BRAVE singer Sarah Harding says she is grateful just to wake up every day because she now realises just how precious life is.
The Girls Aloud star, 39, has advanced breast cancer and, in a heartbreaking interview, describes coming round after a mastectomy as “one of the worst moments of my life”.
She told how she was rushed to intensive care with sepsis and spent a fortnight in a coma that left her unable to speak for weeks.
Now Sarah is refusing radiotherapy treatment on her skull for a secondary tumour because she does not want to lose her hair — with no health guarantees at the end of it.
She said in The Times magazine: “I’m just grateful to wake up every day and live my best life, because now I know just how precious it is . . . nothing is certain any more.”
Sarah thought chemotherapy was working until the secondary tumour destroyed her hopes.
She added: “The disease has worsened, as has my prognosis. This tumour is the thing that scares me more than anything because I think it will be the thing that affects me the most.
“I don’t know what it’s going to do, but it’s there. There’s an option for radiotherapy on my skull but I don’t want to go through that and lose my hair at this stage, especially with no guarantees at the end of it.
"It might seem vain thinking about my hair, but my thinking was that if there’s a chance I’ve only got six months, then I’ve got six months.
“Losing my hair probably wasn’t going to change that, so if there’s another way to manage the disease or treat it, then let’s do that. I don’t want to feel like I have to spend whatever time I have left hiding away.”
She does not know exactly how long she has left — and does not want to know. She was told by doctors that last Christmas would “probably” be her last.
Sarah explained: “I don’t want an exact prognosis. I don’t know why anyone would want that. Comfort and being as pain-free as possible is what’s important to me now.
"Silly little things make me happy: my lie-ins, watching Family Guy on TV through the night when I can’t sleep, roasting a chicken for Mum and me on a Sunday, if I’m feeling up to it.”
She is relaxing with a glass of wine and trying “to find joy whenever and however” she can.
The singer, who has always had such enthusiasm for life, said: “I think what I’d really like to do is to see everyone — all my friends, all together. One last time.
“Then I’d throw a great big f***-off party as a way to say thank you and goodbye.”
She decided to write her new book, Hear Me Out, to urge other women to get checked over before it is too late.
She said: “Writing about my cancer, I found myself thinking, ‘Do I want everyone to know this?’ But I kept thinking that if there was a chance just one person who read my story decided to get checked and was treated in time, then it was worth it.”
Sarah put off getting checked out because of Covid. She thought she had a cyst but the pain was so “overwhelming” that she slept “on the sofa, popping painkillers like they were Smarties”.
Eventually, she spoke to someone at her local hospital. When she revealed how many tablets she had taken, she was told to go to A&E.
She said: “I was a mess when they told me it was breast cancer — like anyone would be. Being faced with your own mortality is not something you consider, but that’s how that moment felt for me.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s it, game over’. The oncology breast nurse tried her best to make me feel better. ‘Sarah, there are so many things that can be done these days’, she told me. ‘You mustn’t give up hope’.
Don’t let Covid halt breast test
By Jane Atkinson
THE Sun on Sunday launched its Get Checked campaign last year after it emerged thousands of women were putting off appointments even though they had symptoms.
It is backed by cancer charity CoppaFeel! and Breast Cancer Now and urges women — and men — to consult a GP if they find lumps or unusual changes in their breasts.
Breast Cancer Now estimates almost 11,000 fewer people across the UK were diagnosed with breast cancer between March and December last year as a result of the pandemic.
The charity also says nearly 1.2million fewer women had breast screening during that period.
There was also a 90,000 drop in referrals to a specialist for patients with possible symptoms of breast cancer in England.
Women said they were reluctant to attend medical appointments for fear of catching Covid — and that they did not want to burden the NHS.
The charity warns in some cases women could die due to diagnoses delay.
Breast Cancer Now boss, Baroness Delyth Morgan, said: “Almost 11,000 people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to disruption caused by the pandemic.”
- For more information visit coppafeel.org.
“Whatever else she said barely sank in. My head was spinning. How was I going to process this news? How was I going to get by with the knowledge that I was fighting for my life?”
Nurses sat with Sarah during the night at Watford General as she regaled them with stories about her wild antics in Girls Aloud.
She used her middle name of Nicole to protect her privacy as she had a mixture of pills to help her sleep and battle intense pain. The star admits she “cried a lot”.
Her cancer treatment then began when she was moved to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester — near to where she grew up with her mum in Stockport.
She had a port fitted into her chest so chemo drugs could be administered — and then got sepsis.
Her lungs and kidneys failed so she was put in an induced coma.
Her mum was told to prepare for the worst. Tests showed parts of her brain had been affected by swelling as she had a condition called posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, PRES.
When she opened her eyes, she could not speak but could see her mum tearfully telling her she loved her and saying: “The dogs are missing you.”
Star’s pain is so raw
By Clemmie Moodie
SARAH Harding and I are the same age, and would have been in the same school year.
I’m sure, like most 39-year-olds, school seems like yesterday. We all still feel 16. We all remember the horror of double maths of a Tuesday morning.
Which is why Sarah’s story is so powerful and so heartbreaking.
Thirty-nine is no age at all.
Sarah and I grew up on the celebrity circuit together. Her, glamorous, laughing, beautiful, on the red carpet. Me, moth-eaten, exhausted, on the other side of it.
She was so welcoming to everyone — star, fan and journalist alike.
She happily played up to her moniker “Hardcore Harding”. Yet she is – I’m loathe to say “was” because where there’s life, there’s hope – so, so much more than a party girl.
I distinctly remember, despite the 37 pints of champagne, a late-night chat with her at a hotel bar in London after an awards ceremony.
I asked for the secrets of her flawless complexion. She humoured me and we talked lasers and facials. (I’m sure she’s had better party chats).
So when she describes in her brilliant, raw book the awful realisation that the drugs designed to save or prolong her life will also erode her much-photographed beauty, the pain is almost visceral.
Pleading with a nurse to cover the bedroom mirror, sparing the hourly reminders of her inward, and outward, pain.
She says she longs for one more big night out. I hope to God she gets that chance.
Her words — no doubt written in moments of excruciating agony, mentally and physically — will save lives.
She said she wanted to remind people of the real her, the one beyond “the nightclubs, the frocks, the big chart hits, and the glamour of being a pop star”.
Sarah, if you’re reading this, you’ve done it – a thousand times over.
For every young life you’ve saved, for every woman under 40 you’ve given the courage to get checked, thank you.
After she finally came round, Sarah was scared to sleep in case she never woke up.
In Hear Me Out, serialised in The Times, Sarah wrote: “I forced myself to stay awake for as long as I could, refusing to close my eyes, terrified that if I shut them again, I’d go back under and not wake up.
“This went on for three days, and one of the nurses, Jude, stayed awake with me for two of them.
“On the third night, another nurse took over. When Jude came in for her shift later that night, she came in and sat on the other side of the bed. ‘OK, now we’ll all go to sleep together,’ she said.
“That night, I finally gave in and agreed to take a sleeping pill. The two nurses put their heads down on either side of my bed, and we all went off to sleep together.”
She tells how she was “terrified” before her first dose of chemo, how she sometimes feels 100 years old — and opens up on the physical and mental agony of having a mastectomy.
Sarah said: “Coming round from that operation was one of the worst moments of my life. I’m so grateful that Mum was there waiting for me because I screamed the place down.”
Sarah says she can no longer look at herself in the mirror.
She added: “I don’t recognise myself. It’s very hard to wake up every morning knowing that a part of me is missing; that part of my womanhood is gone.
"The loss of it breaks my heart. Some women can have reconstruction, but I know I’d just end up back in intensive care because I’m too ill.
“I suppose it had crossed my mind at one point, the idea of reconstruction, but now I have to be realistic. I have to let go.”
- HEAR Me Out by Sarah Harding, published by Ebury, is out on Thursday (£20).
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