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Brave North Shields mum finding ‘beauty’ and helping others after ‘devastating’ incurable cancer diagnosis

She was meant to be having reconstructive surgery to help rebuild her life after months of grievous breast cancer treatment.

Instead, this North Shields mum was handed the worst possible news: that her cancer was back, and now there was no hope for a cure.

Now, as she undergoes palliative treatment, Sarah Harrison is devoting herself to making life better for others with a terminal diagnosis.

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Sarah, now 40, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 in 2016. After seven months of treatment, the disease went into remission. She’d gone back to work and was beginning to put her life back together.

But in 2019 her world was turned upside down.

Sarah said: “It’s secondary breast cancer now, and it has spread to my bones and my liver. I was going in for reconstructive surgery and I was feeling fine, I was back at work, I really wasn’t feeling ill at all. I went in for a routine scan to make sure my blood vessels were in good working order so they could do the surgery.

“That was in February 2019, and they said ‘there’s something wrong here.’ I got the diagnosis in the middle of March.

“It was something that we thought was the beginning of a fresh start, I thought everything was on the up.”

Despite the “devastating” news, Sarah decided to approach her diagnosis as she had the first time, with “positivity.” Although at first she tried to carry on with life as normal, after a while, the mum-of-two decided to devote her remaining time to create a legacy for herself, something that would help others in her situation and give her family, including children Alice-Jaine, 9, and Charlie, 10, and husband Chris, a special way to remember her.



Sarah with her family: husband Chris and kids Alice-Jaine and Charlie

She began the ‘Sarah’s Star’ initiative, which aims to create a new center for people with any palliative diagnosis (a diagnosis for which treatment with only manage symptoms, but cannot be expected to produce a cure).

She’ll use her own experience of the rollercoaster of emotions that she went through as she faced up to the prospect of dying from cancer to design the “holistic” centre, which will offer the likes of yoga, reiki and beauty treatments alongside counselling, groups to talk about death, family support and more informal meeting spots where people can talk to others in the same situation.

Sarah said: “Although it was a devastating blow I tell myself that palliative doesn’t always mean your life is immediately over. No two days are the same as on a good day, I am upbeat, I feel energized and full of hope for a life where I can make a difference. Sometimes I feel unstoppable with great passion for positivity. I feel so grateful for what I have in that moment, and I just want to help people like me to feel that they’re not alone.

“However, on a bad days I have feelings of uncertainty. Through talking to other people in similar situations I’ve learned that we are all unique in dealing with our illnesses, there is no right or wrong way but having support and being able to support others can make it more manageable.

“My biggest fear right now is feeling completely useless and that’s why I’m doing this, it’s an awful feeling.



The mum hopes that ‘Sarah’s Star’ will give her loved ones a positive way to focus on her memory after she’s gone

“This disease can take so much away but at Sarah’s Star I want everyone to feel they are of some use. There are days we may feel we have nothing to give but even sharing that detail with someone could help them to realize that they are not alone in that thought and together we can keep shining through the dark times.”

Part of the philosophy behind the center surrounds inviting people to talk about death, if they want to. Whilst loved ones often struggle to talk about the reality of dying with the ill person, the center will give them the opportunity to be around others who understand, as well as offering them ways to record last wishes or messages to their loved ones which can be passed on when the time is right.

Although it’s often a difficult subject to broach, Sarah says talking about dying can help people approaching the end of their lives feel less alone, and help their loved ones to face life without them. She’s tried to be “honest” about her condition, including communicating with her children about what’s happened.

“We’ve always been really honest with them, because I’ve always been worried that if something happened to me and I hadn’t told them what was happening it would be even more difficult for them to cope with,” she said.

“Dying is the only thing in life that you actually have to do and we have such a stigma around it, we don’t talk about it, and yes, it’s scary, but I’m really trying to remove as much of that as Yo puedo.”



Sarah is making the most of precious time with her children

The former marketing executive said that amid the pain and difficulty of her illness, there can be “real beauty” to be found in the darkest times amid a palliative diagnosis.

“I look at the time I’ve got now with my children, because the way we were living it was up in the morning, off to school, get back, eat, go to bed. But now, even though I lay in bed for months they lay beside me, and I just thought ‘I’m getting to know them in a completely different way’ and there is a privilege in that,” she said.

“When people are dying there can be this ‘bucket list’ thing, you get really caught up in having to do this and having to do that and there can be a pressure, but enjoying those little things can be really special.”

Sarah is raising money for the ‘Sarah’s Star’ appeal at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/sarahs-star

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