Be breast aware - read cancer sufferer Becky’s story

Be breast aware
Be breast aware

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and North Lincolnshire Council is highlighting the importance of breast awareness, education and research to help cut the number of deaths each year to breast cancer.

Throughout the month North Lincolnshire Council is raising awareness of breast cancer and the symptoms to look out for. The local authority is working with The Humberside Breast Screening Service to deliver awareness sessions at British Steel and North Lindsey College.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK, that’s the equivalent of one person every 10 minutes.

Although the majority of people are successfully treated, nearly 12,000 people die from it every year. In addition:

One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK

Breast cancer also affects men with around 400 being diagnosed each year

More than eight out of 10 (85 per cent) of people survive breast cancer beyond five years

An estimated 27 per cent of breast cancer cases in the UK are linked to lifestyle factors, including being overweight and obese (nine per cent), alcohol (six per cent) and physical inactivity (three per cent).

In North Lincolnshire:

Each year 107 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of these cancers are detected following self-referral to a GP (59 per cent) or through a routine breast screen (29 per cent)

Half of these cancers are amongst women under 70 years of age

Most of these breast cancers (81 per cent) are detected early i.e. at stages 1 and 2

Survival rates from breast cancer continue to rise, with one year survival rates currently standing at more than 96 per cent

Currently 72 per cent of eligible women take up a routine breast screen. Whilst this is in line with the national average it’s less than it was in 2010 when the take up rate was 76.6 per cent

Be breast aware by checking your breasts regularly for changes and visiting your GP if you notice any breast changes. Some common breast symptoms include:

A lump or area of thickened tissues in either breast

A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts

Discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)

A lump or swelling in either of your armpits

Dimpling of the skin of your breasts

A rash on or around your nipple

A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

The three main risk factors are:

Gender – being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer

Getting older – the older the person, the higher the risk. More than 80 per cent of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 and one in three breast cancers occur in women over 70. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.

Significant family history – this isn’t common with only around five per cent of people diagnosed with breast cancer having inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

The local breast screening service in North Lincolnshire, provided by Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, invites women aged between 50 and 70 every three years. Some ladies are invited slightly younger; between the ages of 47 – 49, and some ladies are also invited over the age of 70. Women who are aged 70 and over and have not had an appointment in the last three years can self-refer for an appointment (if they wish) by calling 01482 622300.

The Humberside Breast Screening Service will be operating screening clinics in Scunthorpe from early 2018 and will be visiting Brigg during 2019.

There are a number of support groups for people who have breast cancer or have had it, including Brigg and District Breast Cancer Support Group who offer care and support in the heart of the community. It was founded by Angie Benson and they will be celebrating their 16th birthday in January 2018. It is designed to meet the needs of breast cancer patients and offers support, advice and friendship. Family and friends who wish to become part of the group are also very welcome.

Some of the key messages from those attending the group are:

Check yourself regularly and follow your instinct. There is life after breast cancer.

Never give up. You liken it to a treadmill and you have to keep going. Keep your family and friends close – you need them.

Don’t ignore your breast screening.

Know your breasts; what is normal for you. Check regularly.

More details can be found at www.breastcancersupport-brigg.org.uk.

Dr. Joanna Wieczorek, Clinical Director of the Humberside Breast Screening Service, said: “Breast Screening can find breast changes when they are in their earliest stages – when they are much too small to see or feel. Most women who attend our breast screening clinics will receive a normal result.’ The UK’s National Breast Screening Programme saves around 1,400 lives every year.

Professionals from the Humberside Breast Screening Service also provide awareness raising session on how to access the service, information regarding the way the screening programme works, breast cancer risk factors and lifestyle changes which may impact on breast cancer prevention.

Any local businesses or groups that would like to arrange their own awareness events can email breast.screening@hey.nhs.net.

Cllr Julie Reed, cabinet member for Adults and Health, said: “Raising awareness of breast cancer and what people should look out for is vital. By ensuring people are educated about breast cancer it could save lives each year.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and we should all come together to fight against it.

“I would urge people to be breast aware and check their breast regularly. If you have any concerns, go see your GP straightaway.

“Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month we are providing workshops at local employers to raise awareness and educate people on the symptoms of breast cancer.”

Case study

Becky Nevill from Scunthorpe is 44 years old and was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016. This is her story.

“In November 2015 I started to feel unwell, really tired and just very run down. I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I made a lot of lifestyle changes and lost about two stones over the few months that followed, but still felt really run down.

“At Christmas 2015, I found a lump under my arm the size of a pea but put it down to having a sore throat so thought my lymph glands were swollen because of it. Then in January I found a lump in my breast about the size of an egg. I went to see my GP the next day who referred me to the Pink Rose Suite at Grimsby Hospital. I had the appointment the following week. I arrived for my appointment at about 9.30am and had a mammogram. The staff were lovely and the procedure was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. They found something that they wanted to investigate further so they asked me to have an ultrasound – I just had to wait in the waiting room and they then called me in. I had an ultrasound that confirmed there was a lump in my right breast. They did a biopsy there and then. It was a long day and I left about 3pm but at least I got all my appointments the same day. I was called back the next week when they confirmed, in February 2016, that I had breast cancer. I then went for a CT scan on Mother’s Day – on a Sunday. The NHS work very hard and there is a myth that they don’t work weekends.

“I then went back the following week and was told that I have stage 2b breast cancer, which was hormone-fed. This meant that I had a 4.7cm tumour that had spread to my lymph nodes but luckily it hadn’t spread further to other organs.

After finding the news out that she had breast cancer, Becky said: “The worse thing was telling my children, friends and family. Remarkably they took it in their stride. I was still mum – everyday things carried on. The washing still needed doing. It was more stressful getting my son through his GCSE’s than going through cancer.

After Easter 2016, Becky’s treatment began.

“Amanda, my breast care nurse supported me throughout my whole treatment and without it, my experience would have been much scarier. I had six sessions of chemotherapy (four chemicals in total; one of which was bright red) every three weeks at Ward 18 at Scunthorpe Hospital. The nurses were amazing and so lovely. You get hooked up on a drip through a cannula – it took about five hours. I wore a cold cap, which is a new thing that helps with hair loss. I still lost all my eyebrows and eyelashes, and had a bald patch on top of my head. However, a scarf and a massive comb over later and I didn’t look too bad. Plus I didn’t have to shave my legs for nearly a year!”

“I could go into detail about my side effects but it is easier to say that it was just like food poisoning that lasted a week, with blisters in my mouth and sever fatigue. I had to stop watching Walking Dead because I felt jealous at how active the zombies were compared to how I felt.

“After six months, I was told that my chemo had worked so well that my tumour had shrunk to two centimetres and I no longer needed a mastectomy. I had breast preserving surgery, which is a lumpectomy but they do reconstruction at the same time. Plus I had my lymph glands removed on my right side. A month later I had to have surgery again to remove a bit of extra tissue on my breast to be sure that enough ‘bad’ tissue had been removed. They don’t stich you these days – you get glued. This makes for a very neat scar.

“I then started radiotherapy in November at Beverley every weekday. I had to have three small tattoos so they could line me up on the machine, which looked like a James Bond lazer/torture bed. It didn’t hurt at all but I had a lovely tan on my right breast. I finished treatment in November – although they said I would be still ‘cooking’ for a few weeks after. I returned to work after Christmas. Then in February I had a little scare and had to have a biopsy on my womb. I had to have a little operation in June this year to remove my ovaries and tubes. Last week I got a letter to confirm that this was benign.

“Time changed for me through treatment. There was no longer day and night but a ‘good hour’ and a ‘bad hour’. My family and friends got me through the experience, with my husband cooking healthy food and my children making sure I had enough water. I had to buy extra vases for the amount of flowers bought by friends and colleagues. People are worried what to say in these circumstances, personally I just wanted to be treated the same – a quick text message or sharing a funny Facebook post.

“I have been to breast cancer training sessions and Macmillan counselling. Macmillan physiotherapists have helped me with my aches in my legs and chronic fatigue, which I still struggle with now. I plan to go to support groups but at the moment with working nearly full time, I’m very tired when I get home. Colleagues and line managers have been very supportive with a phased return and I am just about to start reduced hours to work 30 hours a week. I follow Bosom Family Support on Facebook, which offers quite a lot of support and other online support groups which are very helpful for additional reassurance that my ongoing side effects are normal.

“I’m going on a Cancer Champions Trainer course in November. I feel that my experience last year has put little things into perspective and my key message would be:

Check your breasts regularly and go to your GP even if you are unsure

It’s scary but you can do it. A kind friend once told me to ‘fear the fear and do it anyway’

We should be shouting from the rooftops about how fantastic our NHS are – they are heroes

“Cancer has been part of me but I’m not allowing it to be all of me. I still live my life as normal and want to use my experience to help or prevent others from getting cancer. I’m not 100 per cent but each day I feel a litter better. It has also been very useful in putting things in perspective. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I would like to use my experience to help others by empowering them with knowledge and creating a healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of getting cancer of diabetes.

“I would like to say a massive thank you to my lovely husband, children, friends and colleagues.”