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27 October 2022

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Check Your Breasts!

We often talk about the importance of regular health care assessments and screening such as well-person checks, to catch health complaints early. However, when you’re feeling healthy it can be very hard to find the time or the inclination to go and have tests done. This is why during Breast Cancer Awareness month we wanted to share a powerful example of what this really means and a personal story of how important a routine check was for one of our team.

Nikki, a long-standing member of our team, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, thanks to a yearly gynaecological check-up. She had no symptoms and had not felt the lump, but has since gone through treatment and is recovering well.

Nikki wanted to share her story to help others understand how important it is to “check your breasts” and also offer advice and reassurance for anyone coping with a cancer diagnosis.

Hi Nikki, thanks so much for talking to us and sharing your story. Can you explain what happened in your case?

“Working in a private medical clinic, I have the advantage of being seen once a year by our gynaecologist Dr Pakzad who also carries out a breast ultrasound as part of the yearly check-up. Thanks to this, a lump was discovered which I had not felt, nor had any symptoms from.

After the lump was discovered, I was referred for a mammogram, with ultrasound-guided breast biopsy immediately afterwards which confirmed the diagnosis of breast cancer – more specifically an invasive ductal carcinoma.

Since then I’ve had a Lumpectomy, Radiotherapy and Endocrine treatment and am feeling better, although I am still recovering from the effects of radiotherapy.

Throughout my journey, I felt the need to keep myself informed and research everything I was going through, e.g. investigations, surgery, radiotherapy etc.  For me, it helped to have a better understanding of what was to come, both physically and mentally.

However, not everything is explained about symptoms, side effects or things that can happen after treatment, so I joined the MacMillan Cancer Online Support group, where there is a forum and you can ask questions and read about woman with similar experiences.”

What advice would you give readers for catching cancer early?

“It’s important to check your breasts on a monthly basis following your period, so you become aware of what your breast tissue feels like, and you will know if anything abnormal shows up. Here’s some great information from the NHS on how to check your breasts.

Also, undergoing breast imaging is helpful in detecting breast changes i.e.: lumps, cysts, lymph nodes, dense breast tissue.

If detected early, breast cancer has a better prognosis and survival rate, so please check those breasts.”

Any words of reassurance or advice for people who have had a recent diagnosis? 

“The journey from diagnosis to the end of treatment is a tough one, and there will be lots of ups and downs and different moods e.g.:  sadness, anger, impotence etc.

Please know that these feelings are absolutely normal and you are allowed to feel every emotion however you wish, and deal with these in your own individual way.

You also may feel the need to be strong for those loved ones around you, which can be hard. I found that confronting and talking about cancer, how we felt, worries/concerns etc was important for me and my family. This way we all knew how we felt and could support each other with much more understanding.

In my personal experience, I listened to my body and what it needed, some days I was surrounded by family and friends and some days I would withdraw.

Try to keep to as much normality in your daily life and positive thinking is a must. That said, some days it’s harder than others.

The best advice I can offer is there is no script for you to follow, once you have been hit with this disease. Just do what is best for you, and take one day at a time. Everyone deals with this differently and obviously their needs are not always the same.”

What support is out there for people with cancer?

“The GHA breast clinic offers an excellent service and the breast clinic nurses are amazing, very empathetic and always there for you.

You can also find support through Cancer Relief Gibraltar, and the MacMillan Cancer Support Group I mentioned before.”

Thank you so much Nikki, for sharing your story and giving that advice to others, we’re so pleased you are feeling better.

How can Specialist Medical Clinic help?

We’d recommend that you follow Nikki’s lead and commit to regular health assessments such as gynaecological check-ups including cervical smear and breast examination, well woman checks or well man checks. Think of these as a yearly MOT and the best way to keep yourself healthy and get ahead of any issues so that you can make lifestyle changes or get access to treatment at the very earliest stage possible.

If you have found a lump, are experiencing any symptoms of cancer, or have a family history of cancer, then it may be necessary to have more specific cancer screening such as prostate cancer screening or breast cancer screening

Talk to your GP about any health concerns that you may have so they can point you in the right direction for the tests you need to put your mind at rest, or the treatment you need.