Most of what I write on these pages is born out of a need for me to use writing as a method of catharsis, a way to process the anxieties and fears I have each day, and map the road I’m currently travelling.
Whilst I have always loved to write, when I set out creating my first blog for Cancer Cans, I did so pretty blindly, with no grand goals in mind, just a way to get my feelings out in the best way I knew how. I’ve never been all that great at expressing myself verbally, but give me a pen and paper and it’ll all come out.
Since that first post, Cancer Cans has come to mean so much to me…a connection to all of you, a saviour when I’m feeling low, a tool for dispensing a real glimpse into the life of a breast cancer patient…as well as a way to document a few funny tales along the way! Who knew I could write so much, so frequently about my BOOBS!
You have no idea how much it means to me to have people actually read my words and value them. While this year feels like little more than months upon months of hideous cancer treatments for me, my blog is giving me direction and drive.
As well as communicating my story to you, I desperately want to get the message out there, particularly to all the women and men I know in their twenties, thirties and forties, that breast cancer is not just an ‘older women’s disease’. It affects many, many young women as well. Men too, just not so much.
Cancers diagnosed in younger people have the tendency to be more aggressive, and are often diagnosed at a more advanced stage. In the case of breast cancer, this is primarily because young women aren’t screened regularly with mammograms (Australia’s breast screen program includes women between the ages of 40 and 65).
Cancer isn’t on our radars when we’re young either, so we can be blasé and symptoms may go unnoticed. So many of you have contacted me already to say, “Gosh, I never check my boobs!”
A few of you have even found lumps since my diagnosis, and had them checked. Thank goodness they were all benign.
In my case, I actually had visited my GP for a breast check 18 months before my diagnosis and had a conversation about how to perform my own breast checks too, including what signs or symptoms to watch out for. Yet, despite all this, here I am today dealing with Stage 3C cancer: a locally advanced breast cancer that had invaded most of my right breast and lymph nodes in my chest and armpit. It’s not a great position to be in, considering early detection gives women the greatest chance at full recovery.
The best piece of advice I can give you, is to get to know your breasts, massage them regularly, and look for changes, no matter how small. One of the problems I had, when checking my breasts, was that I was searching for small hard lumps that my GP had said would feel like ‘frozen peas’. In actual fact, my cancer presented differently – as a thickening of breast tissue. It apparently grew in ‘layers’ or ‘sheets’ and so never presented as an actual lump.
The first inkling I got that something was amiss was a small hard lump in my underarm. The very morning I found that lump, I raised it with my GP. Never in a million years did I think I’d be here, three months later, boobless and being treated for cancer.
Part of me wants to scream at that GP for failing to give me full and sound advice. Another part of me wants to scream at myself for not being in tune enough with my body, and the rest of me is grateful that I acted when I did and prevented the tumours spreading elsewhere.
I will always wonder what caused my body to malfunction, how long the cancer had been growing without my knowledge, and how long it might have continued to fester without detection. I will always wonder whether, in fact, it was there all along when my GP checked me 18 months earlier. The signs point to yes, but in reality, all this retrospective wondering and finger pointing does nothing to alter the predicament I find myself in now.
All I can do is stay hopeful my treatments will hold up and I’ll be happy and healthy for a long time to come.
I can also ensure that every one of you reading my blog is armed with good information. I definitely don’t want to alarm, but I do want to spread the word. I know I have written about this before, but it’s too important to me not to raise again.
Get to know what your ‘normal’ breasts feel like. Everyone’s are different!
Check them at the same time of every month. The first of the month is a good day to lock in, but check with your doctor about the best time for you. Breast density can change at different stages of the menstrual cycle, so this is really important.
Most importantly, report any changes or concerns you have to your GP. Most lumps are benign, but don’t dismiss your gut-feelings as nought.
And, if you feel like it, share this little blog post far and wide. Not only will it make me happy, it’ll help spread some really important information that might just prevent someone else having to go bald and pasty in the name of breast cancer!