Six years ago, I woke up with a purple boob after a night out at university. Yes, you read that correctly. I was completely bruised on my right side, and in absolute agony, yet there was no logical explanation why. I couldn’t think what else to do other than stare at my topless torso in the mirror, twisting and turning in the hope of an incoming explanation.
Possibly due to shock, I went in search of one in arguably the worst place – Google. Amongst horror stories of breasts quite literally falling off and exploding implants (which I did not have, by the way!), there was advice on how to perform a self-examination. For what? Breast cancer.
Like anyone who takes their symptoms to a search engine, my head started racing with all the worst case scenarios. I was 18.
As I felt around, following online instructions to the letter, my fingers came into contact with several lumps and bumps I’d never noticed before. They weren’t particularly painful in themselves – not that that provided any consolation regarding their presence.
Regaining a portion of rationality for a moment, I booked an appointment with my doctor, and was seen a few days later.
Now due to health issues earlier in my teens, and the subsequent tests I’d had, I was no stranger to taking my kit off in front of a medical professional. But this felt different for some reason – I felt so small and vulnerable.
However, that small injection of discomfort was what allowed me to breathe again – there was a simple explanation related to inflammation. I was okay.
For years, this became a one-off health scare that was part of my past. I shared the story in a nonchalant, care-free way – advising anyone who said they’d had something similar to seek help straight away, even if just for peace of mind.
That was until I turned 22 when history repeated itself. This time, the bruising wasn’t quite so severe, but the irregularities I felt in my chest more than made up for it. It didn’t matter that I was armed with more experience and knowledge than last time – I was petrified.
Things went a step further than they had four years earlier – after my GP examined the area, I was referred to the hospital for a scan. It was a completely alien experience; the part of my body that I’d always thought quite highly of suddenly looked so sorry for itself as it was maneuvered, squashed, pushed, pulled and placed.
A few weeks later I received my letter – all clear.
As another roller-coaster of emotions steadied, I learnt more about my body and came to understand that this may be something that continues throughout my life, but isn’t anything to worry about. It seems through remaining mindful, conscious and aware of it, I’ll more than likely be fine.
The reason I’m telling this story now, for the first time outside of my close circle, is that I, like many, have been floored by the news of singer Sarah Harding’s death following her breast cancer diagnosis. I was a huge fan of Girls Aloud growing up, having seen them in concert countless times, and bought every CD they ever released. Sarah was 39-years-old and described as an ‘electric girl’.
Since the news came out, charity CoppaFeel has recorded an 800% increase in visits to its website seeking information about the disease. While I hate that a life – particularly one so vibrant – was lost in this way, I am glad people are taking action as a result. Statistics show so many still put check-ups on hold, ignore symptoms, or simply don’t believe it will affect them.
So my message to you is this: Stop what you’re doing right now. Take five minutes – because that’s all it takes – to check yourself. If anything feels even remotely out of the ordinary, tell someone. Better yet, get an appointment booked.
There’s every chance, like me, you’ll walk away lighter and with the answers you’d hoped for. And if not, you’ll at least set yourself on the right path to that outcome.
Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Not next week, next month or after your next birthday. Don’t use lack of time, or the size of your boobs, or embarrassment as a shield. Just do it. Please.
Listen to my interview with Tessa Hartmann from The Real Housewives of Jersey about her breast cancer journey on my podcast Into Words here.
Header image: Marco Verch / Flickr.