Saturday, 22 March 2014

Breast Cancer: #nomakeupselfies & my breast clinic experience

When the #nomakeupselfie trend first started, I admit I was cynical and skeptical. How was taking a selfie without make-up on relevant? How was it meant to raise cancer awareness? Everybody has heard of cancer, so why was 'awareness' without sharing any symptom information helpful? Many people were sharing the images without saying why, or (seemingly) donating, and weren't giving details of how to donate. It all seemed a very odd and pointless idea.

But then things really took off, people were sharing their images along with information on how to donate to charity, were mentioning cancer awareness/breast cancer awareness and reports started coming in about a surge in donations to cancer charities. I was more than happy to be proven wrong! It's great that social media has helped to boost these charities' funds. I also really admire the few people I have seen who have bucked the trend and joined in but donated to charities more personal to them- there are other charities just as deserving and arguably much more in need of the awareness!

To be honest, I don't even know what the meaning of the timing of the selfies is.. It's not breast cancer awareness week/month, I checked. But as it seems to randomly be a time for awareness, I thought I would share my story (no, I haven't had breast cancer) to hopefully put other people's minds at rest if they ever have to go to a breast clinic because of symptoms of possible breast cancer. I'm just focusing on my experience of breast cancer investigations because that seems to be the awareness these barefaced selfies were intended to be for.. It wouldn't have been my choice- I've been investigated for many other cancers whilst chronically ill (lung cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, brain tumour etc.), and none of those investigations would have involved me writing about my breasts in public.. typical.. But here goes..

A couple of years back now, I found a lump. I thought it might just go away, but when it was still there weeks later, I tried to make an appointment with my GP to get it checked. I was frantically on the Internet looking at statistics and which lump characteristics made cancer more/less likely; because of my age cancer was thankfully very unlikely, and most lumps are benign, but it still needed to be investigated- all lumps do. I struggled to get an appointment, but eventually managed to be seen by someone who took a history, examined me and decided that I needed to be referred to the hospital clinic, because they couldn't be sure. I got a phone-call about a week later, I think, asking me to go in to a breast clinic at the hospital a few days later.

Everyone was really lovely. The clinic I was seen in was very quiet. A nurse took me into a room and asked me questions about my symptoms, how long they'd been going on, fluctuations in the lump, my other medical issues, family history of breast and ovarian cancer etc. I had another nurse also in with me, who said she was going to stay to give me moral support.

I was then examined, which obviously it's never pleasant, but the ladies were really lovely and very supportive and they do it all the time, so it's nothing to be embarrassed about really. They said they couldn't tell what it was just from examining me and that I would need an ultrasound scan and possibly a biopsy, depending on how things went.

I was then taken round to the breast screening service down the corridor, which was much busier, and full of older women, most of whom were there for routine mammograms. I got called through to get ready and changed into a gown and was sat waiting for what felt like a long time. Most of the women were having mammograms, and there were lots of rooms doing these, whereas I was waiting for an ultrasound (because of my age- younger women have denser breast tissue, so ultrasound is more appropriate), which were only taking place in one room I believe. Women came and went and I just sat there. Most came back and said they were all done and reassured the others it was nothing to worry about, got ready and went home. I seem to remember a few were kept for further testing because of unclear images or something. I think some of them were wondering why I was there, as it clearly wasn't routine screening for me. There was a supportive, mostly off-topic, chat in the waiting area. I stayed quite quiet- I did feel a bit like the odd one out... but it felt like we were all in this together.

I eventually got called through for my ultrasound and got supportive smiles from the other ladies as I walked away. I lay down and a lady checked my details and started scanning me. She soon tracked down the lump and started doing measurements on the screen. Unfortunately, she didn't really think about what would be the best small talk... She asked me whether I was on my own- I said that I was, but I had friends at home just around the corner that I could call on if needed. She asked me where my mum was, how far away that was and how long it would take her to get here; I replied and she commented that it was quite a long way away/a long time, and then went quiet, busily working away on the screen.. None of this was exactly putting my mind at rest. Everyone in this situation knows that they have been referred into breast cancer services, there's one thing in particular that is being feared at this stage. When you are aware that they know what they are looking at, and you too can see the lump on the screen but can't interpret what it is, the last thing you need is someone asking questions that seem to imply that you should have brought someone along with you. I had wanted to be on my own, but I started to doubt myself- maybe it wasn't a false alarm after-all..

Completely oblivious to the slight panic she had just caused, the lady scanning me eventually said that she had finished and thought it looked very much like a benign fibroadenoma, and my age made this the most likely explanation, but that she would send the images through to the clinic and they would discuss it with me further.

I went back to the waiting area, got changed in a cubicle and wished the other ladies luck, and then headed back to the clinic and sat alone in the waiting room waiting for my results to get back through. I felt a bit more at ease, but wanted the final 'it's nothing to worry about' from the clinic staff.

I wasn't in a wheelchair/on a scooter at this stage, and was starting to get exhausted, so the staff thoughtfully took me into the closest possible room to the waiting area. They had discussed with the consultant and come to the conclusion that they could be confident that it was a fibroadenoma and no further testing (i.e. a biopsy) was required. I seem to remember they said I could have one if I was very concerned, but they felt that it was unnecessary. I was perfectly reassured, so agreed that a biopsy was not needed. I was given information on the diagnosis, reassured that I was at no greater risk of breast cancer as a result of it, and told I should definitely get any further lumps checked out in the same way in the future as needed. I was also told that the lump might go away, stay the same, or get bigger, and that I could have it surgically removed if it became a problem or bothered me, but that this would obviously result in a scar. This has thankfully never been necessary- the lump has remained very small, and completely unnoticeable.

I went home and shared the good news with the very few people I had told about the situation. I didn't find it an easy thing to be open about, and still don't really, but it's important that people realise the importance of getting things checked out. Many people will only need to see a doctor and even if there are concerns and a referral is made to hospital, most people who are referred to breast clinics will still, like me, get good news. Don't let fear or embarrassment stop you from getting things checked and seeking a diagnosis. I felt self-conscious going through the process, so if you feel nervous- I do understand, but the peace of mind you get when they tell you it's fine (which most people will get!) is so worth it! And if it's not good news, then it's better to find it earlier than later.. Certainly from my experience, the staff were extra-lovely, because they know it's a bit unnerving for patients, so don't worry- you'll be well looked after!

Please, check, and if you find anything, get it checked out. And I don't just mean lumps- there are other signs and symptoms to watch out for too- redness, swelling, discharge, pain etc (see images). Try not to panic if you do find something, a vast majority of the time the cause of these symptoms isn't cancer, but if you notice anything different, do please go and see your doctor. Early recognition and prompt treatment can save lives!

Healthline have contacted me (see comments) since publishing this post, asking me to share this link to inspiring quotes about breast cancer from celebrities who battled the disease:


  1. I think this a really brave and selfless thing to do, Jess - it must've been difficult to be open about your experiences but if people like you weren't, then the subject would still be quite hush-hush when really, breasts are just another female body part and we shouldn't be embarrassed to talk about boobs! Good for you :) and I'm super glad that it didn't turn out to be anything more serious, also. I was sceptical about the 'no make-up selfies' at first also, as I thought it seemed like a bit of fashion statement that people were just jumping on board with because everyone else was doing it - it made me wonder how many people actually cared enough to set up a monthly donation with charities etc, but the amount of money that's been raised can't be denied and any money raised can only be good! I wonder whether people would be so keen to participate with lesser known diseases (such as ME?)

    Lots of love, Meg xox |

    1. Thank you- I really appreciate it :) Exactly- people need to talk so that others are less embarrassed which might, hopefully, mean they go to the doctors earlier. Early diagnosis is so important if it is cancer, after-all! The amount raised has been amazing, but yes, I agree that it may not have been so successful had it been for ME or something else lesser-known unfortunately.. Just think what a difference £8 million would make to ME research..! *Sigh*, if only.. Big hugs, loads of love xx

  2. You are brave for sharing your story, and it is great that you have done. A lot of younger ladies might not be as vigelant with their breasts because of the statistics but we should all be checking and know how to no matter how old we are, none of us are in the clear unfortunately. I am so glad it wasn't serious though but it must have been such a stressfull, worrying time, only making your ME symptoms worse. I went through a similar odeal last year although related to the cervix not the breats, I never did write about it however after reading this post I think it's important that we are all aware of the signs of more sinister things. Thank you for sharing your story, lots of love to you, Hayley-Eszti xx

    1. Thanks :) I definitely think it's important to be vigilant, I don't know if you've seen the CoppaFeel campaign (@KrisPoB) but it really does show the importance of knowing the signs/symptoms even when you're young! It was worrying, but such a relief when it was over- I'm sure you felt the same!
      Take care, Jess XX

  3. maggie.danhakl@healthline.com3 April 2014 at 12:37

    Hello Jess,

    I hope all is well. Healthline just published these inspiring quotes about breast cancer from celebrities who battled the disease. Our audience really enjoyed them and gave us great feedback on how powerful and inspirational they are. You can see them here:

    I thought they would be of interest to your followers as well, and I wanted to see if you would include it as a resource on your page:

    Please let me know if this would be possible. I’m happy to answer any other questions as well.

    Thanks so much!
    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us:

    1. Thanks for your comment, I will copy the link you have given into the bottom of the post.
      Thanks, Jess

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