Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 after her tumour was initially missed by mammogram and ultrasound scans. Since then, she’s been doing what she can to raise awareness amongst her friends, family and colleagues.

Jane, a white woman with salt-and-pepper hair and glasses

My breast cancer was missed by scans

When I got breast cancer in 2013, the diagnosis was delayed because of where the lump was. It was deep into my armpit, but nothing was picked up on any of the scans, so I was told it was just a swollen lymph node.

I tried to ignore it, and even when it started to grow bigger I reassured myself it wasn’t anything serious. I thought, as the doctors knew what it was, I didn’t worry about it.

It was only by chance that it was detected later on.

I had an unrelated check-up and my blood test had come back showing a very low lymphocyte count. I’m not a medical person, but when I heard that I assumed it had something to do with the lymph nodes, so I pointed out the swollen node under my arm. When the doctor felt it, she insisted that I get it checked out, even though I’d already been to the breast clinic and been cleared.

I’m a strong advocate for better breast cancer awareness

Since then, I’ve been a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness. I’m conscious that a lot of people might not realise their cancer could be missed by scans, or that it could show up in your armpit, so it’s something I try to talk about as much as I can.

The accountancy firm I work for is quite focused on wellbeing. We have wellbeing champions in every office, and I head up the wellbeing team in mine. We have lots of different initiatives to try and support staff with all aspects of their health and welfare including external speakers on different topics.

I suggested to the group that we do something about breast cancer, and they tasked me with finding out who could do an awareness talk.

Breast Cancer Now helped me arrange the Public Health Talk

I first became familiar with Breast Cancer Now through their social media, which I’d initially followed just to hear other people’s stories and feel like I had a bit of extra support when I was diagnosed. I reached out to the charity to ask whether they offered any awareness talks, and they do!

The charity sent me a link to book the talk online, and shortly after I had someone contact me to arrange it. It was quite easy to coordinate, as we were going to be hosting the talk on Teams.

When it came to inviting people to the talk, we opened up the opportunity to everyone within our Southern regional group – not just the offices, but also any friends and family who wanted to come along.

We eventually had 76 attendees, including around 15 men, which I thought was a really good turnout.

We got so much helpful information from the talk 

The volunteer running the talk was a woman named Bami. She began with some quite basic things about breast cancer, then went on to how to check yourself for symptoms. That was really helpful, as I don’t think many people realised you have to check more than just your breasts. 

She then talked about warning signs of breast cancer other than lumps: things like changes in breast size and nipple inversion. Again, I don’t think people were aware of some of this, so it was really useful. 

Bami also spoke about how diet and lifestyle can affect your chances of developing breast cancer, and then talked a little bit about her own experience.   

Even though it was quite a serious subject, the talk focused on positive steps you can take to be breast aware, but also how to manage the situation if you do find symptoms of breast cancer. Interestingly, two people in our office have actually been to the doctor with concerns since the talk, so it clearly had a strong impact. 

Educating people on how to take care of themselves is so important 

I think it’s important for people to host and attend Public Health Talks because, ultimately, you’ve got to be responsible for your own health. You can’t rely on other people, especially as there’s still quite a lot of ignorance around things like breast cancer. 

Just making people more aware of what is within their control – the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, looking out for yourself - I think that’s something we don’t always appreciate, but it could have a huge impact on your life. 

I’m a really big advocate for people taking care of themselves as much as they can, even if that means making small changes like drinking less or eating better. Education really is key. 

 

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