How this Leeds cancer patient is making the most of every day
Cancer, the word everyone dreads, turned a Leeds student's life upside down after her shock diagnosis at the age of just 21.
Chanté Sanderson-Williams was living life to the full at Leeds Beckett University, had planned a summer holiday abroad with friends and loved nights out, her hair and fashion.
She had just enjoyed a weekend at home in Sheffield celebrating her mum’s birthday when, out of the blue, she discovered a lump in her breast.
Chanté, who is in her third year at university and is now 22, was showering when she felt the lump and telephoned her mum in blind panic.
Two weeks later, after tests, a biopsy, scans and endless worrying, she was delivered her devastating diagnosis - that she had an aggressive, invasive tumour.
But Chanté, who lives with her mum and sister in Hackenthorpe, said despite the initial tears and fears that she might die, she is determined to fight the disease and wants to warn women that they can develop breast cancer at any age.
“Like many people I always thought of breast cancer as an older woman’s condition, but now I know from bitter experience that it can affect people of all ages,” said Chanté.
“Even though I spent the two weeks before my diagnosis worrying about the lump, everyone around me was saying not to worry and that it would just be a cyst or an infection.
“Nobody expected it to be cancer but it was – and I want younger people to realise that it can happen to them.”
She is now urging women to check their breasts for lumps and sudden changes and to seek medical help. But she also wants her experience to give hope to others battling breast cancer.
Chanté, who has had a mastectomy and endured gruelling chemotherapy, is due to begin radiotherapy, where she will undergo 25 sessions over five weeks in a bid to beat the disease.
Because of her age and the effect cancer-killing drugs could have on her fertility, Chanté underwent treatment where her eggs have been frozen in case she needs IVF.
But, despite her ordeal, Chanté is positive and determined not to let cancer beat her.
She has managed to continue with her studies, enjoyed a girls’ holiday abroad and says she feels brave enough now to start making plans for her future. “I can still remember the moment when the doctor said ‘Chanté, I am sorry to say that you have breast cancer.’ It was devastating,” she said.
“I didn’t expect them to say that because everyone had been telling me I was too young and it would be a cyst.Even though I knew from the size of the lump that it had to be something serious I didn’t want to believe it, so it did come as a massive shock and I just remember being in floods of tears, not knowing if I was going to live or die.
“They said it was treatable but I was crying so much I wasn’t taking it in.
“I remember calling my grandma to tell her and she dropped the phone.”
Chanté said despite her initial fears, she eventually began taking each day at a time and has now come to terms with her illness and its side effects.
In a bid to prevent the loss of her hair, Chanté was offered a ‘cool cap’ during chemotherapy where an ice-cold cap was placed on her head to try to freeze her hair follicles, but it didn’t work and her beloved locks started to fall out.
“My hair was my everything - it was thick and long and when it started to fall out it was heartbreaking. I hung on to every strand as long as I could,” she said.
To protect Chanté, her mum, Coral, 47, covered up all the mirrors in their family home until she came to terms with her appearance.
She received two wigs, paid for by the Teenage Cancer Trust, but now wears one custom made by London firm Honey Hand, whose owner was so moved by Chanté’s plight that she gave it to her free of charge and uses Chanté to advertise her products.
Chanté said she is thankful to medics and Sheffield’s Weston Park and Hallamshire hospitals for helping her to fight cancer.
“I went through a phase of not wanting to plan anything but now I am confident.
“Although I will have to live with certain side effects the rest of my life, the worst is behind me and I make the most of every day,” she said.