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After breastfeeding for two years, Rebecca went straight to her doctor when she noticed something unusual in her breast. Rebecca explains why early detection of breast cancer is so important, and shares her advice for anyone who’s found something unusual for them.
In August 2020, completely by chance at the age of 30, I noticed a lump in my breast. I had breastfed for two years, so I was quite aware of my breasts and was worried something was wrong when I felt something hard and quite large towards the inside of my breast. I rang the doctor straight away who said, “You’re only 30, it will likely go away on its own, but if you’re going to be anxious about it, come in today.” I felt like I must have ‘hypochondriac’ written all over my medical file and hesitated for a moment, thinking I should maybe wait for a couple of weeks.
I tried to shake it off and convince myself it was just something to do with my breastfeeding. Then I thought, actually I am worried and I’m not going to feel like an idiot because of it. I asked for an appointment and that same afternoon I saw my GP.
After feeling the lump, the GP referred me to my local hospital for further investigation. It was the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I made my way to the hospital alone. I don’t really like doing things on my own but I didn’t expect it to be anything serious. I looked at the statistics before going in and it seemed to me that barely any women in their 30s could get breast cancer. I went into the appointment with a book, all relaxed, presuming it must be something to do with breastfeeding for two years.
The first person I saw assessed my lumps and reassured me that it was likely to do with breastfeeding. Nonetheless, they decided to send me for further scans. After I had an ultrasound I started to panic, as I could see from her eyes she was worried. She sent me for a mammogram, and then I had four biopsies from my breast and one from my armpit. I can remember everyone being really nice to me, even letting me sit in a little private corridor while I waited for the results. I thought, ‘Why am I not sitting with everyone else?’ – I just knew something was wrong. I spoke with my doctor and he told me that I had breast cancer.
I remember saying to the doctor, “What now? Do I just go home?” There was nobody there to pick me up, and nobody – including me – had suspected anything sinister. My partner was in a meeting and my parents weren’t answering their phones, so I just walked and walked and walked. I finally got in touch with my family and was picked up at the bus stop. I remember the fear in my partner’s eyes when I arrived home. Adrenaline took hold and I was almost unnaturally calm by the late afternoon.
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I knew very little about it – and even that’s being generous. I thought it was something that people over the age of 65 would get, I had no idea you could get it so young. Nobody else in my family has ever had breast cancer, and if I’m honest, I didn’t check my breasts regularly. It was because I was breastfeeding that I found the lump.
I was so used to seeing and feeling my boobs for such a long period of time whilst I breastfed that I became really familiar with any changes. If I wasn’t breastfeeding I might not have been actively checking myself and noticed the lump.
After I was diagnosed I found out that I had grade 3, oestogen positive, stage 2 cancer in my breast and lymph nodes. Luckily, my scans showed that it hadn’t spread beyond the lymph nodes, so I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment and a mastectomy. Since finishing my radiotherapy, I have been told that I am considered cancer-free! It’s such a great feeling.
One of my nurses told me that breast cancer is very treatable when it’s found early and I kept reminding myself that throughout the treatment. I’m so grateful that I caught mine earlier. Looking back, if I had found my cancer sooner, I likely wouldn’t have needed treatment to the extent that I had to and I would hopefully have been back on track living a normal life.
I also recognise how lucky I have been, not only with the unbelievable care I have had, but with the amazing outcomes of my treatment. My attitude the entire time was just to focus on the thing directly ahead, and nothing else. I got engaged to my wonderful partner (it turns out he had asked my mum and stepdad if he could marry me on the day I was diagnosed!) and I’m excited to be able to do things again now I don’t have to shield. I was even excited to go to the supermarket and see what new products had come out and show my son the fish counter (he loves fish!). I have begun to imagine my life beyond cancer.
Not everyone is as lucky as I have been, and the word that I take forward and shout from the rooftops is “COPPAFEEL!” Nobody is untouchable from breast cancer, but if you find it early, it is more treatable.
My advice to anyone is always just don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and don’t feel like your concerns are unreasonable. If you’re worried about anything, get it checked – the best case scenario is that it’s completely fine. It’s so important to go because you don’t want to be on the back foot, you want to get in there as early as possible.
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