PUBLISHED ON: 13 March 2018

Liz, from Southend, was told she had the altered BRCA gene after being diagnosed. She tells us how she felt as a young woman with breast cancer. 

Liz

I have checked my breasts every month since I was about 14. My brother accidentally hit my breast which caused a lump to develop. I went to the doctor who said it was a cyst, but since then I've always been very aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer

In 2014 I found a lump, and went to the breast unit for further tests. They said it was nothing to worry about, but later that year I found a new lump. My boyfriend has always been so supportive of me checking, and also recognised that this one was different. I got an emergency referral from my doctor and the following week I was diagnosed, aged 21. 

I was petrified  

I'd spent so long worrying about lumps, so when I found one I had kind of convinced myself that I was just being paranoid, that it had to be nothing. When the doctors confirmed that it was cancer, I was shocked. 

I had a lumpectomy then fertility treatment, followed by FEC chemotherapy about two months after my operation, and then six weeks of radiotherapy.  

I didn't know much about the BRCA gene 

Because of my age they suggested I meet with a geneticist, to see whether I had an altered BRCA gene, which significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. My dad's mother had died of breast cancer when he was 11, and a few other distant members of family had also been diagnosed.  

I was aware of BRCA through Angelina Jolie, who had risk-reducing surgery because she had the gene. But I didn't know much more than that.  

I thought I had let myself down 

By the time I was finishing treatment I was almost certain that I had the gene. When the doctors confirmed, I felt a sense of clarification, because there was an explanation. 

There are so many scare-mongering articles about how dairy or even asparagus causes breast cancer. You get pulled in, and if you don't have the right information then how do you know any different? My cancer was hereditary, but for the many whose isn't, it's hard to accept that there isn't an obvious cause. 

The decision to get tested has to be your own 

After I found out I had the gene I had a bilateral mastectomy. I had already been diagnosed, so it was an easy decision to get the test. But I understand that the decision may not be so easy for others, especially if they haven't had a diagnosis. 

At the end of the day you have to do what makes you happiest. It's totally dependent on the person. It's important to talk through your options with a geneticist to find the right decision for you. 

My friends have realised anyone can get cancer

Liz and her boyfriend 

I didn't meet anyone who was my age with a diagnosis until about six months later. Then I met a few other young women, and spoke to some through networks online. 

Although shocked and slightly confused, my friends were incredibly supportive. A lot of them still don't check their own breasts as often as they should, but some do regularly since I was diagnosed. I think it woke them up to the fact that it can happen to younger people. 

My boyfriend was also brilliant, and got on with everything. I think he was worried but he never wanted to let it on.  

Liz's tips for anyone concerned about breast cancer 

  1. Get to know your breasts – it's so important to know the signs and symptoms and check regularly. Set a reminder on your phone to check yourself regularly. 
  2. Write a checklist for doctors' appointments – whether you're going to see your GP or have been recalled. You take in so much information when you're in there and forget to ask everything.  
  3. Discuss your options with your doctors – if you are concerned about your family history of breast or ovarian cancer talk to your GP, they can refer you to a family history clinic if appropriate.

#ShareTheCare this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and let others know about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Signs and symptoms