She describes herself as a wife, mother, business partner, sister, daughter, friend and dizzy blonde with a first-class physics degree. She is also a two-time breast cancer survivor. JANE HALL talks to Mrs Jason Isaacs, Sharon Tenniswood
LUCK is not a word that most people would use when speaking about breast cancer.
But Sharon Tenniswood is definitely a glass half full rather than empty sort of woman, and lucky is certainly how she feels about the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 35 years old.
The reason? She’d actually gone to visit her doctor with an entirely different and, as it turned out, unfounded medical problem when something prompted her to also mention a persistent shooting pain in her left breast.
That same day in 2003 she underwent a mammogram which picked up what later turned out to be a cancerous hormone-triggered growth.
The pain was the only sign that all may not have been well – although it is not uncommon for women’s breasts to hurt and this not be associated with cancer.
But Sharon is thankful her doctor sought a second opinion ‘to be on the safe side’ about an irritating problem she very nearly kept to herself.
As she says, who knows where she’d be otherwise?
With no history of breast cancer in her family, normally fit and well and only in her mid-30s, she wouldn’t routinely have been considered at risk of developing a disease which affects around 48,000 women a year in the UK.
But a couple of days later she was admitted to hospital for a breast biopsy. The prognosis was mixed. While there was no evidence the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes, Sharon would need a mastectomy, a terrible blow for a woman who had always been proud of her “rather marvellous cleavage”.
Now 44, Sharon admits she and her husband, the popular North East- based singer Jason Isaacs, were understandably terrified.
“You hear the word cancer and your first thought is that you are going to die. I was diagnosed during the October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so both Jason and I were even more conscious of it and that so many women do die.
“The journey home from the hospital was horrendous. Jason was driving and we were both so distressed I am surprised he didn’t crash the car.
“I thought I had been placed under a death sentence.”
To compound matters, Sharon and Jason, who first met when they were 13 at George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, started going out when they were 16 and married in 1994, were temporarily living in Marbella in Spain away from their close-knit families back home on Tyneside.
Worst of all, their two children Isaac and Daisy, now 14 and 12 respectively, were then aged just five and three.
“My first thought was who would look after them and then selfishly, would they remember me?” says Sharon.
She and Jason tried to carry on as normal for the sake of their son and daughter. Sharon even went through with a planned trip to the hairdressers.
“I’m so glad I did,” she says. “It turned out my hairdresser had had breast cancer five years previously and here she was, fit and well. She had survived. It proved to me that there is life after breast cancer.”
European location aside, it all must have seemed a million years away from her old jet-setting lifestyle.
Sharon graduated from Loughborough University with a first class honours degree in physics (“the only girl on the course and the only one to get a first,” she states proudly) before taking a year out to teach English in Bangkok. Returning to the UK, Siemens, which had sponsored her university degree, offered her a place on its elite student training programme in Germany.
Part of her remit was to spend 10 months in a foreign office and she was sent to New York, before spending time in Switzerland and Spain, eventually returning home to Gosforth, Newcastle.
Jason joined his wife on her travels and earned a living playing saxophone with local bands and in clubs. One of the highlights from their time in the Big Apple was Jason performing at an Emmy Awards party and singing a spontaneous duet with Tony Bennett.
Sharon now divides her time between managing her husband’s burgeoning singing career – you may have seen him voted the People’s Crooner on ITV’s Alan Titchmarsh Show in 2010 – and working as a self-employed technical translator.
Life was getting back to as near normal as it can be when Sharon was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer at the age of 40.
In a rare twist, the cancer was of a completely different type to the first.
Another mastectomy followed, but while she had avoided ongoing treatment in 2003, this time Sharon was put on the full gamut of drugs.
Again she had not had any inkling of what was happening to her body.
“There was no hint, nothing.
“I was feeling fine and had even run a marathon. Jason was doing really well with his career, I was coming up to five years of being cancer-free and everything was hunky dory.
“But because I had already had breast cancer, I was still going for mammograms and it was luckily picked up.”
Now 10 and eight, the children were this time aware that not all was well, but their parents tried as far as they could to shield them from the grim reality.
“They could feel an undercurrent. But we couldn’t let the kids know there was anything worrying going on and I wanted them to see I was OK,” says Sharon.
Sharon met the latest health crisis in the only way she knew how – head on. “I just got on with it and with the TV thing happening around Jason, it was something positive in my life.”
But once treatment stopped, Sharon hit a brick wall.
Whether it was the withdrawal of the drugs, the fact she was no longer being so closely monitored by the medics or that she had subconsciously never come to terms with developing cancer for a second time, no one knows, but the result was she suffered a nervous breakdown.
“I was clinically depressed. I had three horrendous months but fortunately I had a fantastic doctor and Jason was amazing. I got through it and I came out the other side.”
She has now undergone a full breast reconstruction. “I know some women don’t, but it was important for me. I was only in my 30s.”
And now she is looking forward to an eventful 2013 which will see Jason developing his live performances, releasing a classic Sinatra track to coincide with Mother’s Day on March 10, and, fingers crossed, end with good news for Sharon.
This October will hopefully mark the magic five years of being cancer-free. It is not something the bubbly and buoyant wife, mum and businesswoman is dwelling on, though. “I could spend my time worrying about it, but what good would that do?
“There are more important things. And over the last 10 years I have learned to enjoy life. You have to. I have a great husband, fantastic kids and love what I do. Yes, I could get cancer again, or I could get something else, but what is the point of sitting and worrying about it all day every day?
“There are things I would have liked to do, like have more children. Getting cancer for a second time put a stop to that, but I have one of each and I love them to bits, and I am just very grateful that I am still here with them and Jason.
“I wasn’t lucky I got breast cancer, but I was certainly very fortunate that almost by chance it was picked up when it was. I now know that caught in time and with the right treatment, there is life after cancer and it isn’t the death sentence I first thought.
“The last decade has been a rollercoaster, but now I just want to live my life.”
Jason Isaacs will be appearing at a dinner and cabaret evening at the Gosforth Park Marriott Hotel on February 22. Tickets cost £30 per person and can be booked on 0191 236 1615. Jason will also be performing in Swing Fever at Newcastle City Hall on April 27. Tickets are £26.50 and £22.50, available on 0191 277 8030. www.jasonisaacs.co.uk