SMILING at home with her two small children, Karen Littlewood looks like any other proud young mum.
But two years ago she was given the earth-shattering news that she was suffering from breast cancer – at the age of just 35.
Now, thanks to major surgery and the wonder drug Herceptin, she is fighting fit and looking forward to reconstructive surgery and a healthy future.
But it’s a long way from where she thought she would be when doctors broke the devastating news.
Karen, an editorial assistant at the Huddersfield Examiner, said: “I just thought I was going to die because my mum had died of ovarian cancer when she was 54.
“It wasn’t real. I thought ‘this can’t be happening to me’.
“I remember putting the Christmas decorations away the first year I was diagnosed and marking everything up for my partner because I thought I might not be here the next year and he wouldn’t know where the baubles were.
“I just feel so lucky. I now make the most of every day.”
Karen, who lives in Taylor Hill with partner Gordon MacDonald, first discovered a lump in her right breast after the birth of her second child, Sam, now aged three.
Her mother’s medical history meant she was already having regular screening for breast and ovarian cancer.
But despite the checks – which included a mammogram – doctors kept giving her the all-clear.
Karen said: “I knew something was wrong because there was a big hard lump down the side and it was quite painful.
“But it didn’t show up on the mammogram because the density of the breast is different in younger women than in those in their 50s and 60s.
“It was when I went back for a routine appointment six months later that the consultant felt it and sent me for a biopsy.
“That’s when they said it was cancer.”
The lump – classed as grade 3 – was too large to remove with surgery, so Karen first had to undergo chemotherapy.
After three months the lump had grown bigger, not smaller.
That was when her consultant, Jo Dent at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, took the brave decision to allow Karen to become the first patient in Huddersfield to combine Herceptin with chemotherapy.
Eventually the lump shrunk and Karen was able to have a double mastectomy.
She also decided to have her ovaries removed, to reduce the risk of developing cancer in the future.
She said: “Because I had carried the cancer around for so long I just wanted it gone.
“I had young children and I had to be strong and live for them.
“I just had to have it done because of the thought of what would happen if I didn’t.
“My consultant was amazing and so supportive through it all.”
After the operation Karen had to have radiotherapy and 12 further treatments of Herceptin.
She is now on hormone tablets for the next five years to prevent the cancer from returning.
Karen, who also has a 12-year-old daughter, Amy, said: “I never wanted people to think of me as a poorly person, so I used to get up every morning, get my children ready and try to carry on as normal.
“When I look back now I don’t know how I did it.
“It is so important to keep a positive attitude, otherwise you could get depressed. But there is a future at the end of it all.”
Karen is now looking forward to having both breasts reconstructed at Bradford Royal Infirmary next month.
And to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month she will be joining other cancer victims on the catwalk at the Cedar Court Hotel, Ainley Top, next Monday.