A 23-year-old bartender was stunned when a lump she pressed thought it was acne after spotting it while dressing was actually a rapidly growing cancerous tumor over her left breast. When the tuber Siobhan Harrison tried to burst in December 2020 grew and bruised after pressing it, she suspected it was because she had made it worse.
So when tests revealed she had triple negative breast cancer in stage 2, she was horrified. Now 24 and cancer-free, Siobhan, from New Tredegar in the Rhymney Valley in South Wales, said: “I never thought I was at risk for cancer, especially at my age.
“I want to let young people know that they need to have their breasts checked so they don’t have lumps and they need to tell their doctor if there are any changes, because it could be life-saving. I feel so lucky to be cancer free now. “
When Siobhan first saw a lump protrude above her left breast, she just assumed it was a point.
She said: “I could see it. It was clearly visible high enough on my chest, so I thought it was just acne. I tried to burst it but that just made it bruise.
“I watched it for a while and noticed that it was getting bigger than I thought because I had made it worse. But it started to worry me, so I booked a doctor’s appointment. ”
At her appointment, Siobhan was referred for further tests but was told there was a nine-month waiting list. She said: “Finally, I decided to go private and paid £ 200 for an ultrasound. Right there doctors said they couldn’t say what it was, but thought it might be cancer and advised that I would need a biopsy to find out.”
With her lump now suspected of being cancer, Siobhan was considered a high priority and entered her biopsy at the NHS on 22 June 2021. She said: “When I received the results, I half expected it to be a cyst or something benign. “Even though I was worried about it, I still didn’t expect it to be too bad.”
To Siobhan’s shock, she was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer. She said: “I was so upset. It was growing so fast, and the lump was now more than 2 cm in size. Doctors scheduled me for surgery the following week, it all happened very quickly.”
In July Siobhan went under the knife for a tumorectomy to remove the cancerous mass in her left breast.
She said: “While I was recovering from the operation, my consultant informed me that the next step would be chemotherapy, but said there was a chance that it could affect my fertility. So before I started treatment, I had eggs. recovery in case I became infertile after chemistry. “
In August, Siobhan started chemotherapy, which she says was stressful: “I found it very difficult. After the first round, I started losing my hair and the treatment just wiped me out. I was so sick.
“Even though I knew I was going to lose my hair, I didn’t expect it to touch me as much as it did, so I bought a wig to help me feel a little more like me. My doctor decided to change my treatment a bit, so I had chemistry more often in lower doses and that helped me a lot.
“I had 12 rounds of chemistry before quitting in December 2021. Then, in the New Year, I had two weeks of radiation therapy.”
While Siobhan was technically cancer-free after the surgery, the additional therapy was preventative because she was at high risk of her cancer returning.
She said: “The treatment has done its job and I’ve got it all clear this spring. Since then, I’ve been on a test that examines my blood every few weeks to check for cancer cells. So far everything has been clear.
“No matter how difficult it was, I’m so grateful to be on the other side of treatment now and I’m now concentrating on improving my fitness levels as I got back to work in March. All the NHS staff who treated me were so helpful and helpful, thank you very much too. “
Siobhan will have to go for annual checkups to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back and now tends to raise awareness about breast cancer in young women.
She said: “I never thought I could be diagnosed with cancer at such a young age, it was such a shock to me and my family. I want to encourage young women to have their breasts checked regularly so you don’t have lumps because you really don’t know what could happen.
“I’m unlucky to have cancer but, somehow, I’m also lucky that my lump was clearly visible and I was able to get a private scan quickly. I’m afraid to think what could have happened if it had gone unnoticed.
“I was just scared last week when I thought I had found another ball and went to check it out. Luckily, it was nothing to worry about, but it made me realize that fear would always be with me.
“If I can get other people to check for balls, then I’ve reached my goal. I just don’t want other people to go through the same ordeal as I did. “
Nikki Barraclough, managing director at Prevent Breast Cancer, said that in addition to causing delays in diagnosing breast cancer, the pandemic has had an impact on research.
She said: “Now more than ever we need to continue funding research on breast cancer prevention so that we can stop this disease before it starts, while continuing to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms. It is this kind of awareness that has saved the life of Siobhan. “
And a spokesman for the Teenage Cancer Trust warned of the devastating effect of the disease on young people.
She said: “Cancer affects young people much less than older adults – but when it does, it can have a huge impact – so being able to spot possible warning signs that could lead to an earlier diagnosis can really make a difference.
“There is a worryingly low awareness of the most common warning signs of cancer at the age of 18-24, and this could be one of the reasons that it takes longer for young people to be diagnosed with cancer than older adults. But Because cancer in younger age groups is considered rare, doctors and other health care professionals may also be less likely to suspect cancer and refer young people with symptoms for further research. “
They added: “Listen to your body and if you feel that something is wrong, seek medical help. It is probably not cancer, but it is always best to check, so make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. If you do not feel, that you get the answers you need, keep coming back, because if a patient is constantly worried, health professionals should listen and take these seriously. “
To learn more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and how to control it, visit www.preventbreastcancer.org.uk