October is breast cancer awareness month, and this October marks 15 years since my diagnosis with breast cancer. What better time to reach out and remind women not to stall on getting any suspicious lumps checked out. I am incredibly lucky and immensely grateful to be here, but had I found the lump during covid lockdown, would I have been so vigilant? My heart breaks when I hear of covid in oncology wards, where people are the most vulnerable they will ever be in their lifetimes, and ask myself if I wouldn't have avoided being in that situation at this time in history?
My story started with a lump in August 2006. The fact everyone went quiet when looking at my body or my ultrasounds was alarming as was the fact we went straight to core biopsy the following day, not to mention bumping into my GP personally dropping my results round to the hospital so they got there as quickly as possible. At the end of an exhausting week I got the call to say I had the all clear. I was delirious with joy, but when the dust settled, I didn't feel convinced.
This lump was very hard. What was it doing in my body, where did it come from and how could I get rid of it? After a month I went back to my GP who agreed we should get a second opinion. Another month and I was in the rooms of an elderly, very experienced breast oncologist who reassured me that everything looked fine but whilst I was there he would take a fine needle biopsy. And that, as they say, was that. It was positive and things moved lightening fast.
I was the only patient at St Vincents ever to have a negative core biopsy (a full on job under local anaesthetic) followed by a positive fine needle biopsy. Turns out I had two tumours, perhaps the original one when through the middle? It was a wake up call to us all, patients and medical professionals alike, to be vigilant where results came back that didn't look quite right. If I'd left it a year, I might not be here now.
My obsession with non-wired bras in natural fibres dates back to this weekend between diagnosis and surgery. What greater insult to a young woman about to undergo chemotherapy resulting in infertility than having to wear maternity bras? Where were the non-wired bras in cotton, for women like me, small band large cup? They just didn't exist, and that stayed with me a long time.
Five years out from treatment when I felt confident I was going to live, as a frustrated consumer with no industry experience, I set to work finding willing women in the industry to help me work on this big problem. I launched my first organic cotton bra in 2014 and was a semi-finalist in the LiveStrong Foundation's inaugural Big C competition for innovations to improve the lives of people going through cancer. By 2016 I realised the issue with bras was bigger than the wires, my eyes were opened to the issue of textile waste (realising bras were the most serious of offenders), my plot to create a world-first circular economy bra was hatched and here we are.
Most importantly (for me) here I am. So many women we have all known and loved have not made it. This October in particular, where lockdown has prevented us from the self-care we might otherwise be more vigilant about, please check your breasts.
Don't take no for an answer if you feel in your gut something isn't right.
Hassle your female relatives to also check themselves.
Keep well and healthy and vigilant.
PS - The cover image is a montage of my 'journey back to life'. I took a head shot every day for 3 months from my last day of chemotherapy to document my transformation.