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After completing treatment for primary breast cancer, Debi was told very little about the risk of developing secondaries. Then, when she did try to seek help for her symptoms, she was turned away.
In 2017, I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer after finding a lump. I went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, and was eventually told there was No Evidence of Disease. Nobody told me to keep my eye out for any symptoms of recurrence.
I’d had a mastectomy on my left side, so everything there felt weird for a while. About four or five months after the surgery, though, this little lump started to appear.
Naturally, I was a bit worried, so I went to the doctor. When he felt it, he laughed and told me it was my rib.
So, there I was thinking I was just being melodramatic. But when you’ve already had cancer, you do get the fear that everything is cancer. It’s only natural to feel that way.
A few more months passed, and the lump - my “rib” - started to become sore and grow bigger. I went back and explained what was happening, but again the doctor laughed. He told me it was just swelling and that it would take some time to settle down.
I wanted to trust what he was saying, but in the back of my mind, I knew something wasn’t right.
I ended up hounding them for a scan, because I could tell that this thing – whether it was my rib or something on my rib – was continuing to grow.
At the time, I was booked in to do a skydive for Breast Cancer Now. I thought I was cured, I was finally starting to feel better, and I wanted to celebrate by doing something a bit stupid. So, I was prattling on about it to the radiographer. When I came out, he had a strange look on his face. He asked me when the skydive was, and said I should probably see a doctor before doing it.
I asked why, and he said it was nothing. Well, I knew instantly that it wasn’t nothing.
Within two weeks, I saw the doctor again. This time he said they could see something on the scan, but it wasn’t clear enough, so I needed to go for an MRI. I didn’t hear back from that, but instead was told I needed a PET scan.
By this point, I was panicking. I knew something was wrong, but I hadn’t even connected it to secondary breast cancer because nobody had talked about it.
When the results eventually came through, they didn’t even call me into the doctors – they called me while I was at work. It had been six months since I initially mentioned the lump on my rib, and they finally had an answer.
I remember sitting there after being told I had secondary breast cancer and asking, ‘What does that mean?’
I’d heard of it, but I’d avoided it – as you do when you have a primary diagnosis. You just sort of put this wall up, and you don’t want to think about anything else that could happen.
That call happened on a Friday afternoon. They told me I had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, and I could find out more about it then.
I was absolutely floored by this information, and they left me with it for four days.
When I did get to see him, I was really cross. I reminded him that I’d been telling him about the lump for months, and only now was I hearing that it was incurable, and that I wouldn’t be able to have surgery.
I was so upset with how it had been handled that I moved hospitals. I’d just lost faith in them completely.
I can’t help but think that, if I hadn’t pushed them as much as I did, I might not be here now.
Even at my primary diagnosis, I was laughed at. I was told that I was too young, that it would be nothing. But again, I had pushed for them to investigate.
I don’t understand why they don’t tell you about the possibility of developing secondary breast cancer when you’re diagnosed with primary. I get that it’s scary, but so is being told you have cancer in the first place.
You hear so many stories of women missing things, or not understanding things they’ve been told, and it’s just not OK. We need to make people more aware of secondary breast cancer, because the way things are right now just isn’t working.
Most breast cancers don’t come back after treatment, but it's important to know the signs and symptoms in case they do. Make sure to familiarise yourself with secondary breast cancer and help us spread awareness to others who may be affected.