IT is the most common cancer in the UK - but also one of the most treatable. Sarah Dunn found out more about one Sheffield woman’s battle with breast cancer.
IT would have been so easy to ignore it.
When Anna Reid noticed a small lump on her breast two years ago, she was unwilling to believe it could be anything sinister.
At the time she was just 43, a busy teacher and mum of two young children - there was certainly “no time” to get ill.
“The lump felt itchy - and just like a bite that hadn’t come to the surface yet,” she said.
“I kept an eye on it, but carried on as normal. After waiting a while I noticed nothing had changed – I kept thinking it might have gone, but it was still there.
“I realised it might be something more serious and I’d need to go to my GP to get it checked out.”
Unfortunately the visit did not offer the reassuring news Anna was after - and instead she was sent for a mammogram at Chesterfield hospital.
Anna, from Woodhouse, said: “I went along and asked to see a female GP who asked me how concerned I was about it on a scale of one to 10 – I said eight.
“She arranged for me to be seen in hospital within two weeks, which made me feel scared – it felt real then, she didn’t say it was nothing. I couldn’t believe it, I was 43 at the time, with two young kids. I was healthy and active. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t do being ‘ill’ – it’s just not me. I felt like I was on a slippery slope, but I knew I had to get on with it, as much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself.”
The results of the test weren’t clear, so she then had to undergo a biopsy - and enduring a seven to 10 day wait for the results.
It was difficult waiting and not knowing,” Anna said.
“My mum went with me to get the results and they said that unfortunately I did have cancer. These weren’t the words I wanted to hear, but they were really professional, courteous and kind towards me. They were very caring and sensitive and explained to me that because of where it was I could have a lumpectomy rather than taking away the breast.”
A family holiday was planned to follow soon after she received the news, and she decided to wait until afterwards before telling her children - her son aged just 12 and daughter aged nine at the time - about her condition.
But once they returned, she realised there was no way round undergoing the treatment she needed without them finding out.
Anna, now 45, said: “There was no getting away from the fact that I would have to talk to them about it.
“This was something I found very daunting, but the specialist Breast Care Nurse whom I was assigned to at the Hallamshire hospital, was on hand to help.
“We all went in and had a chat with her. She was so reassuring and calm. The children were at the sort of age where they needed to know something about what was happening. I didn’t want to use the word ‘cancer’ with them, so I explained it was a lump and some bad cells - but my son said, “thank God it’s not cancer” - at which point I knew I had to say it.
“With the nurses help I explained to them that it was at a very early stage and it was very small, and that I only needed to have a small operation.”
Anna underwent the surgery in August 2009 - within weeks of initially seeing a doctor about the lump.
Follow-up tests revealed that thankfully it had not spread to her lymph nodes, and she then began a further course of low grade radiation therapy and hormone-based medication - tablets she still takes.
She also regularly attends for mammograms - but has been determined to move on with her life after cancer.
She wanted to share her story to encourage others to be breast-aware, particularly younger women who are not offered mammograms routinely.
“I know that going and getting it checked out as soon as I did has helped me,” Anna said.
“The longer you leave it the larger it grows. My surgeon was absolutely fantastic, so caring and nice. In fact I was treated with kindness and respect all the way through.
“I believe it’s really important for women to check things out. If you catch it early you’re less likely to need a full mastectomy and also less likely to get any secondary cancers. It could save your life or make the whole process more comfortable.”
Her pleas were echoed by local GP Dr Anthony Gore.
He said: “The key problem is that too often the cancer is not caught at an early enough stage and this is largely because women are not attending for breast screening or have not spotted key symptoms.
“It is essential that women in the breast screening age group attend for screening every three years – this is the best way to protect yourself from breast cancer.
“Although breast cancer is much more common among older women, women of all ages need to be on the lookout for changes to their breasts.
“Know what is normal for you, and don’t hesitate to visit your GP if you get a lump or any other change in your breasts that are not part of your usual monthly menstrual cycle.”
Anna added: “Some people think of breast cancer as a death sentence – it isn’t, it is treatable. My life has moved on significantly since my operation: I’ve gone back to work and moved house.
“Me and my children have moved on from the cancer and are now getting on with our lives.”