Wonder drug gave me my life back: One woman's cancer story

Sally Youll, 67 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk s

Sally Youll, 68 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk showground. Sally and her husband Terry Youll. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

As thousands get prepped for the Race for Life in aid of cancer research, Sarah Burgess caught up with one runner who defied all the doctors' predictions — and now hopes to inspire others.

Sally Youll was 54 when she was told she had primary breast cancer, had to undergo chemotherapy treatment and lost all her hair.

Though it disappeared, and she moved on with her life, it came back with a vengeance five years later — and the cycle started all over again.

By the third time she was told she had cancer in June 2019, a further five years had passed.

But this cancer, known as "triple negative", was a different beast: It was secondary, stage four and had spread to her lymph nodes.

The retired teacher, living in Norwich, was faced with a stark choice: Go through yet another round of chemotherapy and live for nine months, or go without treatment entirely and live for three.

Ms Youll, 68, said: "We were all distraught, and all in a dark place.

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"It dawned on me that I really was about to die. 

"My kids, Anna and Guy, wanted me to do the chemo, but I just didn't know if I could put myself through that again. 

"It makes you feel so rotten and ill.

"My brother wanted me to get a second opinion, but my husband Terry and I thought 'well, what's the point?' If the doctor had an alternative he'd have told us."

Sally Youll, 67 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk s

Sally Youll, 68 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk showground. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Nevertheless, on her brother's insistence, Ms Youll visited a specialist in London that August — and to her amazement discovered there was an alternative drug she could try: One which was more tolerable than chemo and had only received NHS approval the month before.

Miraculously, by January 2020, the treatment had been so effective her scans were reading 'No evidence of disease'.

"This doesn't mean the cancer isn't there, but that it can't be seen on the scan," Ms Youll added.

"I know my cancer will come back one day, probably sooner rather than later. But all I can say is that I've had a wonderful two years I didn't expect to have."

And now, as she prepares to run the Race for Life on Sunday, she hopes others will find hope in her story.

She said: "What I want to stress is that it's all just a roll of the dice.

"I was lucky I listened to my brother and got that second opinion, lucky there was a drug my cancer was compatible with, that it was approved in time, that it worked.

"I know there'll be people feeling devastated by their diagnosis, but there's every chance there might be a drug out there for them too, and they might be as lucky as I was.

"Because despite being told I had three months, I'm still here. My husband has to drive me to London once a fortnight for the treatment, but that's it."

Sally Youll, 67 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk s

Sally Youll, 68 is a breast cancer survivor who is now running in the Race for Life at the Norfolk showground. Sally and her husband Terry Youll. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Ms Youll confessed that as soon as she saw her scans come back clear, her psychology just "flipped".

"Once I realised I wasn't about to die, I started running," she said.

"At first I couldn't run 100 yards without gasping for air.

"But then I started running a little bit further each day. 

"I downloaded the NHS couch to 5k app and bought all the gear, and now I run three times a week.

"It makes me feel so much better, and gives me energy rather than takes it away.

"I want to increase my speed and at the Race for Life on Sunday, I want to try and get a personal best."

Action from the 5k and 10k Race for Life 2019, Norfolk Showground. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Action from the 5k and 10k Race for Life at the Norfolk Showground in 2019. - Credit: Jamie Honeywood

This year, the Race for Life will be held at Norfolk Showground, where thousands are expected to congregate wearing bright pink.

The series, including 5K, 10K and the Pretty Muddy obstacle course are Cancer Research UK's biggest fundraising events.

Over the last quarter of a century, since the first race in 1994, the events have raised more than £900m.

To donate to Sally, click here.


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