Nelson woman supported by Burnley's Pendleside Hospice shares her 17-year battle with breast cancer

A Nelson woman has opened up about her 17-year battle with breast cancer.
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Sandra Bignell is sharing her journey as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month to dispel the myth that hospices only provide end-of-life care.

The 62-year-old has formed close bonds with both staff and patients at Pendleside Hospice since her initial encounter with it in 1998, when her father Eric died of breast cancer.

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“I have received counselling at Pendleside Hospice, and their therapists tell me that I have learned to know myself well. I access complementary therapy sessions at the hospice, as well as the Palliative Peer Support Group on a Wednesday morning.

Nelson woman Sandra Bignell (centre) and her family.Nelson woman Sandra Bignell (centre) and her family.
Nelson woman Sandra Bignell (centre) and her family.

“I love to be around people and I have always been able to offer a warm and friendly face to others. I'm a Saturday's Child - my mother would say -

hard-working and strong! And I like to think I've shown that.

“I have built some fantastic relationships at Pendleside Hospice, with both staff and patients - I have lost many friends there along the way, too. Myself and the other service users are all in the same boat - but it's important that we enjoy our time while we can!"

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Growing up in Germany and Canada, Sandra settled in Nelson at the age of nine and remembers it as a place where people looked out for one another. However, soon after her family’s move to England, Sandra lost her mother to bowel cancer.

Nelson woman Sandra Bignell at Pendleside Hospice's Fashion Show.Nelson woman Sandra Bignell at Pendleside Hospice's Fashion Show.
Nelson woman Sandra Bignell at Pendleside Hospice's Fashion Show.

Sandra married her husband, Eamonn, at 18 and they raised two sons. But tragedy struck once more when Eamonn suffered a brain haemorrhage at age 42. Sandra, showing remarkable strength, became the unwavering rock for her sons during this trying time.

In a cruel twist of fate, three years later, she received a grade three breast cancer diagnosis.

"I'd had a lump in my breast for over a year before my diagnosis. It was a strange feeling when I discovered it - I was simply out shopping when something inside me just told me to reach out. Although unrelated, I'd already had two operations at the ages of 18 and 24, due to issues with my glands - so I initially thought it might have something to do with that.

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“Ultimately, I was told it was breast cancer, and after the first and second operation failed to remove the cancer completely, I wasted no more time and had a double mastectomy during the third operation. However, it soon became clear that the cancer had spread through to my shoulders, neck and back. By this point, I was receiving support from Christie’s and Pendleside Hospice, who have supported me a great deal over the years.

“I'm a little superstitious in ways, which I put down to my Irish mother, and I have always had it in my head that I would die young. It's why I've constantly lived life to the full and made as many fond memories as I can.

"However, 17 years on since my diagnosis, I'm still here, enjoying every moment I can with my family and friends!

“It's all too easy to allow negative energy to consume you, and while I don't always remain optimistic, I know how to channel the good.”

For more information about help and support, please call 01282 440 100 or visit