Checking my breasts saved my life
Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Judith Stewart from Belfast was diagnosed with breast cancer last year when she was just 28 years old. Judith, who is Senior Manager Clients and Markets at BDO Northern Ireland, discovered the lump herself after carrying out a breast check at home, a move prompted by a talk from our specialist breast nurse Elaine Shaw during a health awareness talk at work.
Today, Judith is proudly supporting our Breast Bud campaign which is encouraging everyone – women and men – to get into the habit of checking their breasts regularly. This is Judith’s story.
“I remember finding the lump vividly. On the morning of the 1st April while having a shower, I found a small lump on my right breast. My stomach dropped and I just knew something wasn’t right, so I made an appointment to get it checked with my doctor.
“The reason why I was checking my breasts was due to a charity partnership we had at work with Friends of the Cancer Centre. As well as raising over £21,000 for the charity, we also raised awareness among staff of different types of cancer, including breast cancer. I was one of the team who helped organise a talk with Elaine Shaw, Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, who came to talk about how to check your breasts. Ever since that day, I started checking myself regularly and it’s only because of that talk that I found the lump when I did.
“The diagnosis and treatment was, and is, the hardest thing I have ever had to work through. I first had surgery to remove the lump and then, due to my age, I had genetic testing. As I don’t have any children, I also had the opportunity to freeze my eggs as treatment could affect my fertility. I then had 25 sessions of radiotherapy and I am currently on hormone treatment for five years.
“Two things got me through the overwhelming pain, fear and hopelessness I felt at the time. Firstly, my husband, family and friends. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to cope or get through this past year. Secondly, everyone at the Cancer Centre who looked after me not only medically, but also helped me build my life back after treatment.
“It’s only when you are on the other side as a patient that you really understand and appreciate the difference Friends of the Cancer Centre makes. From the magazines and coffee I had while waiting for treatment, to the support it provides at the Macmillan Support and Information Centre, where I was able to just sit for a while and not feel pressured to do
anything. It’s incredible.
“After treatment, I was determined to raise money for the charity as a thank you for the care and support I received. My husband, Phil and I took on the Mourne Challenge which involved climbing 15 peaks over 35km in just one day. It was the hardest physical challenge we have ever done, but we raised a fantastic £3,483.57 which will now go on to help so many others.
“It’s thanks to checking my breasts that I found the lump and my early detection meant I could be treated so effectively. I’m really proud to support Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Breast Bud campaign and if my story encourages just one person to start checking regularly, then I’ll be really pleased as it could save their life.”
Be your own Breast Bud
Friends of the Cancer Centre is calling on women and men across Northern Ireland to be more breast aware this Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the help of our Breast Bud Breast Check Hanger
We want everyone - women and men - to get into the habit of checking your breasts and chest every month. The waterproof hanger - similar to a do not disturb hanger on hotel doors - can hang in the shower, on the door of the bathroom, or anywhere that will remind people to check their breasts and chest once a month, every month.
The Breast Bud Self-Check hanger has a step- by- step guide on how to check your breasts and chest, as well as some of the signs and symptoms people should look out for. Friends of the Cancer Centre wants to get the self-check message out to as many women and men across Northern Ireland as possible, so the charity is also calling on people to share the hangers with their own Breast Bud - family and friends - so they can start checking too. Get yours here.