Spot It: Cath Kidston x Breast Cancer Now
With an estimated 600,000 people in the UK currently affected by breast cancer, so many of us have experienced or know someone living with and beyond the disease.
Right now, in the UK, around 1000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every single week. 1000 people. 1000 lives changed. At Cath Kidston, we’re proud to know and love so many women, which is why we know how life changing diagnosis can be. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the earlier it is spotted, the better chance of effective treatment, so we’ve teamed up with our friends at Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, to help you spot the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and help create a brighter, more hopeful future for anyone affected by breast cancer.
And right now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Breast Cancer Now's nurses, scientists, and hundreds of thousands of families urgently need our support more than ever. The coronavirus outbreak represents an unprecedented situation for all of us, but this is an extremely difficult and uncertain time for so many people living with breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Now are determined to make sure that everyone affected by breast cancer gets the support they need, the whole way through this crisis and beyond. Their goal remains the same – to make sure that, by 2050, everyone diagnosed with breast cancer lives and is supported to live well.
Throughout October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – we’ll be sharing the stories of six incredible women and doing our bit to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer through our campaign ‘Spot It’.
So, don’t be shy, ladies. This is too important. Get to know our incredible women below, and then be sure to show yourself some TLC – Touch, Look, Check.
Tara, 36 from Shropshire
Tara was diagnosed when she was 35, just as her mum was celebrating her five years ‘all clear’ of breast cancer.
Knowing how tough her mum’s diagnosis was for the whole family, she didn’t want to cause any unnecessary concern, so after feeling a throbbing pain in her breast that was hot to the touch, she discussed with a close friend and then went to the GP. So sure it was nothing to worry about, Tara attended the appointment at the breast clinic by herself, shocked to be told that her tests had come back revealing breast cancer.
“You think chemo will be horrendous, but luckily for me I’ve been OK. You always think the worst but it’s not always the case.”
Tara has undergone chemotherapy, surgery (a mastectomy and axillary node clearance to remove the tumour and rogue cancer cells) and radiotherapy. Emotionally dealing with the diagnosis, the everyday financial stresses and managing the treatment has been tough, but she works hard every day towards being a better version of herself - less stressed, more mindful, patient and grateful.
“Breast cancer turns life on its head, you could grieve for your old life, but you have to almost forget it and move on.”
It’s Tara’s positivity for love and life that inspired her to finally marry her partner after ten years together. “After the diagnosis, I looked at him and said … I think we need to get married …” and that’s just what they did, in an intimate ceremony six weeks later. Before treatment, the newlyweds went through fertility preservation to protect their future as a family.
”I just wanted to be true to myself and for life to remain as normal as possible throughout treatment, and beyond. I walked my dog every day during chemo, worked from home when I felt well enough to and am just trying to take each day as it comes. I feel it’s important to raise awareness and tell people to check their breasts. It’s also important for people to know that they can get through this, to give them hope.”
Lauren, 27 from Nottingham
When Lauren was just three years old she lost her mum to breast cancer, who herself was just 36 years old. “It was a huge loss for the family and our friends, sadly I have no memory of her, I’m still trying to piece her journey together.”
In the 90’s, the faulty BRCA genes were discovered – the genetic link for breast cancer – although at the time Laurens mum did not know this, she had a feeling there was something wrong in her genetics and feared for Lauren growing up. Guided by her mum’s friends, knowing that her mum’s wish would have been for Lauren to get tested, to protect herself as much as possible from the increased risk of developing breast cancer.
When she turned 21, Lauren asked her doctor for the test and she tested positive for the faulty BRCA1 gene. Supported by her many family & friends, her Dad and her Grandma, Lauren decided to opt for a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction the following year as she turned 22– a scary decision, but one that would give her some control back of her future.
“We realised that there weren’t any cons in the grand scheme of things, and if I had to have the surgery to help prevent getting breast cancer like my mum, then that’s what I should do. My family’s brave faces gave me strength and my mum was with me every step of the way. Having surgery has changed my life for the better.”
The experience brought back so many emotions for the whole family, reliving the battle and sudden loss of Lauren’s mum and then fear for Laurens own future. "I can't imagine how my dad must of felt kissing me goodbye as I walked through those doors for the operation but i do remember seeing the relief on his face when I came round and the support he gave during my recovery."
But the year Lauren took the faulty BRCA gene test, was the same year she met her now-fiancé Matt. “I get emotional talking about it, Matt is amazing. I feel that there is a guardian angel looking down on me-my mum- – she made me have the test, made me get a new job, which is where I met Matt. In my darkest moment he was a shining light. He has been my absolute rock. He says he doesn’t care about my scars and still loves me.”
Although embracing her scars and the future they represent, four operations later Lauren now 27 admits that body image can still be a struggle. “Sometimes I see my scars and I miss my old breasts, but then I think of my mum and realise what it was all for. At the happiest times of my life, I miss her the most and can’t help but feel a pang of sadness. I wish she was here to celebrate my engagement and give her blessing, but I know she would be so happy for us, I hope I make her proud.”
Katie, 30, from Ware
At 29, Katie had been diagnosed with breast cancer three times before her thirties – at 21 and 26, and now with secondary breast cancer at 29. This means that the cancer has now spread to another part of her body and is treatable, but not curable.
“Secondary breast cancer is the feared bogeyman of breast cancer. It was terrifying when I was told it had spread. In many ways, receiving the secondary diagnosis is the worst bit … after a primary diagnosis, you can spend your life fearing the day it spreads. But now that I know, I feel more content and happy. Despite my breast cancer, I’m fulfilled and have found my purpose in life.”
As an English teacher, Katie loves her job and the chance she has to impact the children in her class. She also uses Instagram to share her story and experiences with others on her account, @kates_cleavage.
“You have scans every three months to check that the cancer is stable, or not. I try to appreciate each moment and live for each day. I don’t exist in the future and live for right now.”
Each diagnosis has meant that she has had to learn so much about herself, and Katie continues to seek to heal inside and out. She is currently on oral chemotherapy, hormone therapy and monthly bone infusions for the cancer in her hip bone. She also received cyber knife radiotherapy last year and her cancer is currently stable.
“I am trying to dispel the fear. I’m living a great life and I want people to see that.”
Jen, 53, from Edinburgh
Jen’s breast cancer journey started with a sore throat. Her GP thought she might have laryngitis and referred her to ENT for tests. “At no point did I think it would be cancer. I had some fatigue, but I put that down to age and being unfit, I didn’t have any other symptoms I was aware of.”
Jen was out for dinner with work when she got the call to tell her she had breast cancer and that it had already spread, meaning that it was now incurable. Shocked, she thought back to her self-examinations and how she checked her breasts regularly for lumps. “I didn’t know I should check my collarbone. I had a lump there, which was a tumour, but I didn’t realise.”
To keep her cancer stable, Jen has ongoing treatment between scans every three months and will continue to do so until the treatments stop working for her.
“It’s been hard on my family, I lost my hair, gained weight and suffer from crippling fatigue. My husband cares for me as well as working full time. It’s tough physically as well as mentally. My first goal is to simply get up in the morning, my dogs certainly help with that.”
One of the medications that could give Jen 12-18 months longer to live is Perjeta – a drug that was unavailable on the NHS in Scotland. To access the life-extending drug privately would cost more than £50,000 a year, money Jen – and many other like her – would never be able to find.
This inspired Jen to work with Breast Cancer Now to campaign for the drug to be available in Scotland and as of January last year, they made it happen.
“It was an amazing feeling to know that it was now approved”, though only as a first access drug. It means Jen still can’t access Perjeta for her own treatment, but has helped give back time to countless others.
Lizzi, 30, from Northamptonshire
At 12 weeks pregnant with her third child, Lizzi noticed a lump in her breast. Like many women in their twenties, she was told not to worry – she was young, and the lump was likely to be caused by a change in hormones. Nothing serious.
Two weeks later, feeling silly about her ongoing concern, Lizzi made another appointment with a different GP, who again told her that she was too young to fall into the category of breast cancer.
“GPs shouldn’t be so quick to put changes down to hormone changes and you are never too young. If you notice something is not right for you, go back and make sure you get the tests you need.”
When she was eventually referred as a non-urgent case for tests and scans, the doctors found she had breast cancer.“I have two other young children, so my first thought was the kids. I couldn’t leave them, I’m their mummy.”
Lizzi had a single mastectomy, five weeks after her diagnosis, then chemotherapy, at 27 weeks pregnant. “It was hard and I suffered from anxiety around hurting my baby, but I put my whole trust in the professionals – trusting them to know what was best for me and my baby.”
To help her daughter deal with the diagnosis and treatment, they used a book by Breast Cancer Now called ‘Mummy’s Lump’. “Story time is precious and the book explains what I was going through in a language she could understand. At first, she was distressed about me losing my hair, but she’s been amazing. I know she loves mummy with no hair and one boob and loves me unconditionally. She knows I am still strong and beautiful inside and out.”
On January 26th, Lizzi gave birth to their healthy daughter Violet Rose.
“Breast cancer has made me more positive. I’ve learnt to appreciate life more, it is so precious. It’s been really beneficial to share my experience with other women, sharing my story to raise awareness makes it all worthwhile.”
Esther, 50, from Sunbury-on-Thames
In 2014, just before Christmas, Esther felt a change to her breast. “There was no lump, but I felt a dull pain and a slight thickening.” Her GP referred her to the Breast Clinic, who examined her but could not detect anything, as there was no lump or discharge or any other symptoms. However, they referred her for a mammogram and that is what detected her breast cancer.
Although Esther called on the support of her close family and friends, breastcare nurses and consultant to hold her up during those darkest of days after diagnosis, she wanted to protect her children as much as possible. At just six, eight and eleven years old, she didn’t want to scare them.
I was advised it would be good to be honest with them but I wanted to do everything I could to protect them. It helped me to keep things as normal as possible for them too, I carried on doing the school runs and making them dinner etc. But some days, I didn’t want to face it all. I’ve told them now that I’m better.”
Esther had a mastectomy and temporary reconstruction with a chest expander, then chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has since had two surgeries, including a major breast reconstruction (DIEP) surgery.
“Chemotherapy was hard. I didn’t use a cold cap so was prepared for the hair loss. It doesn’t look like you when you look in the mirror. I was so tired but I was fortunate that I wasn’t sick. I knew it was just a ‘season’ and my hair would grow back eventually.”
Esther is grateful to her husband, close family and friends that were a huge support for her throughout. Her faith also played an important role and Esther is grateful to her Pastor and friends at Ashford Congregational Church for their support during this difficult time.
Things will never be the same again after breast cancer. For Esther, she has learnt that life is too short and you never know what the future will bring. She lives for now, and does what makes her happy such as going to church, socialising with friends and enjoying weekly runs with her close group of friends, who she met through their local Parkrun at Hazelwood.
One of Esther's goals is to do a run to fundraise money for Breast Cancer Now, her breast care team at Ashford & St Peter's Hospital, and plastic surgeon team at St George’s Hospital, who all supported her through her recovery journey and who will always remain close to her heart.
Esther’s advice to anyone who is going through cancer treatment, or has been through cancer, is to try as much as possible to live their life to the fullest, appreciate what they have and stop sweating the small stuff.
A huge thank-you to Tara, Lauren, Katie, Jen, Lizzi and Esther for sharing their stories. Of love, of hope, of inspiration.
And remember, Look, Touch, Check – and visit your GP if you notice any changes in your breasts.
Want to do your bit? There’s three things you can do:
Step 1: Don’t be shy. Show yourself some TLC - Touch, Look, Check.
The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the better chance of successful treatment. Read up on signs and symptoms and how to Spot It here.
Step 2: Buy into Button Spot. We’re donating 10% of sales of our Button Spot print across cathkidston.com throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month – so a little treat for you can do some good, too.
Step 3: You can donate directly to Breast Cancer Now to help fund and support their amazing work. Right now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Breast Cancer Now's nurses, scientists, and hundreds of thousands of families urgently need your support more than ever.