Wednesday 16th November 2016

Yorkshire and the Humber

"Last year, I sat in my classroom teaching teenagers about the signs and symptoms of cancer in young people in a PSHCE class, without actually knowing at the time that I would soon develop cancer.

I was working as a Religious Studies and PSHCE teacher at a local secondary school and absolutely loved my job. One of my lessons for PSHCE was on cancer and young people. My grandad had cancer for 18 years and was my only close experience of cancer, but it became very clear that every person in that classroom had been affected by the disease in some way. The class were extremely mature and there was some very sensible responses.

Shortly after I discovered a lump on my breast. I thought I was too young to have breast cancer and when I looked up the signs and symptoms of breast cancer they varied to mine and so thought nothing of it.

Although everyone's symptoms can be different, my lump was large and moved around, whereas a breast cancer lump was meant to be small and hard.

I left it for about 6 or 7 months, thinking it was a swollen gland, but it still didn't go away. It wasn't until I saw a pop up breast clinic in town back in June/July that I finally got it checked. The doctor took a look and thought it was benign but referred me to my GP who then sent me to the local hospital's breast clinic. The doctor there also said it could possibly be benign but they carried out several tests including an ultrasound and biopsy just to double check. I had to wait two weeks for my results but I really wasn’t worried as I just believed it couldn't be cancer- I told myself I'm just too young for breast cancer.

A few days later I took a call at work from the hospital, who asked me to come in the following day for the results. Despite hearing from them earlier than we thought, I still wasn't too worried. My boyfriend and I went in the next morning, all dressed for work, prepared to head straight in after my appointment but what we heard changed everything.

I remember hearing the words breast cancer and my boyfriend grabbing my hand and holding me tight.

I could tell by his face that he was extremely upset but I just held it together, shocked at what I was hearing. I sat there completely numb and all I could think about was losing my hair. The doctor was talking to me, telling me about all of the treatments and I just felt completely lost amongst the news and thoughts of what was ahead of me. I wasn't able to leave the hospital that morning as they wanted to send me for further tests, so my boyfriend stayed with me and my Mum rushed from work to be by my side too. I couldn't return to work that day so within the space of a few hours I discovered I had cancer and that I had to give up my job immediately on a short term basis.

I was just 24 years old. I didn't know people my age could get breast cancer and I never dreamt for one second that my lump could be cancerous.

I chose to have my treatment at my local hospital rather than the Teenage Cancer Trust unit as I wanted to be able to go home to my bed and be closer to my family, but thankfully I was put in touch with the charity.

Carrie, the Youth Support Coordinator gave me so much support and helped me engage in activities such as Chomp and Chat and Feel Good Look Good, which meant I could meet other young people with cancer and not feel so isolated.

I've just completed 6 cycles of chemotherapy which did mean I lost my hair, however the side effects were endless. I suffered from extreme nausea, sleep problems, and I often struggled to stand up for any length of time because my whole body ached and I felt exhausted doing anything.

Before I was diagnosed I think I was quite naive to the long term side effects and at a young age some of them are hard to deal with. One of my main concerns throughout has been the affect the chemotherapy will have on my fertility - I was never aware that this could be an issue. I was told that chemotherapy could leave me with 20-30% chance of not being able to have children.

Having a family is something I have always dreamed of and unless you are told otherwise, you always think that this will happen when the time comes.

I have been having Zoladex injections to put my ovaries into hibernation and induce a temporary menopause with the hope that this will lessen the chance of infertility to 10-15%. Although this is a massive worry, for now I am trying not to think about this and am focusing on becoming happy and healthy again.

With all the side affects and things on my mind, I accepted that I needed help and it was okay to have bad days and that this was the only way to get through my cancer.

I still have radiotherapy and an operation ahead of me but I am remaining positive and focused on returning back to work. I am hoping to go onto another course to be able to teach about cancer in young people at my school.

I really believe it is important that if someone is concerned about a change in their body then they should seek medical advice.

In hindsight, at the time I was absolutely exhausted and could not put my finger what was wrong - it is so important to listen to your body.

I am feeling very optimistic about my experience - although it had been the hardest few months of my life, the amount of support I have had from my family, friends and my colleagues has been fantastic. I still have the same ambition to buy my own house, travel and have a family. Nevertheless, for now I am concentrating on the little things like being able to enjoy Christmas and New Year with my loved ones."

Help us support more young people like Becki