“That waiting is horrible. It is all you think about, wondering whether it has spread”

PUBLISHED: 14:13 18 October 2012

Seema Seetharam, Consultant Breast Surgeon at Darent Valley Hospital

Seema Seetharam, Consultant Breast Surgeon at Darent Valley Hospital


Having to endure a two-week wait to find out whether cancer cells had spread beyond the breast was worse than the initial diagnosis, Sarah Oakwell says.

The 34-year-old mum was told the tumour in her breast was malignant in November 2010.

The following month she had an operation to remove the lump, but surgeons also tested the lymph nodes in her armpit to detect whether the cancer had spread.

But using current methods for this takes time for the results to come back – two weeks of being left not knowing the extent to which her body had been invaded by the disease.

“That waiting is horrible. It is all you think about, wondering whether it has spread. It seems like the longest two weeks in your life. Once you are diagnosed with it, you get over that really quickly. The waiting around is the worst part,” Sarah says.

If the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes, that means having to go through a second operation to remove them.

This is why Darent Valley Hospital, where Sarah is a patient, is fundraising to buy equipment that can tell a woman the minute she wakes up from that first operation whether or not breast cancer cells have spread.

The system, called the One Step Nucleic Acid Amplification, or OSNA, tests the sentinel lymph nodes from the armpit and within 30 minutes offers a result to the surgeons.

If it shows the cancer has spread, the lymph nodes can be removed immediately while the patient is still on the operating table.

All that stands in the way is another £31,000 to reach the £76,000 it will cost to bring it to Darent Valley Hosital.

Breast surgeon Seema Seetharam is heading the campaign.

“Having to wait for results is obviously very stressful and disruptive for patients especially as they will be recovering from the first episode of surgery,” she said. “To then find out that further surgery is necessary is very traumatic and upsetting for patients. The benefits of this technology include a faster diagnosis and subsequent delivery of appropriate treatment as well as a reduced overall hospital stay and a less stressful experience for the patient.”

Sarah is one of many women who would have avoided the agonising two-week wait.

“For someone to say when you have woken up ‘yes we have got it’, the relief would be unbelievable. That machine is like a miracle. It would be brilliant to be told that,” she says.

Emma Sheehan, 39, another Darent Valley patient, also describes the two-week wait as the worst part.

“I have two young children and they knew something was going on, but we didn’t know for sure and didn’t know what to say,” she says.

“Once you are diagnosed you just want to get on with the treatment. While you are waiting it is out of your control. Any process to help speed that up would be fantastic.”

After her wait Sarahwas told the cancer had not spread, although it was not all good news. She has since had three more operations – two to take precancerous cells away and the fourth was a full mastectomy. She recently found another lump which is now being tested.

A year on from her first diagnosis, and following a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, Emma is still receiving treatment.

To make a donation to Darent Valley’s fundraising campaign contact Tracey Cummins at or 01322 428256.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Gravesend Reporter. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter