Tell your friends to check their boobs

In late November, I was just about to take off my bra in bed, when my hand touched something hard in my breast, that was definitely not my nipple.

It was late at night on a Sunday, my now-boyfriend was asleep and all I could do was lie down and try and find what I'd thought I'd felt.

I lay there, my heart beating out of my chest, gently using my fingers to go around my body, until it landed on a small, hard lump beneath the skin, '2 o'clock from the nipple' as my Doctor's note would later say. 

My mum survived breast cancer when I was 11, but my grandma passed away from it before I was born, and my Aunt who married into my dad's side had also passed away from breast cancer. In short, I have been conditioned to check my boobs regularly - which is how I knew that this lump was new.

My first thought was that I was only 25. Surely, surely, this can't be cancer. My second, was that I had an acute history of breast cancer within my family - and I knew that age meant next to nothing. My third, was that I was in Germany, with a man I'd known for 3 weeks lying next to me as my only support system, and absolutely no knowledge of the German language.

I can't say how long I lay there with these thoughts rolling in my head, but eventually, I fell asleep, resolved that first thing in the morning I would get an appointment with a Doctor and go from there.

I don't want to make this blog post about my ordeal over the next month, because the most important thing is that I did get the Doctor's appointment. My housemate, fluent in English and German, came with me to the appointment on Tuesday morning. 

I was told, through translation, that the aggravating factors were my family history and the feel and size of the tumour. In my favour, was my age and general health and wellbeing. We wouldn't know anything, the Doctor said, until I had a sonogram.

After the sonogram, I was asked to have a mammogram and after the mammogram, I was scheduled in for a biopsy. I went to my local hospital to have a local anaesthetic, and they removed a piece of the tumour for it to be tested.

I then waited for 10 days, from the 16th to 28th December, to find out whether my tumour was benign, or if I had cancer.

During that time, however, I had one thing that I knew 100%. If I was diagnosed with cancer, I could not have acted faster. If the tumour was not benign, I absolutely knew that it had grown to that size within no more than 2 weeks, because that was the last time I checked my boobs whilst in the shower. 

The mad thing is, that it's only in the last couple of years that I started taking it seriously. I'm not sure what my mentality for that was - I think a part of me just thought I would always 'find' a lump, and the other part of me thought it just wasn't necessary in my early 20s. Yet there I was at 25, having a biopsy for a lump in my breast.

Naturally, I was an emotional wreck during this time. And I don't know how I'd have pulled through it without Jacob as my entire support system, or my housemate for coming with me to appointments and translating where possible. However, the other thing I did, for better or worse, was to look into chat rooms for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or are awaiting results. 

And the number one thing that struck me, was that every single one of us needs to be checking our boobs or chests. 

On these forums were 18 years olds who had just been diagnosed, there were men on there who had no idea that 2000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the US each, there were trans people on there looking for support. The reality is that nobody is free from the risk of cancer. No matter your age or gender. No matter who you are. 

I also can't sit here and pretend that I didn't recognise my privilege in being able to go and get a Doctor's appointment. Although being in a foreign country presented its own battles, I was still able to find the time in my day to make it happen, I was still in a country that offered free consultations (initially), and I was able to take myself to that appointment. 

Not everybody is so lucky, but knowing that I did everything as quickly as possible and that I was aware of the timeframe this could have grown in, helped me. More than once, it crossed my mind that this was not equal to a guarantee that if I was diagnosed with cancer, it wouldn't be Stage 4, or terminal. I spent Christmas Day, unable to get home to my family, with this thought in the back of my mind. But I did know, that if I did have that type of diagnosis, it wouldn't be because I'd acted too slowly, or hadn't prioritised it, or hadn't been checking my boobs in the shower every month.

On the 28th of December, I was told the tumour was benign. The 6 weeks I spent being tested and awaiting my results was merely 5% of the trauma millions of people go through every year when being diagnosed with cancer, and it was still one of the worst experiences of my life. 

I am so lucky this time, but that doesn't mean that in 6 months, or a year, or five years or 20 years, I won't find another lump and not be so lucky. 

The only thing I can do, and that you can do, is to keep checking yourself. Keep attending smear appointments, keep feeling your body in the shower for any abnormalities. Whatever your age, your gender, your privilege - it's indiscriminate. And the one way to give yourself the best chance possible, if like me, you find a lump, is by finding it early.

Here are some useful resources:

How to check your breasts

A guide to examining your breasts

Information on breast cancer screening

What should your testicles look and feel like?

How to check your balls