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Just days after actress Olivia Newton-John passed away.
This week, Olivia Newton-John sadly passed away from breast cancer after a thirty-year battle with the disease. So we make it our mission to educate you about the symptoms of breast cancer that often go unnoticed.
Although there aren’t many obvious signs that you have the disease, it’s worth reading up on the subtle red flags to know about.
Why? Well, put simply, because 11,500 women and 85 men still die from breast cancer in the UK every year. To put that into context, in the UK alone, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every ten minutes, according to CoppaFeel.
Here, a woman shares her inspiring story of bravery, strength and fighting stage three cancer during a global pandemic. Natasha Lewis was just 27 when she discovered a small lump in her breast, but it sent shockwaves through her body. She knew something was wrong.
Before you read her humbling story, let Jacqueline Lewis, a consultant breast surgeon on Bupa Cromwell Hospitalshare some important statistics about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and what to look out for, regardless of your age.
What are the signs of breast cancer I should watch out for?
Often the first symptoms women notice are a lump or an area of thickened tissue in the breast or armpit.
Other common symptoms are:
- A change in the size of one or both of your breasts
- Discharge of fluid from one of your nipples
- A change in the texture and appearance of your breast or nipples.
Less common symptoms may be irritation or a rash on the breasts or nipples and bloody discharge from the nipple.
How often should I check my breasts?
Because every woman’s breasts are different, there is no right or wrong way to check them. It is important that you get into a regular routine of checking your breasts so that you can identify any changes and report them to your GP.
What is the best way to do it?
To check your breasts properly, make sure you check your entire breast area. Look at the size and shape of each breast and feel for any lumps. Remember to check your nipples, armpits and the skin on your breasts too.
At what age should you start checking?
There is no specific age for you to start checking your breasts. But the earlier you start, the more likely you will be able to recognize what is normal for you and if it is something out of the ordinary.
When you are over 50, you will be invited to a breast screening mammogram. You will be offered this screening every three years until you are 70. However, it is important to note that you should still check your breasts regularly – a breast screening mammogram should not replace your own regular breast checks.
“At 27 I Found Out I Had Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Here’s What It Taught Me”
“My name is Natasha Lewis and I am a 28-year-old teacher from Hertfordshire. I work full time, but love to bake and go to the gym in my spare time. I have spent the last few years getting into my fitness and have been doing a lot of strength training. I love strength training – I’m constantly pushing myself to see how much I can lift.”
Finding the lump
“I first noticed the lump in early February 2020 when I showered. I shower the same way every day so I am aware of any changes in my body and this was the first time I felt a lump in the upper right side of my right breast.”
“I was alone at home and felt very unsure of what to do. My body’s natural reaction was to sit down or I would pass out. Because I had such an extreme reaction to what I had felt, I knew it could be something more serious than just a hormonal change. If I hadn’t had that reaction to the lump, I might not have visited my GP.”
“I had the lump examined a week after I found it. I was offered a quicker appointment but as I had previously been unwell with swollen glands, which is quite common for me, I wanted to give it a few days to make sure it was not the cause of the lump.”
Fighting the nerves
“I remember how nervous I felt that day. I’m quite self-conscious about my body and didn’t necessarily feel comfortable showing my breasts to a male doctor. Once I met him I felt more at ease and was instantly put at ease and comforted. I knew as nervous as it made me feel, I was doing the right thing by taking care of myself.”
“One takeaway for me: you can’t be self-conscious when it comes to your health. I felt so nervous about showing the doctor my breasts, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Also, it’s their job as doctors to try make you feel comfortable where possible.I would really urge anyone who feels the same way I did to get checked as soon as possible.It’s over in no time and not as embarrassing as you make it out to be the head at all.”
“Right after he checked my breasts, my doctor told me it was probably nothing serious. He said that since I was young and had no history of breast cancer in my family, he didn’t think I needed to worry .But as he could not guarantee this, he sent me for further tests.”
“I was lucky that the GP sent me for more tests and took my concerns seriously. Even though he didn’t think it was cancer, he wanted to rule it all out, especially since I was so young. I’m so glad he listened to me and was worried, like me, about the reaction I’d had when I found the lump.”
Playing the waiting game
“Next came the wait. I tried to keep myself busy and busy until I had the ultrasound, but I still couldn’t shake the memory of how I had reacted when I first found the lump. I just knew it was not a normal part of my breast and that it was unlike anything else I had ever experienced.”
“I had an ultrasound and a biopsy. On the ultrasound I saw shadowing. That’s when I knew it was cancer. I remember talking to the man who did the ultrasound and saying I knew shadowing meant cancer, but he couldn’t confirm it until I had my biopsy done later that day.”
“Four days later I had a follow-up appointment with the GP to tell him the results. I had mentally prepared myself for the worst, even though all my friends and family told me to stay positive. When the GP came to collect me he didn’t say a word throughout the walk from the waiting room to the consulting room. This confirmed to me doubly that it must be cancer.”
“I felt numb, even though I knew it was coming”
“He sat me down and came out with it and confirmed that I had breast cancer. Even worse, he warned that it grew quickly and emphasized how lucky I was to have found it when I had it. He then went through the process of what what would happen next and who would I be referred to for treatment.”
“I felt stiff, even though I knew it was coming. I’m a realist and like to know the facts and what’s next. I is needed to know when my next appointment was and how to get rid of the cancer – as soon as possible.”
“It hit me that I had something foreign growing inside me, that I couldn’t control. But I knew I had to take back control and get rid of it. This was also the day I named my tumor – Friedel – after The ex-Tottenham goalkeeper that I loved.”
Treat my cancer
“I was referred straight away to see my surgeon, Mr Giles Davies at Bupa Cromwell Hospital. He was so lovely and personable which put my mind at ease. He explained the different types of cancer to me and talked me through the different treatment options for each type. I had no understanding of cancer – I didn’t even know there could be so many different types. He made it very clear to me what my options would be.”
It struck me that I had something foreign growing inside me, which I could not control
“Another blow was when we then found out that I was triple negative, which meant that I was not hormone responsive and that my tumor did not respond to certain treatments. Giles then referred me to an oncologist and explained that my tumor would respond best to chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy.”
“I was also told that I needed to protect my fertility as I was only 27. It was suggested that I go for egg harvesting, which involved a month of fertility treatment, followed by hormone blocking injections throughout the chemo and for a year after.”
“Before chemotherapy started, I was sent for several scans and tests to make sure the cancer was only in one place and to check its size and shape.”
“I started chemotherapy on April 3rd which continued until August 28th. I had 16 rounds in total. If you’re wondering why the process was so long, or why I had so many rounds, it was because of the type of cancer I had – it are not many who need to have that many, but unfortunately for me, I did.”
“I was lucky enough to be able to use a cold cap, although it doesn’t work for everyone. Cold caps help with hair regrowth. Just over a month without chemo and I already have a thick layer of hair covering my head.”
“After 16 rounds of chemotherapy, I saw Giles again who explained that because my tumor had been so responsive to the chemotherapy, the lumpectomy would be a minimally invasive procedure, which would help keep the scarring to a minimum.”
Coping with cancer during a pandemic
“I won’t lie, the treatment was really lonely, I didn’t have my family or partner come with me. I also haven’t been able to see friends because I’ve been protecting my lowered immune system (thanks, chemotherapy).”
“The nursing team throughout my surgery and chemotherapy were absolutely incredible. They became a second family to me. The hardest thing for everyone was no contact – if I’d had a bad day, they couldn’t give me a hug.”
“A week after the operation I saw Giles again who told me that I had a complete response to the operation and chemotherapy. This meant I was now cancer free. I can’t describe the feeling.”
“The next step is 10 sessions of radiotherapy to protect me from recurrence in the future.”
What I want you to know…
1. Get it checked – and don’t wait
“If you’re at all concerned about your breast health, remember that you know your body better than anyone else. If you’re unsure about something, get it checked out. The sooner the better. Don’t wait.”
2. You are not alone
“And remember, you’re not alone. If you find yourself in this position, know that there are other women going through the same thing. They understand what you’re going through and can support you through your journey in a very unique way.”
3. Reach out
“I found a group on Facebook with women my age who have also had breast cancer. They have been incredibly supportive and understand exactly how I feel.”
4. Be aware of your body and check, check, check
“Throughout my cancer journey, I met so many people my age (and even younger) battling breast cancer. It happens, even though I wish it didn’t. The most important thing I can say is to be aware of your body and any changes. Check your breasts regularly and know how they look and feel during different stages of your monthly cycle.”