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Lucy was 32, and 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We spoke to Lucy about her diagnosis and why early detection is so important.
How did you notice your symptoms? What did you do next?
I was 32 when I noticed a lump. It was totally by chance when I was watching Netflix and happened to itch my breast! I called the doctor the following day and got a telephone appointment. The GP then invited me for an examination. Because I work for Macmillan, I think I had the confidence to go to my GP straight away. At the time, we were talking a lot about the delays in diagnosis due to Covid-19 and the fact that people were scared to go to the doctor for fear of catching Covid-19.
What happened when you saw your GP?
The GP felt the lump and said it was likely nothing to worry about and felt it was likely a change due to me being pregnant. She said to monitor it for a couple of weeks to see if I noticed any changes, however because of all the news around delays in diagnosis, I persisted and requested to be referred to the breast clinic. The GP was happy to refer me, but warned me that if I did go, I would have to go alone due to Covid-19 measures. I can appreciate that this might dissuade some people, but I didn’t care as I just wanted to know if the lump was serious.
I was then seen the following week at the hospital and given a formal diagnosis ten days later: Triple Negative breast cancer.
How did you feel after being diagnosed?
Being told I had breast cancer was really surreal. I had already had a feeling following the initial visit to the clinic that something wasn’t right and had done quite a bit of research into chemotherapy and pregnancy, so my concerns weren’t really about that. I was more interested in the grading and staging.
Up until this point, it was only my husband who knew what was going on – I think it was more of a shock for him as I was slightly more prepared.
In a space of one week, I had had two ultrasounds; one to tell us we were having a baby boy, and one to tell us I had breast cancer.
We decided to tell people immediately so we informed all of our friends and family. I also have a four-year-old, but we waited a little longer to tell her. Not being able to tell people face-to-face or get hugs from your friends and family was really sad. I basically went into organizing mode after that and tried to take control of what I could, such as sorting out work, cutting my hair, organizing appointments and childcare etc. The first thing I actually did after the diagnosis was order a wall calendar, much to the amusement of my friends as I am the one of the group that organises most things!
Did you know much about breast cancer before you received this diagnosis?
No one else in my family had ever had breast cancer, but working for a cancer charity myself, I knew about it in general terms. I didn’t know anything about the different types, who it affects, and the different types of treatment. If I hadn’t worked for a cancer charity, I don’t know if I would have been as quick to book the appointment. I had the same view that a lot of people have, that breast cancer doesn’t affect young people. I wasn’t ever taught about it in school, and didn’t know to be checking, or that breast cancer can, and does, affect people at a young age.
I don’t think I ever gave any thought about it affecting people from a young age. I never checked my boobs and it was a complete fluke that I found the lump. I don’t wear bras, I wash with a loafer, and I wasn’t checking my boobs, so I think that fluke could have saved my life as the cancer has been caught early at stage one.
Your boobs change so much during pregnancy that I definitely wouldn’t have assumed that a visual change could be breast cancer. I think cancer during pregnancy is rare, but clearly it does happen.
When I was telling a friend about my diagnosis, she told me that her only exposure to checking was from CoppaFeel! which is how I found out about the charity. I was really keen to support CoppaFeel! as early detection is key and I want to do anything I can to help spread that message.
What was your relationship like with your body before?
My boobs are pretty small and they aren’t a major part of my body that I’m proud of or that I feel makes my body look nicer, so I don’t think I’ve ever been inclined to check or engage with my boobs. Interestingly, the boob that my cancer is in, the nipple has always looked different to the other side. I only noticed when I started breastfeeding my first child that the nipple was inverted. I’ve never been one to touch my boobs, but visually I felt like they were doing the same thing as during my first pregnancy. Had I not had the lump, I don’t think I would have been concerned or gone to the GP.
How is your treatment going?
Whilst I’m pregnant, I’m on 21 day cycles of chemotherapy. I’m having a certain type called ‘EC’ which has had the most amount of research to show that it can be safe in pregnancy. Being pregnant while having chemotherapy is tough, but it is what it is and I just have to get on with it. I’ve been busy sorting baby stuff which I’m grateful for as it’s something I can control and organise and it’s given me something to do. I’ve been able to stay really positive about my diagnosis so far because I believe that you can only control what you can; I can’t control my cancer, but I can control getting ready for our baby. So in some ways, being pregnant has provided the perfect distraction but it has also intensified my occasional ‘what if’ thoughts around leaving my husband to raise two children on his own and not getting to know my newborn. My husband has been my rock, as well as my friends and family. Working for Macmillan, everyone has been incredibly supportive in terms of time off and support.
For the most part though, my biggest concern is going back to treatment whilst having a new baby. Having already had a baby, I know how tough a newborn can be. It’s the mental health side effects of the lack of sleep as well as the unknown potential side effects of a new treatment that are concerning me.
Do you feel like this experience has changed you in other ways?
To be honest, not yet. I still feel I am processing it as everything happened so quickly. I don’t think I could give advice at the moment, as I’m still very much living it. I am however grateful of my general outlook in life in that I don’t stress over things that I can’t control. It’s a shame to have cancer hanging over us at a time in our life that should be a happy and exciting one, but I cannot do anything about it, so I try not to dwell on it too much. The connection I have with my unborn son feels so strong already as he has lived this with me so far.
It’s a strange thing, because I was diagnosed so early, we had only just started telling people that I was pregnant. Somehow this softened the blow of telling people that I had breast cancer, as we were able to just say “the baby’s going to be okay.”
Remy Sol was born on the 15th June 2021 – he’s a real cutie! All was fine with the birth and I’m feeling pretty good. I start back on chemo soon for 9 weekly cycles. Whilst having chemo you are not allowed to breastfeed so I was given medication as soon as I gave birth to stop the production of milk. It’s all a real burst to the baby bubble, but I’m also keen to get on with the treatment plan and get better.
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