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Ella kept a CoppaFeel! shower sticker in her product bag, regularly reminding her about the importance of checking your chest. During one of her regular checks, Ella came across something unusual for her, and was later diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Ella chatted with us about how she aims to keep a level of normality in her life, and why it’s important to take the power into your hands.
Had you checked your chest before?
I was prompted to check my chest every time I went rummaging through my product bag in the bathroom, in there lived a CoppaFeel! shower sticker that acted as an important reminder. Pre-diagnosis my knowledge of anything cancer related was minimal, I knew if caught early the chances of survival were higher, but ultimately felt so disconnected from it. I assumed that having cancer as a young person directly correlated with it being genetic. Having never witnessed cancer within my own family, coupled with such a healthy lifestyle I naturally assumed I was safe. It was through regularly checking that I discovered something unusual and went to see my GP. I was sent for a routine ultrasound and it was confirmed that an unusual lump I had found in my right breast was a very harmless cyst.
Keen to keep my eye on this new cyst taking up residency in my chest, I ensured I was checking the size and shape of it regularly. Less than a year later I realized it had gotten firmer, the size remained the same but the texture was similar to a marble. Shortly after this realization I then found a lump around the size of a ping pong ball in the dip in my armpit on the same side.
What did you do when you noticed these changes?
Finding the lump in my armpit frightened me, checking under your arm wasn’t something I was fully aware that I should be doing. Having found it late at night I promised myself I’d call the GP in the morning. I felt hesitant to call; we were in the midst of another full lockdown and I didn’t want to bother the NHS with me potentially being a drama queen. The idea of wasting a doctor’s time whilst I knew there was a spike of Covid-19 cases worried me, however, what worried me more was what I might be told when a GP checked the lumps I’d found.
What happened when you visited your doctor?
My doctor had no hesitation in sending me for an ultrasound, she was calm, professional and took my concern seriously. During my ultrasound I was asked to stay for a biopsy, and this was when I realized something wasn’t quite right. At this point no one could confirm or deny what the scan was showing but when two doctors describe your scan as ‘concerning’ it certainly disrupts your notion that the lumps living in your breast and armpit are harmless. I was asked to return to the hospital in 14 days, and during that wait I made a commitment to myself to not borrow pain from the future and not worry about something I couldn’t control or change at that moment. Once 14 days had passed, I returned to see the doctor and was told I had stage 3 breast cancer.
How has this experience impacted you?
Hearing the word ‘chemotherapy’ for me was worse than the cancer itself. The side effects of chemotherapy made my journey with cancer very public and frighteningly obvious. The notion that I’d be poisoning a body I’d worked so hard on protecting and keeping at optimum health made me both furious and heart broken. My life at this time didn’t have space for chemotherapy, or cancer, it was built on 5AM boxing & HIIT classes, a high pressure job and a tendency to burn the candle at both ends with my friends, but remedy it with bucket loads of broccoli and ginger shots. I didn’t want to give these things up, so in true ‘Ella’ style I wrote a roadmap. I began with finding a wig maker, signed myself up for a cold cap (there was no way my platinum blonde locks were going down without an almighty fight!), studied Wim Hoff breathing & ice training methods, enlisted the help of an amazing PT and boosted a nutrient dense diet into overdrive. I threw everything I had at getting my body into its strongest capacity to adapt and fight the oncoming drugs.
I prepared myself as best I could and thank myself now for making that commitment to myself. Nearing the end of chemotherapy, nudged by a particularly adverse reaction to my treatment I decided to ditch the cold cap. It was important that I listened to my body, and at that point my body was saying “enough… it’s time to let go of the hair”. A week later my boyfriend and I ordered in enough magnums of rose to fill a family size car, invited my dearest friends over and we celebrated as a group of us shaved our heads together. I wasn’t going to let cancer take my hair before I took it first.
Throughout chemo it was important to me that I maintained a level of normality, this meant still going to the office each day, taking public transport, exercising daily and seeing my friends and brand new boyfriend! (we’d been dating less than a month when I was diagnosed) My job provided some escapism from what went on at the hospital. At work I felt accomplished, I had autonomy, I felt powerful, I was valued, my self-esteem rose and it reminded me that I was a boss b*tch through many aspects of my life – it was also one of the only consistencies from my old identity I’d managed to keep. There was a big debate in my mind when eventually all my hair vacated my scalp about the appropriation of arriving at work bald. I’d tried to wear my wig but after two days, I felt like an imposter and that I wasn’t honoring myself in trying to hide something that was now me. I think this came as a surprise when I emerged from the work bathrooms holding my wig like a small pet one Friday afternoon.
Throughout my treatment journey I have been humbled and thoroughly overwhelmed by the support my friends, their parents and my boyfriend has shown me. I am infinitely grateful to them, but also to my whole team at the hospital. My surgeon and my oncologist are true heroes. They worked with me to cater my treatment to my lifestyle: I wasn’t told ‘these are the rules, and you must not break them’, even if sometimes they did need to put their foot down. We worked collaboratively to find ways to allow me to live normally, this required an enormous amount of trust on both sides, and I feel incredibly lucky to have found a team that would work with me like that.
This will sound utterly bizarre, but my diagnosis has bettered my life. Shaving my head left me feeling empowered, brave, more beautiful than I was before and fearless of future challenges. I walk a little taller now, speak with more authority, trust and respect my inner voice and feel incredibly proud of the capabilities my body has shown me – it never let me down! My gratitude to everyone around me is immeasurable, to those that never once pitied me but stood behind me as my own personal army and charged at the cancer regardless of whether I was well enough to lead them.
My outlook on life has a new perspective, I value myself more than I ever did before and I feel powerful in my own skin. If I could have done anything differently, I would tell myself to let go. Letting go triggers enormous growth and with growth comes new levels of joy and a new life that serves you better than your old one.
Do you have any advice after your experience?
Having cancer isn’t always a death wish and if you get something checked out early, you give yourself the best chance. It doesn’t matter what age you are, cancer doesn’t care. What’s important is that you’re taking the power into your hands – there’s a confidence in taking control of your health.
The advice I would give to someone else in my position is to trust your body, protect your energy at all costs and let go – lean into the fear and take ownership of it. Everything you could ever need is already inside you. If I could shower every single person going through what I have been in aggressive, non-negotiable, energetic positivity, I would.
You can order a shower sticker like Ella’s to help remind you to regularly check your chest. Our vinyl stickers are small and discreet and won’t leave a mark on your tiles. Click below to fill out our free order form.
*Please note, we are only able to send out shower stickers individually (these are one of the pricier items we produce and we haven’t managed to grow any shower sticker trees, yet).
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