I’m going to share a story with you all. This is a true story, and unfortunately it doesn’t have a happy ending. What it will do is highlight the need for everyone to know what they need to look out for, and take action on any abnormalities you might find.
I’ve been promoting the awareness of different cancer signs and symptoms for the last seven years, I’ve spoken to thousands of wonderful people, and I’ve listened, laughed and cried with men and women who are truly inspirational. I’ve also been a target for anger, frustration and verbal abuse for a small number of people, but I’ve always understood that cancer can have so many effects on people, both emotionally, spiritually and physically; we all deal with it differently.
I was working at a community venue one day. I had my display, my promotional materials, my A, B and C cup breast prosthetics, along with a male breast prosthetic; yes, ‘breast’. Men have breast tissue too and can develop breast cancer.
I met a lovely lady while I was working that day. She chatted away with me, listened to what I said, we went through everything and she was happy to ask questions. She took the leaflets that I had, and went on her way.
I continued chatting with more men and women, having a giggle with the breast prosthetics when I showed them the breast self-examination technique, comments like: “They’re perkier than mine, love”, “I’ll have to bend down to do mine, they’re round by me knees”… it has to be said, a little bit of humour goes a long way when chatting about something so serious.
Then I found myself smiling at a familiar face. The lovely lady from earlier was back and looking a little concerned. Asking if she was OK, she replied by asking me about a small dark patch of skin that was a ‘funny’ texture and she’d been wondering what it could be. It was on the side of her breast, and while I’m not a clinician, what she was describing sounded suspicious, so I advised her to go to her GP as soon as possible.
She agreed, but something wasn’t quite right. We all kinda know when someone agrees to do something, but actually they’re going to ignore your advice. You get that sixth sense and the body language just doesn’t convince you, regardless of how much encouragement you give.
Now, the problem with my job is that I hardly ever see the same person again, so I never know if they’ve taken my advice or not. It was difficult to deal with at first and I used to worry about people at night, lose sleep and genuinely wonder if they’re alright. Occasionally I do bump into people and they’ll let me know how they’re doing, but it’s usually a very long time afterwards.
It was a year later when I saw the familiar face again. She’d lost a lot of weight and wasn’t looking well. She came over to see me, I asked her how she was and if she’d ever gone to see her GP. She looked up at me, smiled weakly and then dropped the bomb shell.
This lovely lady hadn’t gone to see her GP. She thought the abnormal patch of skin would just go away, she was afraid of what she might find out and embarrassed to show her GP. It turned out that the abnormality had become worse, it had ‘puckered’ inwards over time, and she was beginning to feel very unwell. Eventually she visited her GP, and after further investigations she had been diagnosed with terminal stage four breast cancer.
It hit me hard, this lovely lady had terminal cancer, and I couldn’t help her.
She admitted that she should have gone to her GP sooner.
I gave her as much support as I could and we talked about the help other services could give her and her family, but that was the last time I saw her. I have no closure; I often wonder about her and wish that she’d have been diagnosed earlier.
Please don’t let this happen to you or a family member. If a friend or family member confides in you, encourage them to see their GP as soon as possible, offer to go with them if they are afraid to go alone. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be afraid and don’t ever put it off.