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Cara first got in touch with us after being diagnosed with breast cancer just as lockdown had begun, after noticing a lump in one of her breasts. We had a chat to Cara about her experience and the realities of breast cancer during Covid.
Hi Cara, thanks for chatting today! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Cara, I’m 28 and live in East London with my boyfriend, brother and my brother’s girlfriend. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of March this year, just as Covid was really taking hold. Since then, I’ve had to start shielding, so have moved out of London to Bakewell, Derbyshire with my parents and boyfriend.
Could you tell us a little bit about how your diagnosis came about?
I was just messing about with my boyfriend one day and felt a lump that didn’t feel right. It just felt weird. At first I panicked and started crying – my boyfriend is a doctor and explained that it could be a number of things and we shouldn’t panic straight away, so we called the GP.
And did you see your GP straight away?
No, the GP reassured me that it was probably a fibroadenoma (a harmless lump) and asked me to call back in 2 weeks. Because of coronavirus, she was reluctant to bring me in for an appointment because of the risk of the virus, so she told me to wait until my next period and see if the lump had changed in size.
Fast forward 2 weeks and I’d had my period and not noticed any changes. I called back the GP and she booked me an appointment the next day. When I had my appointment she referred me to St Bartholomew’s Hospital where I was seen. I took my boyfriend to the appointment with me. The doctors had said it looked suspicious so I was prepared for the worst.
I was obviously overwhelmed when I got the diagnosis, I felt sad and scared.
How did you react to the news of your diagnosis? Had you noticed any other symptoms?
I told my family first over the phone and then texted my close friends who knew I had been waiting for results. Everyone kept asking me how I felt, but I didn’t have any other symptoms. I’m fine – I feel completely normal!
It’s scary because I can’t help but think if I hadn’t come across the lump that day, what would have happened?
Were you aware of breast cancer before your diagnosis?
My Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 52. She didn’t talk about it much but I knew she had a double mastectomy. I assumed that I would not have an increased risk or she would have mentioned it to me.
I used to work as a dentist in the head and neck department so oral cancer patients were referred to us if they had a suspected diagnosis to be treated. I mainly treated older patients for oral cancer but there were a few younger people too, I remember treating a 27 year old.
I was aware that breast cancer could affect younger people because I had read sad stories from young people that had been diagnosed, but I did think that it was a much older thing because I hadn’t properly looked into it before. When I found my lump, I assumed it must be a harmless lump, and my friends confirmed that – we all thought the stats would show that it was surely nothing.
And had you ever checked your boobs before?
Yes, I had heard of CoppaFeel! from when I was at university in Manchester. I worked with one of your Uni Boob Team leaders and she got me to sign up to the monthly text reminders. Since then I have always checked my boobs and told other people to sign up and do the same.
I love the monthly texts and always check when I get them. I’m not sure I would have realised there was a lump if I hadn’t known what was normal beforehand.
I check really regularly, although it was in between checks that I found my lump by chance. If I didn’t usually check, I wouldn’t know what was normal and that something was wrong.
You’re having treatment now, how is it going?
I’ve just been through my first round of chemotherapy. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think I was scared of the unknown more than anything. The following days after chemo I felt nauseous and tired but I’m feeling pretty good now. I’ve done some exercise this week and I feel like I’m getting back to normal (well, Coronavirus normal!)
I also went through fertility preservation before starting chemotherapy. This was the most stressful part of the process so far due to some awful interactions with doctors and my body not reacting as quickly as they had hoped. Now it’s done I’m really glad that I completed it and that it’s over.
I have good days and bad days. Everyone tells me that I am being positive but I don’t always feel like I am doing that well. It helps for me to write a blog about what’s going on so that I can sort out my thoughts in my head.
My boyfriend has been the best support throughout treatment. He is so amazing and patient with me, he lets me vent my anger towards him and then forgives me straight away. I take him to all of my appointments and he writes everything down so that I can remember it afterwards (there is so much information!) He has also been great at updating my family and keeping everyone in the loop. My parents have also been amazing and have let us move home.
I joined a young women’s support group with Breast Cancer Haven on Zoom the other day which was great. It was so nice speaking to the other girls who are all going through their own stories. I didn’t realise there were so many types of cancers and so many different treatments. It was just really nice to chat to people who you could relate to – all of the girls were under 35. Some of them had already been to surgery and spoke about how they were the youngest there, so it was nice to chat to people in a similar situation.
Has your diagnosis impacted your life in other ways, aside from treatment?
The biggest upset to my life has been having to move out of London. Because I was diagnosed during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve had to shield. That meant that I had to move out of my flat in London as I lived with my brother who works in A&E (and so is high-risk for bringing infections home). I love my life in London and have all my friends there. I’ve also had to give up work as dentists are at high-risk for catching infections too – I loved my job so I’m sad about leaving. I’ve moved back home to Bakewell, Derbyshire to live with my parents and thankfully my boyfriend agreed to move home with me! It’s been hard because I felt like I was having to give up a life that I loved. I have cried a lot about wanting my old life back and had a few days when I can’t get out of bed. My Mum tells me things will go back to normal eventually – I hope she’s right!
Lockdown must have made things especially hard. There are lots of people still shielding at the moment, what would your advice be to those in a similar situation to you?
I’ve recently bought a puppy called Frank which is definitely the best way my life has changed since being diagnosed! He is a golden-cockerdoodledoo and I love having him around! We went on his first walk recently which was so exciting! My advice to anyone shielding would be to go for a walk and try to get out the house if you can – I’ve found it really helps.
Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who might be in a similar situation to you?
It’s your diagnosis and you have the right to react to it however you want to. If you don’t want to tell people, or if you want to tell everyone, you can. If you want people to be happy for you that you are being treated, or sad that you have to go through it, it’s up to you. I felt there was so much to think about and so many people to consider, but you have to do it in the way your happiest with – your friends and family will support you no matter what.
If you’ve noticed a change in your boobs or pecs, always get it checked out by a doctor. To find out what to expect when speaking to your GP, check out our video from Dr. Beth Lynch.
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