TURNING 40 is something of a milestone for many women.
But for Karen Littlewood it is a birthday she thought she may never see.
Five years ago she was dealt the devastating blow that she had breast cancer and may never see her young family grow up.
Karen, an editorial assistant at the Examiner, became the first patient in the town to combine the wonder drug Herceptin with chemotherapy.
And at the end of this month she has planned a huge celebration to mark her survival, thank family and friends for their support and raise money for the Huddersfield Oncology Unit where she was treated.
“I’ve been through a lot, but many women have suffered much worse things than this,” said Karen, who lives in Taylor Hill with partner Gordon and their two children Amy, 14, and Sam, five.
“I didn’t want this birthday to go by without thanking everyone who has helped me reach this milestone. There are so many people who I just can’t thank enough for what they have done. Without the staff at the oncology unit I couldn’t have made it and I want to give something back to them now.”
Karen’s 70s and 80s fancy dress party will be held just before her 40th on December 7.
She first discovered a small lump in her right breast in January 2005, but was told by her GP there was nothing to worry about because she was a new mum and her body was just returning to normal after pregnancy. But because Karen had lost her mum to ovarian cancer and her aunt had survived breast cancer, she had regular screening and when she attended for her appointment in September her consultant sent her immediately for a biopsy.
Her worst fears were confirmed when she was told the lump was cancer and at grade three was too large to remove with surgery alone. Cancer is graded between grade 1, the lowest, and grade five, the worst form.
Her consultant, Jo Dent, decided she would be the first patient in Huddersfield to trial Herceptin with chemotherapy.
The lump eventually shrunk and Karen took the brave decision to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed.
“I just wanted it gone,’’ she said. “I knew I had a future with Gordon and the children and I didn’t want any chance of it recurring especially because of my family history.”
She has since gone on to have difficult reconstructive surgery and is taking hormone tablets to prevent the cancer returning.
“I stayed positive throughout, even when I was in and out of hospital,’’ she added. “I knew I wanted to beat it and get on with my life. I never wanted to wallow in my illness or talk about it that much to people.
“I do the Race For Life every year and raise money for Breast Cancer Care. That is my way of carrying on. I have so much to live for.
“Life really does begin at 40 for me!’’