can use them to help others. It also makes me feel good! It’s a symbiotic relationship.

I’m currently only taking local orders, but I’m looking into expanding nationally. Maybe others might even pick this idea up and do the same!

When people think of fundraising, they probably imagine running a marathon or climbing a mountain, but it doesn’t have to be that. It can be as big or as small as you want; whatever it is will always be worthwhile.

If you want to contact Donna about setting up a similar business, she is happy to be contacted via

DIY fundraising

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