Breast cancer awareness

Around 55,000 women and 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. Cancer can happen to anyone as I know from personal experience.  33 years ago I was happily going about my work as BBC TV’s “Green Goddess” a symbol of health and fitness.   But in May 1988, at the age of 47 I was told I had breast cancer. It was found on a routine mammogram, no lumps, but extensive areas of calcification in both breasts. The consultant explained how mammograms show up cancerous cells before they form lumps, and told me I was lucky!   Nearly 62,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year, including those with an early, non-invasive form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) like mine.

He then proceeded to detail the cancer and possible treatment.   My non-invasive cancer was widely distributed, but if the affected areas were removed it shouldn’t travel.  He suggested a bi-lateral mastectomy, both my breasts surgically removed, followed if possible, by breast reconstruction.

My trauma began. I felt vulnerable, unhappy and so alone, as do many others in similar circumstances.  I knew nothing about cancer, I led a healthy lifestyle, and surely cancer happened to other people, not to me? I reacted by bottling up my feelings. How wrong I was, and today when I counsel other women going through similar experiences I encourage them to share their feelings. This can be of great benefit to both the woman and her family – a problem shared is a problem halved.

8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over, and a quarter of cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 75. Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK, so we need women to be breast aware and to check themselves regularly.  The earlier the disease is detected, the more successful treatment is likely to be. More than half a million people are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer, and I’m happy to report that I am one of them.

Getting to know your breasts and what’s normal makes it easier to spot anything unusual.   Being breast aware is as simple as TLC – Touch, Look, and Check. There is no special way, but if you do find a lump or spot changes, such as in skin texture, crusting of your nipple, size or shape of your breasts get it checked out by your doctor.

The charity Breast Cancer Now has a helpline with friendly nurses to give help and advice, and Hospital Breast Clinics give people a chance to talk openly in groups, one cancer patient to another. Women feel less vulnerable sharing their fears and knowing they are not alone. Discussing treatments and receiving practical and psychological support can help patients through their trauma.

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