Breast Cancer is the most common type in the UK and the second most common for women in Ireland. Thanks to ongoing research, more people are surviving every year :-) In fact, in the UK, more than two thirds of women go on to survive for 20 years or more (Cancer Research UK). This is the scary part as there are obviously those who do not survive this horrible disease, and the majority of us have lost someone close which is quite simply, bloody awful.
I would, however, like you to keep reading and take strength in the striving work that is being carried out and the success stories that are also aplenty.
The stigma attached to the word 'cancer' means that as soon as you hear about a new diagnosis, whether your own or someone else's, your mind and heart automatically dart to those you have known, loved and lost, and I am no different. The moment I was diagnosed, that's where my mind shifted to immediately and it scared the absolute shit out of me.
You don't think about the success stories, the millions of women (and men) who have survived breast cancer and have gone on to live long, happy and healthy lives. Some yes, with treatment that can last years (myself included), but who have come through it cancer free, thrived and made lots more memories. This shift of focus is a difficult task to tackle but is possible; maybe not as a constant but enough to allow yourself some perspective, positivity and courage. We never forget our loss but can simply do our best not to let it engulf us to the point of taking over.
As some of you will know, my family and I lost my amazing brother, Stephen, in a car accident in 2007. We, of course, felt unimaginable loss and heartbreak at this time and at times even now, nearly 10 years on, it hurts just as much as back then. Loss is loss and whether it's in your life as a result of illness, an accident or other circumstances, it terrifies us and makes us think about our mortality.
Since Stephen's accident, I've driven and been driven in cars, buses and trains, flown in airplanes and sailed in boats. An accident could happen at any time as it did to my beautiful brother but I, along with millions of people every day, never let it stop me. I mean, we have to get from a to b don't we? It's not the exact same situation but I think it holds the same message...don't let fear take control and stop you from living your life. If you're too scared to check yourself, I understand wholeheartedly, but try to think of it as looking after yourself and being in control.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer punched me in the face with fear like I've never felt. But the truth is I would rather have felt that full force along with being told that we could get an action plan together to kick it into touch, than the alternative. My consultant kept saying that I was lucky to have found the lump and it was only from checking my breasts that I had...if it had become more obvious and easy to feel just by say, putting body lotion on, it would have been a different ball game altogether.
I want to clarify that I mean for me, specifically. Someone who finds an obvious lump may catch it at an early stage as they can form anywhere in the breast, close to the surface or deeper in the breast tissue, like mine. In my case, as the lump formed further into my breast, had it become much more obvious it would have meant that mine, specifically, would probably have been more advanced. And also, please be aware that when checking your breasts (which i hope you will all be trying very soon if you haven't already!), have a feel at the whole lot! A lot of women have told me that they were not aware they needed to check the insides of the breast, close to the breastbone and on the inner side of the nipples but you do; that's where I found mine and where other women I've spoken to found theirs also.
I need to convey something to you all too...when I write these posts, I am always ALWAYS thinking about the people who didn't catch cancer early and who have had, and have a much tougher road than me to face. This isn't about me banging on about how lucky I count myself to be, but to really just try to advocate the message that checking is of paramount importance and yes I'm going to say it again, it could save your life.
So basically, I am trying to encourage you all to give yourselves a wee check over. No one wants to actually find something and the truth is, all of the times I checked myself, I never remember being too scared I would find something because I didn't imagine in a million years that I would. I did though and here I am, one of the lucky ones. And I want to stress that I really don't take that for granted or for one second forget that not everyone is in the same position.
There is a post in 'Signs & Symptoms' which shows a brilliant 7 step guide on how to check your breasts properly so please have a look and give it a go! As published in the 'Love Your Ladyparts' booklet (separate post) by Macmillan, 'most breast lumps are not cancer, but it's always important to have any symptoms checked out'. Makes sense doesn't it? :-)