Swindon Secondary School Teacher Given New Lease of Life Thanks to Cancer Research

By Jamie Hill - 21 September 2023

  • Sarah Gallagher at the start of her Cancer treatment

    Sarah Gallagher at the start of her Cancer treatment

Sarah Gallagher had much to celebrate - life was good being a new mum and bride, but just months after giving birth and getting married things were to take a dramatic and unexpected turn.

  • Sarah Gallagher after surgery

    Sarah Gallagher after surgery

The Swindon secondary school teacher who feared she wouldn’t see her 35th birthday following a cancer diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer - says she is living proof of the power of research.

Back in the summer of 2022, Sarah was told this type of cancer is both aggressive and invasive - and had been shown the results of a clinical trial that gave her hope and optimism for her own future.

That trial  - KEYNOTE-355 – confirmed that the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab is now considered a ‘breakthrough’ treatment for triple negative breast cancer, the diagnosis which Sarah was given back last year in a ‘sad’ waiting room.

Sarah, who teaches at The Deanery CE Academy in Swindon, said: “I was given an ultrasound and biopsy the same day and then I was taken into, what I would call the ‘sad room’ plastic flowers and a couple of people in there to tell me the news, I knew what was coming.

“The likelihood of it being cancer was high I was told, but I needed to wait for the biopsy results to confirm everything.

“I remember having had a cry and saying out loud that I didn’t want to die, the lovely nurse said it wasn’t something to consider right now, although no one knew when their time would be.”

The date was 17 March 2022 – St Patricks Day – which I remember seeing lots of green decoration on display in Swindon.”

But new results from a trial using pembrolizumab had just been published in August 2022, showing that overall survival had improved among patients with high levels of a certain protein, which Sarah had benefitted from and was given the immunotherapy drug the same month.

Sarah is urging people to support a new campaign that shines a light on the invaluable impact that cancer breakthroughs have on the lives of people like her.

Her call comes as data released by Cancer Research UK reveals around 1.2 million deaths have been avoided in the UK since the mid-1980s*, due to advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.**

She has also just celebrated her 35th birthday this September, a date she marked with a quiet meal at home with husband Dan and son Reggie.

Over the last four decades, UK cancer mortality rates have fallen by around a quarter, after peaking in 1985 for men and 1989 for women.*** Had rates stayed the same,  it is estimated that around 111,000 more lives would have been lost in the South West.****

Sarah is backing the charity’s ‘Together We Are Beating Cancer’ campaign to help ensure life-saving progress like this continues.

The awareness and fundraising drive, that includes billboards and posters displayed across the South West, highlights the heartwarming moments - from big birthdays and anniversary celebrations, to quality time with loved ones – being made possible for people affected by cancer, right now.

Since finishing her own treatment Sarah has returned to work as a secondary school teacher and has been living life to the full, making more memories with son Reggie, who celebrated his second birthday in April and husband Dan. 

Reflecting on her experience, she said: “A cancer journey is a rollercoaster that never ceases to amaze me. You truly experience extreme highs and extreme lows and everyone’s journey is different.

“Research into better treatments has given me the greatest gift - more time with my loved ones. I’ve celebrated my 35th birthday, have taken part in Race for Life and raised £4,000 having shaved off my hair prior to surgery - moments that were impossible to imagine when I heard those devastating words: ‘It’s cancer.”

Sarah’s diagnosis came after she noticed a small lump whilst in the shower one morning. She asked her mum to take a look and although she wasn’t initially worried, Sarah got an appointment to see her GP that day.

She was told it was likely to be a cyst, being only age 33, the likelihood was such that it was hormonal.

She was asked to return to her GP if things were the same two weeks later after her periods, which she did. “My GP referred me on to the breast clinic and I was told not to worry. I had an appointment about nine days later and had an ultrasound. Things changed when at that point I could see what looked like a black mass on the screen and the consultant telling me that it was certainly not a cyst.

“The likelihood of it being cancer was high I was told, but I needed to wait for the biopsy results to confirm everything.

“I remember having had a cry and saying out loud that I didn’t want to die, the lovely nurse said it wasn’t something to consider right now, although no one knew when their time would be.”

Sarah added: “I’m so grateful for the treatment that saved my life, meaning I get to enjoy all the wonderful things – big and small - I feared I’d never get to see or do. But sadly, not everyone diagnosed with cancer will reach key milestones – and that’s why Cancer Research UK’s work is so vital.”

Last year, Cancer Research UK spent nearly £3 million in the South West on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

From pioneering some of the first chemotherapies, to the development of advanced, targeted treatments and immunotherapy, the charity’s research has played a role in around half of the world’s essential cancer drugs. In England alone, three out of four people who receive cancer drugs on the NHS are receiving treatments linked to the charity.

Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the South West, Alison Birkett, said: “Thanks to the generosity and commitment of our supporters, together, we are beating cancer.

“Our research breakthroughs mean every day, people are being diagnosed earlier, have access to kinder and more effective treatments, and some cancers are prevented completely. As our new campaign shows, this all adds up to more moments with the people we love – and we’re grateful to Sarah for sharing her own experience.  

“But around 36,800 people are still diagnosed with cancer every year in the South  West.***** We’re working towards a world where everyone can live longer, better lives free from the fear of cancer and that’s why we’re calling on people across Wiltshire to help us go further and faster in the fight against the disease.

“By donating, fundraising, taking part in one of our Shine Night Walks, or volunteering at our shops, they could fund new discoveries that will help more people reach the life-changing moment when their doctor says: ‘It’s gone.’”

Donate now at cruk.org/donate

As part of the campaign, people are also being invited to share their personal moments, either of their own cancer journey or that of a loved one, through a dedicated photo-wall and on social media by using #MoreMoments.


In this game-changing era for cancer research, it’s estimated that  around 111,000 lives have been saved in the South West since the mid-1980s. Cancer types where there have been large improvements during this time, include:



Estimated lives saved in the South West

Key reason


Around 54,500

Fewer people are smoking, after research part-funded by Cancer Research UK first proved that tobacco causes cancer in the 1950s.



Cases and deaths have fallen substantially in recent decades because H Pylori, a type of infection, is no longer common.


Around 22,000

Huge progress in treatments for the disease, including the Cancer Research UK-funded FOxTROT trial, which discovered that giving patients chemotherapy before surgery helped to shrink tumours, making them easier to remove.



The introduction of the national screening programme in 1988, as well as drug developments like tamoxifen and Herceptin which Cancer Research UK helped to develop that have saved lives.


Despite these gains, cancer remains the number one cause of death in the UK and not all cancer types have seen improvements. For several forms of the disease, such as liver, head and neck, and womb cancer, there have been increases in mortality rates in recent years.  

That’s why Cancer Research UK is urging people across the South West to get behind the ‘Together We Are Beating Cancer’ campaign by helping to fund more life-saving research.

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