Sarah Boyle is sat beside her husband in a private room in The Royal Stoke University Hospital in northern England. The weeks leading up to this moment have consisted of a series of arduous routine tests. The young mother is now facing a health professional who has just uttered the words that nobody ever wants to hear; Boyle has breast cancer. Little does she know, however, there’s an even bigger bombshell just around the corner.
At this appointment, Boyle, who is from Staffordshire, England, listened while doctors ran through the severity of her diagnosis. She had grade two triple-negative breast cancer and she would need to start treatment right away. With both chemotherapy and surgery in the pipeline, life as she knew it was about to drastically change.
Some types of breast cancer can be treated with hormone therapy; but triple-negative breast cancer is not one of these strains. The growth of these tumors isn’t caused by hormones, so treatment of this kind is not effective in shrinking cancerous cells. Like Boyle, patients with triple-negative cancer are usually prescribed with chemotherapy, surgery, bisphosphonate drugs and radiotherapy.
Boyle told U.K. TV show This Morning in July 2019 that she first noticed something wasn’t right when she found a lump on her breast seven years earlier. And despite having been told that it was benign on multiple occasions, the young mother naturally kept a close eye on it ever since.
Then, Boyle gave birth to her first son, Teddy, in 2016. And after six months of breastfeeding, the mom noticed that her baby boy no longer wanted to feed on her right breast. Boyle told The Mirror in August 2019, “He just wasn’t having it. I had no problems with my left breast, but every time I tried with my right he would start screaming and get very upset. He wouldn’t go near it.”
This, you see, was the same side that she’d previously had checked out, and the same breast in which she’d already been told there was a benign lump. So, obviously thinking it’s better to be safe than sorry, Boyle went back to the doctors for yet another check-up.
Boyle was then told that she would be fast-tracked to a breast screening appointment. And it would be natural to assume that at this point, the young mom may have been starting to feel a little daunted. However, she told This Morning that she’d been down this path before and so didn’t see a need to be worried just yet.
During the scan at Boyle’s screening, however, the health professionals couldn’t determine the nature of the lump. It wasn’t appearing clearly on the screen; so they decided that they needed to take a biopsy. The young mom told This Morning, “I said to [the man scanning me], ‘Do you think it’s cancer?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’”
Sadly, within a month of her reporting Teddy’s discomfort feeding, Boyle got the news that it was breast cancer. In the same interview, she said, “It all happened really quickly. I didn’t actually expect to be told I had cancer.” After all, she’d already had the lump checked out several times before.
In the same whirlwind of a meeting, Boyle was prescribed eight rounds of chemotherapy, and these would begin immediately. As a result, the young mom would face months of hospital visits and, of course, the side effects that would come as a result of the drugs.
The average bout of chemotherapy consists of six cycles, and each lasts up to three weeks. Boyle, however, was given two more cycles than usual in the hope that this would shrink the lump prior to the double mastectomy that was also scheduled to follow. But that wasn’t all; the young mom had to endure multiple CT and MRI scans to boot.
Boyle lost her hair, and she told This Morning that the treatment left her finding it difficult to be a mom to her little boy. This is unsurprising given that chemotherapy can leave patients feeling exhausted, nauseous, anemic and prone to both infections and bruising. Furthermore, the young mom was no longer able to breastfeed Teddy, either.
For Boyle, not being able to breastfeed was one of the most difficult consequences of her diagnosis and treatment. She emotionally opened up about the experience to The Mirror, saying, “The effect on Teddy was the worst part of it. I hated having to give up breastfeeding. I remember sobbing through the bars of his cot as he reached for me to feed him.”
And if this period of her life wasn’t difficult enough, Boyle added that her husband Steven had to give up his job to look after her and the baby. However, she likely would have taken solace in the thought that at the end of the suffering, the lump would have shrunk.
Unfortunately for Boyle, though, the news wasn’t good; the tumor had not diminished. And in her interview with This Morning, the young mom described the moment she received this dreadful news. She said, “I remember my oncologists explaining to me that they’d have expected it to shrink or not be there. They were kind of a bit concerned.”
Halfway through her course of treatment, Boyle’s scan showed that the lump was only one millimeter smaller. However, as the young mom explained on This Morning, “My oncologist said, ‘Look, Sarah, I’m not gonna lie – I would have expected this to have at least shrunk by half.’”
You may be wondering, then, why the scan Boyle that received during her treatment hadn’t offered her a glimmer of hope. The lump was indeed a tiny bit smaller; but Boyle herself had an explanation for this. She added, “… Looking back, give or take the angle you look at it, [the lump] could have done that anyway.” The measurement, therefore, may not have been entirely accurate.
So, Boyle underwent a double mastectomy and awaited the results of the tissue examination. Then, after approximately one week, the young mom received an unexpected phone call; and she remembers vividly how she felt in that moment. The young mom explained to This Morning, “Any lady or man going through treatment will understand what I’m about to say. If you get a phone call early – you instantly – you’re scared.”
This fear was heightened by the fact that Boyle wasn’t called by her usual breast cancer nurse. This time, it was a secretary who explained that her appointment had been brought forward. The young mom said that she now needed to head into the hospital on June 7, 2017 – over a week earlier than her original time slot.
Naturally, Boyle was terrified by what she feared she was about to hear. She continued, “When we arrived at the hospital that morning, I took [the nurse’s] hands and said, ‘Am I dying? Am I dying?’ And I looked at her. I had Ted with me, and I said, ‘Before we go in, am I dying? Is it terminal?’” The hospital staff then had to tell Boyle something that she certainly didn’t expect to hear.
Instead, Boyle told This Morning, the nurse said, “No – quite the opposite.” The young mom entered a room with her surgeon and breast care nurse, and she seemingly misunderstood what it was they were trying to tell her. Thinking that the health professionals had saved her life, she leaped from her seat to thank them and express her gratitude.
What Boyle would come to realize in a matter of seconds, however, was that her life hadn’t ever needed saving. She’d never actually had cancer, and her diagnosis had been the result of a huge mistake at the hands of the medical professionals. The mass that they’d seen on the scan and from which they’d taken a small sample was, in fact, a benign lump.
Before the penny dropped, however, Boyle had a brief moment of elation, and she recalled what she was feeling in that instant. In tears, she told Good Morning, “I thought I’d done it. All that suffering, all that pain and the struggling to look after my little boy was for something, because now I can be his mom.”
Boyle then met the woman who’d analyzed her biopsy and made the misdiagnosis. Naturally, after having been through months of arduous treatment, you might imagine the anger the young mom would have had for the health professional. However, Boyle responded quite differently to how you’d expect.
But Boyle wasn’t angry; rather, the young woman felt as though she needed to comfort the doctor. The mom explained to This Morning, “I just wrapped my arms around her, and I said ‘it’s okay…’”
Through her tears, Boyle explained her reasons for reacting this way. She continued, “… I instantly knew how awful she must feel. I know that she’s got children, and I thought if that was my mom, I wouldn’t want her to feel awful or sad because over the months and the year, I learned that you can’t hold onto that.”
As we have seen, then, Boyle is most certainly a forgiving individual. But she hasn’t put the ordeal to bed just yet – and quite rightly so. The young mom wants to see as much good as possible come as a result of her misdiagnosis. And her lawyer, Sarah Sharples, who specializes in medical negligence cases, is going to help her ensure that happens.
For its part, The Royal Stoke University Hospital told This Morning, “Ultimately the misreporting of the biopsy was a human error.” It has, of course, apologized to Boyle and said that it “understands how devastating this has been.” Nevertheless, both Boyle and her lawyer are still working to prevent similar mistakes to this one from happening again in the future.
Boyle’s lawyer Sarah Sharples explained to This Morning, “What’s really important for [Boyle] is that a lesson is learned from all of this – from everything she’s been through – to make sure that this sort of very simple error doesn’t happen to anyone else again. And it’s important to learn that lesson and share it.”
And progress does seem to have been made. The hospital trust has now increased the amount of time that patients have to wait for their results. And while this may not initially seem like a positive step, it actually allows the pathologists more time to be thorough in their tests.
What’s more, cancer diagnoses are now checked by two doctors before being shared with the patients. The NHS trust is, therefore, making strides when it comes to learning from and adjusting as a result of Boyle’s unnecessary suffering. For the young mom, though, the traumatic period of her life has left her with a combination of physical and psychological scars.
For one, the type of implants Boyle was given as part of her reconstructive surgery apparently makes her more susceptible to getting cancer in years to come. And, naturally, she finds this particularly concerning. Boyle told The Mirror, “I am also worried about complications that I may face because of my chemotherapy.”
Chemotherapy can also lead to long-term side effects; risks include developing a second cancer and patients’ organs reacting to chemicals in the medication. Indeed, heart and lung damage can occur as a result of the treatment.
For Boyle, though, there was a heartbreaking long-term side effect that she found particularly difficult to come to terms with. She was told that the aggressive nature of her treatment would prevent her from being able to have more children. But before long, she once again found herself unprepared for what life had in store around the corner.
This time, the shock was thankfully rather different. While on vacation in Spain with her husband, Boyle began to experience the early signs of pregnancy. Thinking that this was impossible, the young mom just assumed she was feeling ill as a result of the lasting effects of the chemotherapy.
After spending over $200 on pregnancy tests, the couple were ecstatic to learn that, against all odds, they were expecting their second child. Boyle told The Mirror, “I just couldn’t believe it. It was the best feeling in the world to find out I was pregnant.” Her husband, Steven, humorously added, “[She] made great friends with the pharmacist in Spain!”
Boyle then gave birth to a second baby boy, Louis, in November 2018. And she couldn’t fault the care that she received from The Royal Stoke University Hospital, either. Of the birth, she said, “[Staff] were fabulous, and they gave me so much support. The birth was so amazing and relaxing. Louis is just so perfect and we’re so blessed to have him.”
Despite the seemingly miraculous turn of events, Boyle is taking it one day at a time. She is, after all, still dealing with the psychological confusion that she never really had cancer. Furthermore, the impact of the treatment she went through makes her feel as though she did actually have the illness
For Boyle, continuing to have a relationship with the staff who cared for her has been crucial. And despite all that she’s been through, she described the team at The Royal Stoke University Hospital as “amazing.” The mom told This Morning, “All of the women [who] are being treated or are being diagnosed today, tomorrow and yesterday, you are in safe hands. They are dedicated, beautiful people. The surgeons, oncologists are the best care – they’re fantastic.”
Boyle is also in regular contact with the mental health team at The Royal Stoke University Hospital. Furthermore, she’s getting the help and guidance she needs to come to terms with what exactly happened to her. And despite her painful experience, Boyle can at least hold on to the fact that she’s still alive. She told This Morning, “I’m really lucky. I’m lucky. I know I’m lucky.”