Parent organisation of Community Links, Foundation and Bridging the Gap

Breast Cancer Awareness Month- A Celebratory Story with Andrea

Breast Cancer Awareness Month- A Celebratory Story with Andrea

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to talk about the causes of breast cancer and how we can act to prevent it. The theme this month has been making changes to your lifestyle to reduce the risks of getting breast cancer.

According to Breast Cancer UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, representing 15% of all new cancer cases. In the UK between 2016-2018, there were around 56,000 new cases of breast cancer every year, that is 150 cases every day. 82% of these cases were women who were 50 years or older, in men there were 375 new breast cancer cases.

Breast Cancer UK have estimated that around 30% of breast cancer cases in the UK can be prevented by making lifestyle changes and acting when things do not feel right.

Making small lifestyle changes, such as, stopping smoking, getting quality sleep, maintaining Vitamin D levels, being physically active, and eating a healthy balanced diet can all help to reduce the risks of developing breast cancer. Certain chemicals used in everyday products, such as cleaning products and cosmetics can increase the risk of breast cancer, so it is worth checking the ingredients on these products before using, to reduce any risks.

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Andrea, Head of People at Inspire North shares her journey as she now celebrates her 5th year anniversary of being ‘cancer free.’

Andrea’s Story:

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and this month, I am one of the 85% of women who survives breast cancer for five years or more.

The five-year milestone is a real sense of achievement as you’re told early in treatment that if you get to year five without a recurrence, cancer is unlikely to happen again.

I still remember the day I found my lump. I acted; acted being the operative word as I remember feeling something a few weeks before, but I was too busy to contact my GP.  On that morning I was on leave so there was no excuse not to call and make an appointment.  I wasn’t worried about the lump; it was the size of a pea and as far as I was concerned it was a cyst – there was no history of breast cancer in my family either.

A couple of weeks passed, and I went to the hospital for the pathway appointment, still convinced it was a cyst, after all I hadn’t felt unwell.  I feel fortunate as I was told there and then that I had cancer – no waiting or second guessing. My response was, “Ok, what are we going to do?” Whilst surprised with the diagnosis, I did feel in control as I was there because of my actions – checking those breasts.

So, what did ‘we do?’ In a nutshell I had lumpectomy surgery, Lymph node removal (yes it had spread, and I now have the joys of lymphoedema to contend with), chemotherapy and radiotherapy over approximately eight months, with ten years of endocrine therapy to follow; a tablet a day.

It wasn’t an easy road to travel – there were highs and lows, I was determined cancer wasn’t going to define me. I got through it with the support of family, friends, colleagues, and faith. And I mustn’t forget my patient oncologists who had to endure endless questions at every appointment – if I don’t know or understand I will ask and take notes!

Prior and during treatment I undertook a lot of research to ensure that the treatment was suited to me and my genetics. From my perspective, it’s not a one size fits all and I am not a number! I even challenged the hospital regarding wigs for black women who had lost their hair due to cancer – yes, they covered the cost of the wig from the supplier I wanted.

Surprisingly for me (a shy person), I joined a couple of groups, one of which I am still a member – Beyond Cancer. I am comfortable to talk about my cancer experiences with anyone (the compression sleeve I wear to manage my Lymphoedema is a great conversation opener). With a few colleagues who have also had breast cancer or were on their recovery journey, we established a peer support group. The group shares stories, raises funds, awareness and even compare scars.  Last year one of those colleagues lost her battle with cancer, proving the disease does not discriminate as she was just 30 years old.

Fear could have gripped me, but no that’s not for me – since being diagnosed I have taken up hiking and enjoy a good climb, completed couch to 5k a few times – more of a shuffle than a run, but I am doing it. I have lost three stone and I am currently learning to ski – not sure I will get past the beginner’s stage, but it’s fun.

My celebration this week will be at Bibi’s, where I celebrated being told I was ‘cancer free’ five years ago.

I encourage all colleagues to check their breasts or pecs and if something doesn’t feel right call your GP.”