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Sarah Beeny: Why I’m no longer scared of cancer

TV presenter is set to release a candid documentary entitled ‘Sarah Beeny vs Cancer’, which follows her battle with breast cancer

Peony Hirwani
Tuesday 06 June 2023 07:05 BST
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Presenter Sarah Beeny gives update on breast cancer diagnosis

TV presenter Sarah Beeny says it took being diagnosed with cancer herself to end four decades of fear around the disease, as she opens up about her experience in a new documentary.

The 51-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2022, and says her mother died of the same illness approximately 40 years ago.

Beeny says her own diagnosis brought with it complicated questions about developments in breast cancer treatment and how the prognosis has changed in the decades since her mother’s death.

In Sarah Beeny vs Cancer, the Property Ladder and Sarah Beeny‘s New Life in the Country presenter explores the past, present and future of breast cancer treatment in the UK.

The programme documents the highs and lows of her treatment journey and even dives into how her family – husband Graham Swift and their four children, 18-year-old Billy, 16-year-old Charlie, 14-year-old Raffey and 12-year-old Laurie – felt during the difficult process.

Speaking in an interview with the Press Association about her reasons for making the programme Beeny said she had “lived with fear of cancer since my mother died”.

“So I suppose, first of all, I started making the documentary largely because I thought it might help other people if they watched what I went through,” she told PA.

“But also because I wanted to go on a journey where I sort of had something I wanted to find out, which is that cancer treatment was better than it used to be when my mother died. And then it was. So I was like, brilliant! That’s what I want to know. And the future is even better.

“I was so scared of getting cancer, and now I’m not scared of cancer.”

When learning about the developments in breast cancer treatment, Beeny takes a look at the differences between the treatment her mother received four decades previously and what is on her own treatment plan, learning about the differences that mean a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

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Sarah Beeny has been given the all-clear from cancer

As Beeny begins to delve into how the treatment process looked for her mother, she manages to get hold of her medical notes. It’s a poignant moment, as she is able to see not only the details of her late mother’s treatment, but also letters written between doctors.

She also sits down with Professor Michael Baum, a surgeon now in his eighties who was a specialist in breast cancer care at the time of her mother’s treatment.

“It’s much more complicated,” she says of modern treatments.

“Breast cancer treatments, there was one solution when my mum died, which was 40 years ago. One solution, do it, didn’t work, dead. That’s it.

“Now they’ve got DNA testing for you, DNA testing for the tumour, I was DNA tested, and now they make your treatment appropriate to the specific cancer you’ve got. It’s not one type of cancer, there’s loads of types of cancer.

“It’s amazing what they do... Now, it’s like making your own cocktail rather than just having to have, you know, red or white wine.”

Sarah Beeny on Instagram

Back at home in Somerset, the documentary follows Beeny as she undergoes her chemotherapy every three weeks, for most of the autumn and winter.

It explores what it’s like for her in the days following treatment, with video diary entries capturing the hardest moments.

Being so raw and emotionally available on camera is no mean feat, especially when your family is also involved – but this was entirely the point for Beeny.

“I thought: if you’re gonna do it, do it properly. You can’t half do it,” she says of the process.

“It probably is a reflection of how we probably are anyway,” Beeny adds of her family’s openness.

“I realised that I sort of slightly treat the children as my therapist. Occasionally, especially my eldest son, goes: ‘You’re oversharing mum, you’re really oversharing’. And I’m like: ‘Oh, sorry, sorry!’

“But like, we have a very open family anyway.

“I sort of thought, well, if you share all of it... because there’s going to be ups and downs, and there were real ups and downs, if you share the downs, that’s not so bad if you share the ups as well. So you have to share all of it.”

“I wanted my children to be able to talk to anyone they fancied about it, so I thought I’ll do completely open book on everything,” she continues.

“Because then if (they’re) chatting to someone at school... they can talk about how they feel. They can say they’re sad, or angry, or cross, or not, or whatever, you know, it’s all fine. And I thought... if they’re able to talk to everyone about it, then that’s better.

“So I thought well, so will I. I’ll talk to everyone and then they can talk to everyone. And then we can all be open about it. So that was my reasoning.”

After her chemotherapy, Beeny moves onto the final stage of her treatment: surgery. She opts for a double mastectomy, having found out that she is at risk of developing cancer in her other, currently cancer-free breast due to the presence of the PALB2 gene, and travels to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London for her surgery.

“They were amazing,” she says of the NHS staff who cared for her at all stages of her treatment.

“I mean, literally, Yeovil breast cancer department is second to none. Unbelievable, absolutely incredible. They were all fabulous.

“And then I had my surgery in the Royal Marsden who were amazing. I mean, absolutely mind-blowingly amazing.

“I feel so privileged to live in this country with the NHS that we have, with the amazing people in it.”

By March 2023, Beeny was well on the road to recovery. The documentary hears her and her family reflect on the last eight months – which included a Christmas they were determined not to be marred by illness – and while Beeny knows she’s not been given a full all-clear, she wants to draw a line under the difficult period.

Beeny appeared last week on The One Show to discuss the new documentary, and described how happy she felt at being given the all-clear by her doctors.

And appearing on Lorraine in April, Beeny said her cancer journey had been a “rollercoaster ride”.

Sarah Beeny vs Cancer will air on Channel 4 at 9pm on 12 June.

Additional reporting from agencies

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