Lorraine’s initial breast cancer symptoms were not what she expected, so she didn’t see her doctor. When she was eventually diagnosed, she worried it was too late for treatment. 

Lorraine, a Black woman with short, curly hair, smiles widely while holding a pink mug covered in hearts

My lump felt more like a splinter 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2010, a month before I turned 48. Just prior to my diagnosis, I had found a large lump on my left breast that felt like a small golf ball. On closer inspection, I also noticed that my nipple had slightly pulled to the side.  

But these were not my first symptoms. Several months earlier whilst checking my breast, at the edge of the areola where it met my skin, I felt something small and thin. It was like a wooden splinter or a sliced grain of uncooked rice.

At the time, I was not overly worried that it might be cancer because it wasn’t the typical ‘pea-sized lump’. I wondered whether it had always been there, and I had perhaps never noticed it.  

It was my intention to check again the following month, but I was so unconcerned about it that I forgot. By the time I did remember, it had become much larger. At this point, I had no doubt that I had cancer and was angry with myself for not going to the GP earlier. 

I was sceptical that I would survive 

As I had already convinced myself that I had cancer prior to my formal diagnosis, I had started both practically and mentally preparing for death. However, I was thrown into a state of utter confusion when the doctor told me that my cancer was not only treatable but curable.  

I had been thrown a lifeline, but it meant enduring 18 months of hospital treatments.  

I must admit, although I was suddenly filled with hope, I did hold on to an element of scepticism and continued with my practical preparations, such as updating my will and making tentative arrangements for who my sons would live with if I were to die. 

I tried to get through treatment on my own 

I continued working until it was time for me to have my mastectomy and DIEP reconstruction. I had no intentions of working while I was going through chemotherapy.  

At the time of my diagnosis, my sister and her family were living with me while their house was being renovated, so I had loads of support around me. However, I was determined to go through most of my treatment on my own as I didn’t want to feel dependent on others.  

I was in for the long haul, and I didn’t think it was fair for my sister or my friends to have to take time out of work to come to my numerous hospital appointments, so I would only call on support if absolutely necessary.   

It was initially strange going for chemotherapy on my own as nearly everyone had someone with them. I received some pitiful looks from the other patients and their supporters who I guess assumed that I had no friends or family.  

I remained positive despite treatment difficulties 

The effects of the treatment were gruelling. I lost all my hair. I was thrown into an early menopause, I lost my toenails and developed lymphoedema. I was hospitalised with infections, developed a blood clot and cardiomyopathy. The worst of all was losing my taste buds, as I love food! 

Despite all this, I managed to go through treatment with a positive state of mind. I made the most of my new bald look by learning how to apply make-up and wearing colourful clothes. I had morphed from an invisible jeans and T-shirt woman to one of glamour and curiosity.  

I came down to earth with a huge bump at the end of treatment and, instead of being elated, I sunk into a depression. I had brain fog, I couldn’t concentrate, I was fatigued, and I was scared about my future. 

But even with the trials and tribulations of my cancer treatment, I have no regrets. I am so thankful and happy to be alive.  

I want to encourage others to check their breasts 

Before being diagnosed and going through treatment, I believed that breast cancer had only one outcome and that was death. I had no concept that I or anyone else would live for more than a few years post-diagnosis and I thought the sole purpose in having treatment was to extend life, not save it.  

I am so glad I was wrong. 

I want all women to know that if their breast cancer is diagnosed early enough, it can improve their chances of surviving. But it is even more important for me to encourage black women like myself who are of African heritage to be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to their GP, no matter how slight.  

Far too many of us are being diagnosed late, which is reducing our chances of survival.  

I have watched several friends die because they have either not checked their breasts or been too scared to go to the doctors when they have found a change.  

I was too young for breast screening at the time of my diagnosis, and I am only here today telling my story because I checked my breasts and went to the GP. My story could have had a very different ending if I had not.  

I survived because I checked my breasts, and I want other women to do the same.

The personal stories and experiences that you share with us can help us raise awareness of breast cancer, our life-saving research and the issues affecting patients. In some cases, we can use them in media activity, on digital and social media channels, in campaigning or fundraising materials and in internal communications to our staff.

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