I feel I was always quite aware of Breast Cancer growing up; it had good campaigns and the pink month was becoming a thing. this became even more true when my Aunt was diagnosed and subsequently died when I was a teenager. I was aware of mammograms, but definitely thought it was a thing that concerned ‘older’ ladies.
I started Uni in September 2000, at around the same time my mum was called for her first mammogram. Weeks later I’ll never forget that phone call, mum telling me she’d just been given the news that she had breast cancer, my initial reaction was that of a typical fresher, and I downed a couple of shots (between lectures) to numb the emotion.
The first few months at Uni, studying nursing felt very odd- as I was often torn with where I should be doing my ‘nursing’. Returning home to see mum following her lumpectomy surgery, and following on from that accompanying her for nearly all of her radiotherapy treatments. As a nursing student, the radiotherapy sessions were incredibly interesting and the team allowed me to observe at each session- although it was heart wrenching to see mum go through such an ordeal. The radiotherapy ’tattoos’ were her first- but I’m proud to say I’ve encouraged her to get more (breast cancer related too)
Mum, I guess was ‘lucky’- her cancer hadn’t spread, and following her radiotherapy course her only other treatment was oral medications, and the lasting effects were some lymphoedema (where fluid builds up in her arm due to lymph node removal) and mildly wonky boobs due to the lumpectomy.
As my Aunt was on my paternal side- no family or hereditary links were even thought of. That was until in the subsequent years two maternal cousins, one paternal cousin and my Nan were also diagnosed with breast cancer. A maternal aunt also was diagnosed and died from Ovarian cancer.
It was worrying for all the ladies in my family; as well as supporting our family members through diagnosis, and in two cases unfortunately death due to cancer; we had to acknowledge the risks to each of us.
During my twenties I had two breast lumps which required investigation. I guess, although these lumps or thickenings were 100% present, much of my concern was due to paranoia. I correctly and worriedly had the required tests, and was given the news that they were likely hormonal cysts.
Following the second ‘scare’ one of the breast care nurses picked up on the increasing family history, and kindly referred me for genetic screening and counselling at Oxford. This involved a very thorough history and examination of myself, and also thorough histories of both my mum and Nan and blood tests too. The specialist from Oxford was amazing, arranging for me to have baseline MRI scans of my breast, and brought me back to clinic to offer the results and her opinion.
I was told that although the results showed that we did not have a well known gene link, such a BRCA for example, she believed that there would not be such a strong breast and ovarian cancer trend in our family without it being genetically linked. She summarised that she felt I had a 85% chance of having breast cancer at 50+; and suggested, that although not an immediate concern I should consider future preventative surgeries. she advised me to have good breast knowledge and to ensure I started having mammograms at 40.
Ten or so years later, and on Christmas Eve 2020 (yes THAT year) I found a lump in my boob. I’m pretty good at checking in the shower, so it definitely concerned me enough to want to have it checked. With it being Christmas and covid times, it wasn’t the easiest to get seen by the GP- but amazingly I did manage to get referred in quickly, as was seen at the breast care centre in mid January.
Due to my age, 39 at that point, and my family history, the team decided to use both mammogram and ultrasound to ensure the best images possible. Two hours later, I was given the good news that my lump was a benign cyst, and was likely small enough to disappear on its own. I was given the advice that if it increased in size or became painful it may require drainage. They also said my scans would count as the start of my ‘at risk’ screening, and that I’d have yearly mammograms from then on. Luckily the cyst kindly did one, and I’ve had no concerns since.
Writing this blog has reminded me that I’m due that follow up mammogram! And I’m hoping reading this blog have reminded you of the importance of checking your boobs, and seeking help if you find any changes.