Blog‘I was working on a cancer ward when I was diagnosed’ – Sophie’s Story
‘I was working on a cancer ward when I was diagnosed’ – Sophie’s Story
Sophie, 26, had been working as a nurse on a cancer ward for four years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sophie spoke to us about why she feels lucky to have found her symptoms when she did, and why she wants to encourage more people to get to know what’s normal for them.
Did you have much knowledge of breast cancer before being diagnosed, working as a nurse?
I have worked on an inpatient cancer ward since 2017 and have progressed to a senior staff nurse administering chemotherapy and stem cell transplants for haematology patients [people who are being treated for blood and bone marrow disorders]. I’ve seen patients in their 30s before, but never someone as young as myself.
I never thought it would happen to me: I have no family connection and I was really shocked that someone as young as myself could get breast cancer, despite all of my experience on the ward.”
How did you come across your symptoms?
I checked my breasts every now and then, but there was no routine to my checking. I was lying in bed before going to sleep when I noticed a lump when I was just checking myself randomly. I was on my period at the time and initially put the lump down to hormones and left it for a couple of days. My boyfriend felt the lump and thought it was best to get it checked. My mum and best friend said the same, so exactly a week after finding the lump I made an appointment with my GP to get it checked out.
The GP felt the lump and told me she didn’t think it was anything of concern. She told me she would usually suggest waiting for a month to see if it disappeared, but gave me the option to be referred to the breast clinic which I accepted, to put my mind at rest. I was seen at the breast clinic three weeks later where I had an ultrasound scan, mammogram and four biopsies. Even the nurse at the breast clinic initially told me she thought the lump was nothing! Nine days later I got my results and found out I had breast cancer.
When I was diagnosed, everyone was so shocked because of my age, but they shouldn’t have been. It doesn’t matter your age, you should always get anything unusual checked out.”
I looked on Instagram for other people around my age who might be going through similar experiences. I saw a CoppaFeel! Boobette, Georgia, who was sharing links to CoppaFeel! pages, and I found the charity really appealed to me – it’s modern and fun and aimed at people of a younger age.
How have you been finding your treatment?
It’s definitely weird being the patient rather than the nurse. I’ve been having my chemotherapy on the ward where I work, so I know where everything is and the matron is my manager! Sometimes I find it hard – I didn’t really want my colleagues to see me when I lost my hair, for example. In some ways, I don’t ever want to work with cancer again, but on the positive side, I’m learning a lot more about the treatment I usually administer – I’m living through it! I’m hoping to go back to work in July, after my treatment, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to be patient-facing because of the risks of Covid-19. It’s strange – at what point do I stop being the patient and become a member of staff again?
Has your experience changed your perspective on anything?
I appreciate life so much more. In the beginning I felt very low. My mum wanted me to make a positivity jar, so I began making notes on my phone, trying to find a positive out of what was happening, which turned into a blog. I encourage myself to see the bigger picture and the opportunities and positives this diagnosis has brought me. Doing my blog has also meant that I’ve met other people my age who are further down the line from me, which is really encouraging to see.
I believe I was lucky to have found my lump when I did. I could have been in a much worse situation if I hadn’t found it as quickly as I did. It is fast growing and would have likely spread very soon. I wish to raise awareness, particularly to those of a younger age, and encourage them to check their breasts regularly and know what’s normal for them. Do not hesitate to get anything abnormal checked – early detection is so important.”