You may or may not be aware, that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, But just because October is over, this doesn't mean that you stop checking because the month of awareness is done.
I had just turned 34 two weeks before my own diagnosis, meaning, I was 33 when I had cancer, unknown to me.
I thought I was too young.
As did everyone else.
To say I was devastated was an understatement, a feeling anyone in my situation would feel.
I cried - alot. But then, I decided I would not be over come by this horrible negative thing, and I chose to share my entire journey on my social media. The good, the bad and the ugly because breast cancer is not the pretty pink ribbon with smiling models that it is portrayed to be.
Many would not agree with my choice to be so vocal about it all. I feel that with social media being such a huge part of life now, what better way to raise awareness on such a taboo subject, that the only real knowledge people have is what you see in films which isn't always a true representation which I soon found out.
Early 2018, I discovered a small, pea sized lump while self examining in the shower.
Early detection is so important and if I knew back then what I know now I would have taken myself straight to the doctor.
So, on finding this lump who I later christened Larry the Lump, what did I do? I ignored it. I figured "it's just girl thing" and figured it would just go, because I was too young right?
I continued my examinations in the shower, and still Larry remained. It felt just like a bit of grizzle or a fatty lump. It was movable. At times it was painful. And it grew as time went on. I was worried but brushed it off.
Eventually, in August 2018, I gave in and went to my GP.
Larry had gotten to a size where I could no longer ignore him.
Visibly you could see a difference in the size of both my breasts, my bra was tighter on that breast. Whenever I done my self examination I had that sinking feeling in my gut and I just knew. That gut feeling is rarely wrong.
My GP was very kind, he felt it was a cyst due to size, my "age", family history and the fact it was moveable at that time but referred me to get checked anyway. At that time it measured around 2.5 - 3 cm give or take. That's 2-3 cm growth from early in the year to August.
I ended up having to take a week or so off work to try and sort through my own head. I was anxious, needy, clingy, irritable paranoid, crying at the drop of a hat, insecure and totally negative during this wait. I felt like I didn't have my own head during those 8-10 weeks I waited for my appointment at the breast clinic.
Outwardly you would never have known but inwardly my mind was in over drive with what ifs? The waiting is almost worse than the diagnosis itself.
Fast forward to the 18th of October, my first life changing appointment. I don't know if my age had anything to do with how long I waited or what but it felt like an eternity.
My Mam and Sister came with me and all the way to the hospital they kept saying "nah it's just a cyst, it will be nothing". I kept quiet because I half had a feeling it wouldn't be that simple.
Firstly some with my consultant who examined me, he himself thought it was a cyst and reckoned it was around 5cm - another growth increase. He wanted me to go for a mammogram so made the appointment for that same day. Off we went to the radiology department.
Once we got there, there was lots of other ladies, all awaiting the same scans and tests as myself I'm sure. All the while, I had that same feeling of dread. Terrified of what was to come next, scared of the unknown - would the mammogram hurt my already tender breast? Strangers looking at my little boobies - what would they be thinking?
My name was called, and I had to leave my support and go it alone. I was immediately told, that they would not mammogram me unless totally necessary, as I was under 35 and this is the age where they would give mammograms - again, too young. They wanted to do an ultrasound on my breast instead - ok, I've had an ultrasound before, I know what to expect, I can deal with this. So off I trotted, to the ultrasound room.
Here I met a few nurses and this is where it gets blurry. I remember the nurses were so lovely, friendly, calming but I couldn't tell you names or what they look like.
I'd say I was on that table all of 5 mins, if even that, and I was marched back quick smart for a mammogram. It was then I knew, I knew she saw something, I knew because she went to my arm pit and immediately stopped, that she had seen something here.
I. Just. Knew.
I had the mammogram, and as I walked back for another ultrasound I was asked did I want my Mum to come with me this time.Again that feeling where you think your stomach sinks.
I. Just. Knew.
Ultrasound redone, she explained next she would need to do a biopsy and what was involved. She explained that she would give me an injection to numb the areas, that she wanted me to watch the screen as it is an ultrasound guided biopsy, you can see the needle going into your breast. And it transpired that the cancer has spread to the lymphnodes under my arm.
Tears fell from my face the entire procedure, not out of pain but sheer fear.
Once she was done, I asked why did she feel the need to do a biopsy, her response was "ask the question you really want to ask". We both as the same time said "Is it cancer". Her reply was simply "Yes".
I felt my world crumble. I felt sick. I felt numb. I felt like it wasn't happening to me. Dream like. All the while thinking - Chemo, My hair, My Son and I'm going die - that last part a thought that stayed with me until very recently.
We left the room and went into a little changing room which was in the middle of the waiting area. I remember walking out of that room, howling crying, sobbing and seeing all the other ladies faces who were waiting to go in after me and I'll never forget the fear in their eyes. I fell to the ground while my mam and my sister held me and we cried and cried and cried. We had the task of breaking the news the my Dad, friends and family, mentally going through the list of those most important to me that needed to be told and more tears followed for days after.
I let the grief take over it's part of the process to just start crying at the drop of a hat. To not sleep. To cry in your sleep. To not eat.There is no right or wrong way to deal with getting delivered this news. You just have to feel the feelings and go with them.
Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is not something anyone expects to go through much less someone younger.
It's also not a dirty thing, a dirty little secret or anything to be ashamed of.
Self check once a month, note any changes and take concerns to your Gp.
I finished up my treatment the 13th of September after 8 rounds of chemo 1 lumpectomy 1 mastectomy and 25 sessions of radiotherapy. For the next 10 years I am on a drug in the hope to prevent reoccurance.
Cancer was certainly the worst thing that has happened to me to date but I vowed to not let it be a negative thing and to do my best to raise awareness around self check and early detection and I will work tirelessly at this for as long as I breathe!
The other goal I have is to inspire others whose bodies have been ravaged by cancer treatment, and those who just arent really feeling themselves, inspire them to love themselves, speak kindly.to themselves, love their body and mind it - it's the only body we Have.
I became so empowered the day I bared my mastectomy scars for all to see in a bid to encourage body positivity and body confidence and normalise mastectomies.
You can follow on my journey of ups and downs while returning to fitness and the real world, all things positive and breasts on www.instagram.com/tri_cleary