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Fran was diagnosed with breast cancer at 25, over a year after a lump she had discovered was dismissed as hormonal. Currently undergoing treatment, Fran shares her story and why she feels it’s so important to persist if you find something that’s unusual for you, even if you’re worried about coronavirus.

I discovered a lump when I was 24, just by chance – my cat kept hitting me in the breast, and when I tried to get him off I felt the lump. I didn’t check my breasts regularly – I knew that it was something I should maybe be doing, but it was never something we were educated about in school. My Mum had talked to me about checking your boobs in the past after a family friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was diagnosed at stage 4 which was a shock, but she was older. 

I didn’t think it could affect people of my age, it was never in the forefront of my mind that I could get breast cancer.

After I found my lump, I called my GP and managed to get an emergency appointment the same day. I was referred for an ultrasound at the Breast Clinic, however when I got there, the doctor told me I was too young and the lump was probably hormonal – I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t have a scan and I wasn’t told to come back for any check-ups.

Before I went into the clinic, I had done some research into breast cancer and came across the CoppaFeel! website where I saw the information and diagrams about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. After the doctor told me my lump was nothing to worry about I didn’t look any further, but then one day I was taking a shower and saw the puckering of the skin. I remembered seeing the picture on CoppaFeel!’s website and knew it wasn’t quite right so I called the GP again.

It had now been a year and a half since I had been to the breast clinic. They said I would have to wait for 2 weeks but I knew something wasn’t right, so I was lucky enough to book a private diagnostic appointment. I saw a breast surgeon and he examined the lump.

My initial thought was that I’d wasted his time – this was during coronavirus and I knew they were busy.

He sent me for an ultrasound and biopsy and I knew he was concerned. I was called back to find out the results a few days later and that’s when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At the time, I felt like I was wasting hospital time. I had had a serious accident before I found my lump and when I lost the ability to move my leg I still didn’t want to go in and waste their time.

Later on, when I saw the puckering of skin on my boob, I was still hesitant because I knew how busy the doctors are with coronavirus. It’s scary having to go into an appointment on your own because of the virus but I knew I just had to do it.

I even had brain surgery on my own. I felt really apologetic at first, but because I ended up going in and out of hospital quite a lot, I got used to it.

It shocked a lot of my friends and people who followed me when I was diagnosed. I was a personal trainer who was fit, healthy and young, and when you see someone like that get breast cancer it is shocking. When people reach out to me now on social media and ask what they should do if they find a lump I strongly urge them to go and get it checked immediately and ask for a biopsy if you are still not reassured.

If I could go back to my appointment in 2019 where the doctor said I didn’t need an ultrasound, I would have refused to leave the room! They would have found the cancer and then I wouldn’t be where I am today.

When I was diagnosed, the cancer was non-aggressive and treatable, but when they did further scans it showed a mass in my liver and a tumour in my brain. Luckily, the mass in my liver was benign but the brain tumour results came back as metastatic (secondary) breast cancer. Initially they told me I would only have 2 years, but I’m not letting anyone tell me I only have 2 years! I’m 25 and I wasn’t going to let it hold me back. I’ve now got a great oncologist who has restored my hope – we’re looking for a cure and I’ve now started chemo.

Everyone’s journey is different and everything is individual – I’m very open about my experience and I’ve had a lovely response. There are a lot of other young women who have been in touch since to say they are going through a similar experience to mine. It’s created a fire within me to speak loudly and try and prevent young people from being diagnosed late. Lots of my friends have now signed up to CoppaFeel!’s text reminders and have told me they now check their boobs, some of them even have a ‘check day’ every month to remind them. It’s so important that we learn to become familiar with our bodies at a young age and use services like CoppaFeel!’s text reminders to check our bodies on a regular basis because cancer doesn’t discriminate against age.

I’ve learnt a lot about how much strength I have – I never knew how much I had. Coming out of this I feel I’m a very different person and I have a drive to do more. I try and see the positive side – the pandemic has made it harder, but it also means I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much!

I was never really taboo about things before but I definitely feel more empowered now and don’t worry about things like feeling for lumps or going into a medical appointment – it’s just second nature now! No-one should be embarrassed or nervous about checking themselves or getting something checked out. I encourage everyone to be open about it – at the end of the day, you could be saving yourself.

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