So the entire month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month here in the UK.
You obviously don’t need me to tell you just how important this subject is, not only in October, but all year round. You also shouldn’t need me to tell you that although much rarer, it can also affect men as well as women.
Please, please ensure that you regularly check your breasts/chest area/across into your armpit area at least once a month and keep an eye out for any changes:
The best time to do a monthly self-breast exam is about 3 to 5 days after your period starts. Do it at the same time every month. Your breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time in your monthly cycle. If you have gone through the menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.
The Breast Cancer Care website has some great information on how to correctly check your breasts.
Facts and Figures:
* Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one person diagnosed every 10 minutes.
* Over 99% of new cases of breast cancer are in women.
* 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
* More than 80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.
* Just 4% of cases are diagnosed in women under the age of 39.
* Around 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
The good news is that breast cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the past 40 years in the UK.
(All of the above facts and figures have been obtained via the Breast Cancer Care website).
Disclaimer – I’ve included some photos at the bottom of this story. If you’re squeamish, then maybe avert your gaze!
I’m going to tell you my story now and hope that it may, in some way, go towards helping people.
Back in 1996 at the young age of 36, my beautiful Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately, my Mum had been misdiagnosed for almost 6 months. She was dismissed by our local hospital several times due to her young age and the fact we had no family history up till then.
It’s only down to my Mum’s persistence that she finally got the correct diagnosis. I dread to think how things could have gone if she hadn’t pushed. Of course, this should never have happened but I don’t want to go into her treatment by that hospital too much. It was a long time ago and things have advanced a lot since then.
By the time my Mum finally had her diagnosis – she had two cancerous tumours in her left breast – the cancer had spread along to the lymph glands under her armpit. Mum had to have a full mastectomy and 6 months of chemotherapy. She was so so ill. I was 12, going on 13, when all this began and I remember it very vividly. It was a horrendous experience for us as a family and especially for my Mum.
There was a time she was admitted to a different hospital for a few days due to how poorly she was. I didn’t know this then, but I found out later that it was the kind of hospital they send you to when things aren’t looking good. It makes me shudder thinking about it now.
I count my blessings every day that my Mum managed to kick cancer’s ass and is still here 22 years on. She is my hero and I couldn’t love her any more ❤❤
Fastforward to 2013 and the day I realised what a massive idiot I was. It was 16th August and I had some hair dye on at home that needed rinsing off. I got undressed to get into the shower and as I took off my bra, I had a bit of an itch on my left boob. I reached over to scratch it and there it was – a lump.
I immediately panicked, but went back to double check. Yep, it was definitely still there. I didn’t know what to do. I jumped into the shower and just cried as the hair dye ran down the drain. Once out of the shower, I went to see my Mum and told her what I’d found. Her first question was: “How long has it been there?” And I was all “I don’t know?”
Mum: “Well, was it there the last time you checked?”
That was it. That was when the penny dropped and I realised how stupid I was. Despite everything that my poor Mum went through all those years ago, I never regularly checked my breasts. Could I be any more of an idiot? I think my Mum wanted to throttle me when I admitted this to her and I can’t blame her.
It was a Friday evening when I found the lump and I was 4 days shy of my 30th birthday. I had plans with friends that weekend to celebrate my 30th and now I really wasn’t in the mood. Mum encouraged me to still do them and try my best to enjoy myself. Our GP’s was closed over the weekend so there wasn’t an awful lot we could do anyway.
I went along with my birthday plans without really telling anyone about my discovery. I didn’t want to put a downer on it all I guess. It was so hard not to keep thinking about it though and it was totally at the forefront of my mind the whole time.
Monday came and I got in to see my GP who immediately referred me to the breast clinic at my local hospital. They asked to see me on the Thursday. The next day was my 30th birthday which just passed me by really, which was a shame. I just wanted to know if there was anything wrong with me and couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
My Mum came along with me on the Thursday. I met with a Dr who gave me a physical examination to start with. I then had to go for an ultrasound. After locating the lump on the ultrasound, I then underwent a fine needle aspiration (otherwise known as a needle biopsy). This is where a needle is inserted into the lump to take away some cells. These are then tested to see if they show up anything suspicious.
I won’t lie, this did hurt a bit. I bruise fairly easily and the bruise was already coming up when I was getting re-dressed.
I was then told that I’d have to wait a week for the results. My Mum was with me and asked if there was any possibility they could rush them through. She pretty much begged them to be honest but we were told no, it would be a week and there was nothing they could do to speed it up.
We drove home. About an hour and a half later, I was having a cup of tea and a slice of my birthday cake, which had been unopened till then, when the phone rang.
It was the hospital. They advised me that my results were inconclusive, so they couldn’t say if it was cancer or not, and could I please come back for a different test. If I could get back by 2.45pm they’d see me there and then. If I couldn’t then I would have to wait till the following week. I said I’d be back for 2.45pm.
I put the phone down and wanted to be sick. It was only then that I realised something – how could my results be inconclusive if I had to wait a week for them?
This was the first question I asked when I was back there later that afternoon. They explained that they asked to have my results rushed through. They didn’t want to tell us at the time that they were going to ask, in case it wasn’t possible, but they had managed to sort it. Despite still not having a definitive result, I was really grateful to them for this as the idea of waiting a week wasn’t ideal at all.
I now had to have a different test, called a core biopsy. I had to have 2 further needles in my boob – local anaesthetics – before another needle type instrument was inserted into the lump. This time, tissue rather than cells is taken away for testing. I didn’t feel this happening really as I’d had the 2 anaesthetics (which did sting!) I had to have a couple of butterfly stitches put on and then I was ready to go home again. My poor boob was so bruised at this point.
I was advised again that I’d have to wait till the following Wednesday for the results. This time they were very firm, there was no way these would be rushed through as it takes longer to test the findings of a core biopsy apparently.
Those six days I waited were just horrendous. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly and my mind was just constantly racing. I was terrified. I kept thinking the worst. What would I do if it was bad news? I didn’t think I had it in me to deal with it if it was cancer. I wasn’t strong enough.
All logic went out of the window. Prior to finding the lump, I was going to treat myself to an iPad from the catalogue for my 30th. I now decided not to order one just yet. What if I was ill and I died before I had the chance to pay it off? And then my poor folks would be left with the catalogue bill of a few hundred pounds. That wouldn’t be fair. Like, how ridiculous does that sound? But this was how my mind was working at the time.
Finally, Wednesday came and I went back for my results. I was advised that I had something that was called a Fibroadenoma, which in short, is a harmless lump and was absolutely nothing to worry about. I burst into tears of relief. It felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
Due to the family history we now had, it was decided to remove the lump just to be on the safe side. I went back to hospital about 4 weeks later for this and was in and out on the same day. I now have a little scar on my boob but it’s barely noticeable. The lump was re-tested upon removal just to completely rule out anything bad once and for all – the result again showing that it was harmless.
The whole thing was an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. I went ahead and bought my iPad and hoped that I never had to experience anything like that ever again!
Unfortunately, this year, I had another scare. Very recently actually, it was only just over a week ago that I found out another lump I’d discovered was thankfully harmless. It didn’t go as far as biopsies this time. They were able to rule out anything sinister with just an ultrasound, luckily. That fear though, it was back with a vengeance and it was very very real. The relief you feel when you find out it’s all ok is like nothing I can really describe.
I found this recent lump through not being an idiot and actually checking my boobs, which I fully ensure that I do monthly now. I definitely learned my lesson from 5 years ago.
I truly hope that if you’re not a regular checker, this post may have persuaded you to become one – fingers crossed.
This was just after I’d had my ultrasound and two different biopsies
Dressing now removed, you can see the little line on the right (in the thinner area of the bruise) which is where they went in for the core biopsy
This was a couple of days after the surgery to remove the lump
And this was a couple of weeks after the lump was removed. I’ve not taken an up to date photo but it’s healed so well that I find it difficult to locate the scar anymore!