Julia felt isolated as a young, gay woman with breast cancer. Now she shares her experience with other young women, supporting them with emotional and practical concerns through our Someone Like Me service.
I was diagnosed aged 32
I was diagnosed in 2011, aged 32, with an invasive ductal carcinoma.
I was walking along one day when I fell over carrying shopping – at the time I was so embarrassed! Later on, I was in the shower, and had to reach in a weird way because of how I'd fallen. I suddenly felt a strange lump.
I went to the doctor who thought it might be a fibroadenoma, but sent me for more checks just in case. It turned out I had breast cancer.
My grandfather had breast cancer, but no one else in my family, and he was diagnosed in his 70s so it came as a huge shock to realise I could have it so young.
We both felt isolated
I had a girlfriend who I'd been going out with for three or four years, but a year after my diagnosis we broke up.
She said she felt isolated. It's hard supporting someone through something like that and having to hold it together for them. I also felt alone – looking on blogs and forums at the time, everyone seemed to be older, heterosexual and with kids or grandkids. I found it hard to relate to anyone.
I was worried about my body image changing
I really didn't want a mastectomy, and body image was a huge issue for me. It's different being in a gay relationship too, as my girlfriend had the thing that I was having removed. It was a strange dynamic.
I used Breast Cancer Care's Someone Like Me service to talk about my mastectomy, but it was a while ago, and I spoke to someone a bit older. That was one reason why I wanted to become a volunteer, to support younger women.
There's nothing like speaking to someone who understands
I did find it helpful to speak to someone who had been in the same situation though. As great as your friends and family are, there's nothing like speaking to someone who's had breast cancer. You can cut to the chase, there's a level of understanding, and you can use a certain terminology.
I enjoy speaking to women as a volunteer too. There's an intimacy between you because of what you've both been through, that's different to talking about it to friends. Friends can get a bit bossy and have their own opinions sometimes!
I now support other lesbian women
Out of all of the women I've spoken to, I've only had long-running relationships with a few – and they have been lesbian women seeking emotional support. We talk through feeling isolated, intimacy issues in relationships – hormone therapy like tamoxifen can cause low libido and vaginal dryness – or getting back into the dating scene after treatment. When do you tell someone about your diagnosis?
I felt I was lying if I didn't mention my mastectomy
Whether you're gay or not, going back to dating after breast cancer treatment can be nerve-wracking. After my break-up I had my implant swapped, and felt so aware of my surgery and my chest.
I felt I was lying to people if I didn't mention it. It's hard not to think about, as it's the main focus of your life at the time. Now I don't even think about telling people I've had a mastectomy!
I realised my concerns were all in my head
I had just had my nipple reconstructed when I met my current partner. I think I told her about my breast cancer on our second date. I knew that I really liked her, so it just felt right at the time. I also had a huge sponge attached to me from my surgery, so getting intimate would have been odd without an explanation!
She was totally fine about it all. In fact, all the dates I had been on were really positive – I was shocked. I had thought that it was such a huge deal, that they would care about my reconstruction. It was the same going swimming – 'Everyone will be looking at my chest!'
But no one minded at all. My current partner made me feel that it was in fact beautiful, because it had saved me. We're now married and have an eight-month-old baby.
Everyone is different
Everyone I have supported through Someone Like Me has been completely different. We are all individual. There are certain issues related to being gay and having breast cancer, but they're often more to do with you as an individual.
The best advice I can give is to talk to someone. If you're feeling isolated, Someone Like Me is a good place to start. Talking through your concerns can help you come to terms with it.
Find support with someone who has had a similar experience, over the phone or email, through our Someone Like Me service.