Grandmother finds love just 24 hours after being diagnosed with breast cancer on her birthday

·6-min read

A grandmother who had a mammogram on her 50th birthday instead of celebrating was shocked to be told she likely had cancer on her big day – then connected with the love of her life just 24 hours later.

With the diagnosis of breast cancer confirmed by a biopsy soon after, former retail worker Sam Steele now feels “lucky” to be nearing the end of her treatment with a good prognosis and a fresh outlook on ageing – which has seen her move house, begin a new relationship and get engaged all within a year.

Now 51, Sam from Hall Green, Birmingham, ended up “blurting out” her diagnosis to a fellow dog walker, IT worker Paul Ferguson, 52, the day after her birthday.

The revelation led to a connection which turned to love when Paul turned up to Sam’s home to comfort her on the morning of her cancer surgery.

Sam smiling during her treatment (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)
Sam smiling during her treatment (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)

Sam, who has four adult children and four grandchildren, is now engaged to Paul and said: “Turning 50 you do think about where you are in life, what you want, what you’ve achieved.

“But being diagnosed with cancer on my birthday completely changed my personality. It made me rethink everything and start to focus on what I really wanted.”

The former retail worker was single and living with her mother weeks before turning 50 in July 2021 when she first suspected something was wrong.

“I was in the shower and just thought I’d check my breasts, as you do,” she said.

Sam with her son Samuel (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sam with her son Samuel (Collect/PA Real Life)

“On my left breast, behind the nipple, there was a hard mass just over three centimetres.

“I don’t have a family history of female cancers or anything. But as soon as I felt it, I just knew what it was.”

Worried and keen to be seen, Sam called her GP but says she was unable to get a timely appointment.

She explained: “The appointments they could offer were weeks away. I kept calling back and the receptionist told me to use the Livi app.”

Sam with one of her beloved dogs (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)
Sam with one of her beloved dogs (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)

Livi is an app where patients can see GPs and other health professionals via video consultation.

The medical professionals on the app can then provide prescriptions, fit notes and referrals to NHS services.

For the majority of the country this is a paid service, however, the app currently partners with the NHS to provide free at the point of use services for patients at select GP practices in the UK – and Sam’s GP was one of these practices.

Able to conduct a video call through the app for free the very next day, Sam says she was then told to call her local surgery again.

Sam during treatment (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sam during treatment (Collect/PA Real Life)

She recalled: “I was told to ring my doctor and mention I’d spoken to Livi and needed an urgent appointment. I was given one that same day.

“After that initial appointment, it all moved so fast. A referral was made for the mammogram and that happened within two weeks on my 50th birthday on July 26 last year.”

Sam, who has three adult sons and one adult daughter, three granddaughters and a grandson, had planned to do something quiet with family to celebrate the occasion.

However, her mammogram took priority, and she cleared her day, saying: “You can celebrate anytime. This was so much more important.”

Sam pictured smiling during her chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)
Sam pictured smiling during her chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)

Heading to the procedure at Birmingham’s Good Hope Hospital alone due to Covid restrictions, Sam said: “I remember it clearly. They performed the mammogram and ultrasound and took a sample for a biopsy.

“Then the ultrasound technician told me that from their experience I should prepare for it to be breast cancer.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I just said ‘bring it on’. I’ve been through so much in my life – hard times and bad relationships. I just thought of this as another thing to get through. I was probably in a bit of disbelief.”

Alone in her car following the appointment, Sam admits she broke down before calling her children and breaking the frightening news.

Sam in a wig with Paul (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sam in a wig with Paul (Collect/PA Real Life)

The very next day, Sam was walking her dogs – eight-year-old Husky Labrador Dexter and four-year-old Staffie Whippet cross Kipper – when she saw Paul.

“Paul and I had seen each other out walking the dogs for about 18 months,” she said.

“I’d thought he looked a bit of alright. We’d gone through lockdown spotting each other. We’d slowly got to the waving stage then the hello stage.

“I saw him out walking the day after my mammogram and just blurted out the news. That’s what really got us talking.”

Sam in hospital during her cancer treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)
Sam in hospital during her cancer treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)

Within two weeks, Sam’s breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed following a biopsy of the tissue taken on her birthday.

The morning of an operation to remove the cancer that September, Paul unexpectedly turned up at Sam’s house at 6am to give her a hug and some reassurance.

“That’s the day we became a couple. I realised he was a keeper,” she said:

Following the operation, Sam was told the cancer had spread to a small number of her lymph nodes, meaning she would need further treatment.

Sam lost her hair to her cancer treatment (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)
Sam lost her hair to her cancer treatment (PA Real Life/Ross Brind)

She moved in with Paul and underwent six months of gruelling chemotherapy which saw her lose her long brown hair, suffer from exhaustion and stomach issues.

Sam is now mid-way through four weeks of daily radiotherapy. She will then need to be on hormone tablets for 10 years to hopefully stop the cancer returning.

Doctors are hopeful her prognosis looks good. With Paul having proposed this summer and plans to marry next year, Sam too is positive about the future.

She said: “I’ve learnt a lot about myself. Bizarrely, a lot of good has come out of this.”

Sam now with her hair regrowing (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sam now with her hair regrowing (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “It has taught me that you owe it to yourself to be happy. Hearing you have cancer is so very frightening. But there is a life with cancer and, if you’re lucky, after cancer too.

“I’m so glad mine was caught early.

“I now know that instead of dreading turning 50, 60, 70, we should be grateful. It’s not promised to any of us.”