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Self examinations so important for breast cancer detection

The duty GP examined me and was angry. He said that it was obvious that I had this lump for some time, and that my breast wall had started to pucker. The tumour had already started to attach itself to my breast wall.

My story is simple really. I was living in Scotland and married. I was 36 when I found a small lump on the side of my left breast. I went to a GP for her to check it out. She laughed and said that there was nothing there to feel. A few months later I returned to the surgery for a smear test. At the same time I asked the nurse to check if she could feel anything. She said she couldn't. I had said to her I really didn't know what to look for, or how do I know the lump was to do with cancer. She advised that you should feel for a small pea size lump. I said that I felt it was bigger than that and she said she couldn't feel anything. So off I went again.

I spoke to my husband and he said that he couldn't feel anything. Unfortunately he was having an affair with a woman who has suspected ovarian cancer and so I soon realised that his attentions were elsewhere. One week I had severe headaches for a week and by Friday I couldn't take much more and so called the GP, who advised me to come to the surgery straight away. He diagnosed migraine. However, at this time I asked him about a lump I could feel. He said that there was nothing there but could be a cyst there. I said well I have become paranoid and I guess I needed reassurance. He said no problem and at any time I need reassurance to return for another check.

During this time I went to Morocco to visit my twin sister, and a Moroccan paediatrician friend said that he could feel something. I told him I’d had it checked out, and that my GP said that it was probably a cyst, and nothing to worry about. At this time I thought what does a Moroccan children’s doctor know. How ignorant and stupid could I be!

My marriage over, some months later, in October 2001, I moved to England, began a new job and lived in my sister’s house while she was in Morocco. Things were going well. I felt good, healthy and I had lost 2.5 stones in weight for the Millennium and I was managing to maintain my weight. I was ready for a new start.

Six weeks into the new job my manager insisted I register with a surgery and also get checked out. The duty GP examined me and was angry. He said that it was obvious that I had this lump for some time, and that my breast wall had started to pucker. The tumour had already started to attach itself to my breast wall. He said that he thought it was breast cancer and would make an appointment at the city hospital. I had to have surgery within the week. I had grade 3 cancer, had a mastectomy, and I was angry and upset. A few weeks later, in January 2002, I had chemotherapy and then radiotherapy.

While at home I would cry every evening because that was the close of day and things stopped. Who would want me now? I was also putting on weight. How could God allow me to go through this and why? My twin sister handed in her resignation to look after me. At this point I thought I had better pull myself together and stop crying, I didn't want her to know how upset I was. I didn't want her to be upset too.

Many weeks later I convinced her that I didn't need looking after and that she should return to Morocco. I was so grateful for her help and love. But we both returned to Morocco for me to convalesce. It was lovely to feel the sun on my face, to feel relaxed and to each lunch outside in January. Soon it was time to return to England. I went back to work and began my chemotherapy. My oncologist asked why I was working while having treatment, but I asked why not?

Now I am 43 and divorced. I have a Moroccan fiancé who loves me very much and accepts the way I am. How I had underestimated men! I know I have had men in my life, but as soon as they realised I’d had a mastectomy some left, never to be seen again.

In January 2007, I looked forward to finishing my Tamoxifen, but the oncologist decided I should continue until March, just to ensure that I’d had 5 years of Tamoxifen. March came and went and I saw the surgeon to check things were OK on my 6-monthly examinations. He decided that I should have a blood test and to check out my hormones. It has now been decided that I should continue for another year with the Tamoxifen and that I am now in the perimenopause status.

I have so many questions to ask. The oncologist has advised that I see my GP to get my answers. Surely he cannot answer the question on what the oncologist has decided. I am so very upset; I wanted to look forward to another start. I wanted to finish my medication; I wanted to have the chance of losing weight as the Tamoxifen makes me feel continuously hungry. The reconstruction surgeon will not perform surgery until I lose at least 2 stones. I take blood pressure tablets. I thought maybe going off the Tamoxifen I would lose weight, which would lead to better blood pressure. Am I too old to have children now? Am I still ovulating? There are so many questions. I feel the surgery was just yesterday; it is so vivid in my memory.

My GP appointment is tomorrow morning, I do hope my questions can be answered satisfactorily. Although I cannot turn back the clock, I want people to learn by my mistake of not pushing the doctors to send me to the hospital in Scotland to get checked out, for not listening to the Moroccan doctor. I believe that there is no one who knows your body like you and, therefore, if you feel things are not quite right stand your ground. It is no good us carrying out the checks if the GPs are not prepared to check it out further.

Vanessa A McCormick


some resources:

  • National Cancer Institute offers comprehensive information about breast cancer
  • American Cancer Society presents everything you need to know to cope with cancer and its effects
  • Cancer Care Inc. is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide free professional help to people with all cancers through counseling, education, information and referral and direct financial assistance.
  • National Lympedema Network (NLN) provides education and guidance to lymphedema patients, healthcare professionals and the general public by disseminating information on the prevention and management of primary and secondary lymphedema. The latter can develop as a result of cancer surgery, radiation, infection or trauma.








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Updated  05/15/2010