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We first heard from Emily late last year, when she emailed CoppaFeel! to thank us for prompting her to check her boobs. After following us on social media, Emily started checking her boobs, and in the autumn of 2019, aged 34, she noticed a lump, which would eventually be diagnosed as breast cancer. We spoke to Emily about her experience.
Hi Emily, thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Emily, I’m a Store Manager at Paperchase (the card and stationary shop) – where I have been working for about 7 years. I’m from Cheltenham originally but studied in Southampton and eventually settled there, with my husband Davey and our cats, Marylin and Alice. I’d just turned 34 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
How did your diagnosis come about?
I’ve been following you guys on social media for a while and I had started checking myself because of you. I probably wasn’t checking my boobs as regularly as I should have, but because of CoppaFeel!, I was aware of the importance of checking your boobs, and that breast cancer doesn’t just affect older women. But when I discovered my cancer it was completely by accident. I’d gone to the loo in the middle of the night and was feeling a bit cold so I just put my arms around myself and I thought “Oh that doesn’t feel quite right – there’s a lump – that’s not normally there!”.
It was a teeny tiny lump, but I just knew that it wasn’t normal for me, so I called my doctors surgery and made an appointment for the following day.
She didn’t think it was anything suspicious but nonetheless she referred me to see a specialist. I have no history of cancer or breast cancer in my family but I do have a close friend whose mum passed away from it when she was quite little – before I knew her – so it’s always kind of been a topic that I’ve been aware of.
I was seen a couple of weeks later where I had a biopsy and an ultrasound and was told to expect the results in the middle of January, unless it was anything serious, in which case I would hear from them sooner. In actuality it was, so I received a call from them not much later, and was asked to come in for an appointment in a week. It all moved really quickly from there, and from finding the lump in November to my diagnosis in December, it was only about three weeks. It’s now March and I’ve already had surgery and started chemo. It’s all been a bit strange, but ultimately I know it’s good – I know it’s all to help me get better and stop the cancer from coming back in the future.
I think my awareness of CoppaFeel! gave me more confidence to go to the doctor, because I knew that this wasn’t normal for me.
It definitely made me feel confident to speak up. You don’t ever really want to find a lump on your boob or anything, so it was a bit of an intimidating decision to see the doctor, because part of me knew it could be the beginning of something quite scary and quite serious. But I had the feeling that “I just have to make the appointment” because I knew I needed to go and get it checked out, and there was really no question about it. And I’m so glad that I did.
How did you react to the news that you had breast cancer?
There were a lot of tears when I first heard the news. It was weird because my husband and I had gone in together and you get there and you wait. And it’s the waiting that makes it a lot worse because you kind of know that it’s not going to be good news, because i’d been called in a month earlier than they’d initially said i’d be seen. I was in shock, I cried a bit whilst speaking to the consultant and a lovely breast cancer nurse. They told me that it was good news and that I had caught it early – the lump was still very small and my cancer was at this stage curable.
We came away from the appointment with lots of information, but initially I was just really upset, and on the way home was just thinking “oh my god – how do you tell people that?”. Do you call people up and say “Oh hi, yeah, just so you know, I’ve got breast cancer”. So we took a couple of days off just to process everything and get to grips with the next steps and that sort of thing. Really my brain just went into autopilot, thinking “what do I need to sort out? What do I do now?” So I told my work first of all, and then I spoke to my mum and my sister to tell them the news. Everyone was really lovely and they rallied around me.
I’ve had surgery to remove the lump and a couple of lymph notes – the surgery was pretty straightforward and I was home in one day. After that comes six rounds of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy, followed by ten years of hormone treatment.
I’ve just had my first round of chemo and the last few days have been tough – it feels daunting, but I’m just trying to take one step at a time.
Is there anything that you feel is helping you to cope during this time?
I run a lot and so I’m carrying on trying to run as much as possible as I know that exercise can really help with the fatigue of chemo. It sounds weird but it’s what I’ve heard. I find running so good for my head as well – the endorphins cannot be beaten. I know I need to be realistic but I want to carry on with my running as best as I can.
I’ve also found the MacMillan centre at our local hospital to be really great – it’s just the most lovely little space and they offer lots of complementary support for people going through treatment. I want to try my best to continue doing the things that I enjoy doing. I know I’m going through chemo and stuff but I’m still me. I still want to carry on doing the things I like to do, as best as I can!
It gives you control. No one expects you to be going out running when you’re going through treatment but you just kind of think “you know what, sod it, I’m going for a run!” – it makes you feel really empowered.
You’ve applied to become a Boobette – can you tell me a little bit more about why you wanted to do that?
Since I’ve been diagnosed I’ve been trying to raise awareness as best as I can being just one person. But I’m aware that I’m very very lucky that I found the lump so early and because of that my treatment has been much more straightforward. So I really just want people to be checking themselves, I want them to understand that if they do find something they should go and see a doctor, they should not be scared to do that. Being a Boobette means I can do that on a much greater scale and be part of something much bigger. I can talk to more people and educate them so they understand that cancer doesn’t have to be as horrible and scary as they might think. There’s so much weight attached to that word but actually if you find it early, it’s much much better. I also want to get the message out there that this isn’t just something that affects older people.
Do you think your diagnosis has had any impact on your outlook on life or made you think differently about anything?
I think it’s made me feel grateful – I feel lucky because I know there are lots of people who will have had a diagnosis that is not as positive as mine.
If I was giving advice to someone in a similar position I would say to get anything unusual checked out as soon as you can, and to talk to people about what’s going on.
If you’re in a relationship tell your partner, if you’re not, tell a close friend. It helps to have someone who knows what’s going on, and even if it turns out to be nothing, you have that support there if you need it. Bite the bullet, get it checked out, talk to your doctor.
You can read more about Emily’s experience on her blog. To sign up for regular boob-check reminders or to become a regular giver, scroll down.