Sarah Robinson is only 31 but has been told she may die within months from cancer – and believes it was her drinking habit that caused the disease. Here, she reveals how binge boozing can have devastating consequences
As she laughs and cuddles up to her boyfriend Josh Bennett, pretty Sarah Robinson looks the picture of health. But, tragically, she is dying from cancer. She’s just 31 – and has been told it may have been caused by binge drinking.
Sarah speaks to Closer as figures from a Department of Health study reveal British teens are the biggest binge drinkers in Europe, with over half of 15-16 year olds admitting to drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in one night in the past month – far more than the recommendation of two to three units a day for women, the equivalent of a small glass of wine.
Sarah admits that before she was diagnosed, she’d down eight double vodkas and two shots of Sambuca on a night out – 18 units – up to five times a week. But she never dreamt her habit could trigger cancer, which started in her breast.
After beating the disease twice, Sarah unexpectedly fell pregnant by her boyfriend Josh last year. But, heartbreakingly, she then discovered her cancer had returned and spread to her bone marrow and lungs – and was terminal. Doctors are so certain she only has months to live, they advised her to terminate the pregnancy because she might not live long enough to carry the baby to full-term. This decision still haunts her.
Sarah reveals: 'I’ve got so much to live for. Josh is my soul mate and we’d love to plan a future and a family. But my life’s been cut short because of my bad choices. I had no idea binge drinking was linked to cancer – now I want everyone to know the dangers.'
Sarah was just 14 when she began drinking alcopops at friends’ sleepovers. Once a week, she and her friends would hang around outside shops to ask strangers to buy them alcohol, paid for with her £14-a-week paper-round wages. By 16, she was drinking three times a week.
'Me and my mates’ lives revolved around drinking,' says Sarah, a former healthcare coordinator from Crewe. 'I’d sink three pints of cider in a night. I’d stay with mates whose parents were laid back. Mine didn’t know. I liked the feeling of being drunk and everyone was doing it.'
At 19, Sarah moved in with her then-boyfriend and they began sharing a bottle of wine a night – drinking over 25 units a week.
When she and her partner split six years later, Sarah’s drinking spiralled. She says: 'I’d have eight double vodkas and two shots, five nights a week. Everyone did it and I thought my health was good – I went to the gym four times a week.'
'When the consultant told me I had breast cancer, I wanted to run away'
But, in March 2010, aged 28, Sarah discovered a lump like a hard pea in her right breast. Initially, she wasn’t worried as there was no family history of cancer, but she went to her GP anyway. Two weeks after having scans and a lumpectomy, she received a letter calling her back.
'When the consultant told me I had breast cancer, I wanted to run away,' she says. 'I didn’t understand why it had happened to me. I cried for days.'
Tests showed it hadn’t spread, but a week later, Sarah had more of her breast taken away to ensure the cancer was completely removed. She was told she needed four months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was then she was told binge drinking could have caused her cancer. She says: 'I told the nurses how much I used to drink – they were horrified.'
They told her studies show alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer because it raises oestrogen levels, which can trigger cancer cell growth. 'I was horrified I might have done this to myself,' she says.
Sarah’s gruelling treatment meant she lost her hair and suffered severe nausea. But, four weeks after her treatment finished in January 2011, she was told it had been successful. She says: 'I was so relieved. I celebrated with friends, but I didn’t drink. Since then, I’ve only had a glass of wine with dinner.'
But last May, Sarah felt another lump under her right arm – and was told the cancer was back.
After 16 weeks of more chemo, she seemed clear of the disease and in July, a friend introduced her to Josh, 28, a window cleaner. They started dating and Sarah told him about her cancer two weeks later. She says: 'We had a connection – we loved the same music and festivals. Telling him was so hard. I was nervous he’d go off me – I was still wearing wigs. But he said it didn’t matter.'
A month later, Sarah fell pregnant. She says: 'It wasn’t planned – the chances of conceiving were so slight after my treatment, we hadn’t been using contraception. It was a shock, but I was overjoyed. After his initial surprise, Josh was too. We decided to go ahead with the pregnancy – we saw it as a gift.'
But, four weeks later, in September, Sarah began getting leg pains. Her doctors ran tests and she received the worst news possible – the cancer had spread to her bone marrow, and this time it was terminal. She says: 'Doctors told me they could only prolong my life with chemotherapy – there was no cure. I’d had nightmares about it happening, now it was true.'
Then Sarah, who was seven weeks pregnant, was dealt a second devastating blow. She says: 'Doctors said I might not live long enough to carry my baby full-term. Of everything I’ve been through, that was the worst moment. They strongly advised me not to go ahead. Pregnancy would have also ruled out treatment and pain relief.
'The decision was agony, but in the end I thought, ‘What life could I give a child if I wasn’t here to care for it?’ I was dealing with the realisation I was going to die – and having to deprive myself of a baby. Life seemed so unfair.'
Three days later, Sarah had a termination. She says: 'I felt numb – I don’t think I could have picked myself up without Josh.'
'I don’t want to waste a second'
Now Sarah, who’s been told the cancer has also spread to her lungs, lives every day to the full. Despite walking with a limp and needing spells in a wheelchair, she refuses to slow down. And Josh has vowed to stay with her. She says: 'I’ve told him to move on, but he gets angry. I’m lucky to have found such an amazing man.'
Sarah, who is now unable to work, adds: 'I don’t know how much longer I have left. I’m just focused on how much I want to do before I die. I’d like to skydive, travel to Thailand and swim with sharks. I’m always happy – I don’t want to waste a second.'
Sarah – who’s also hoping to trial a new drug to prolong her life – wants to warn young women about binge drinking. She says: 'I still struggle to believe it could be my own fault. It’s too late for me, but I hope by telling other women about the link between binge drinking and breast cancer, it will make them think again. Don’t throw your life away for meaningless fun.'
Josh adds: 'Sarah is so brave, but I know how much she’s been through and goes through every day. Some people might have walked away, but it felt natural to me to be with her. I’ll support her 100 per cent.'