My Scare with Breast Cancer at 18 Years Old

BY ROXY ALLNUTT

Get in the habit of checking your breasts as frequently as you get a WOF.

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23 OCT - 2022

All it takes is a look, touch and feel.

Breast cancer awareness has always been extremely close to me after watching loved ones and strong women I admire battle this cancer fiercely. At 18 years old, the importance of this awareness became even more personal to me and it’s important that I share why.

Around this time four years ago, a YouTube ad advised me to check for breast lumps. While I thought nothing of it and carelessly checked while the next video followed, to my uncomfortable surprise there one was. When I think back to my 18-year-old self, struggling with a toxic boyfriend and tender high school friendships, the presence of this foreign thing attached to my chest felt incredibly heavy. I felt awkward talking to my mum about it and I felt the wrath of Dr. Google slowly convincing me that I wasn’t going to make it to my school ball. A quick disclaimer, yes I have hypochondriac tendencies, and yes these were in full flourish on that alarming evening.

I nervously asked my mum to book me for a mammogram as I simply wanted the stress from my own hypochondriac self to go away. To my luck, I was too young to undergo a mammogram scan, so I got to opt for a non-invasive ultrasound. Not to my luck, we found a 2.8cm lump in my left breast along with three more inside the other.

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A scary few weeks of appointments and procedures went by, followed by a nervous month of waiting for results. The ridiculous panic loomed that I needed to live my life to its fullest in my last month of normality. Should I skip school and hop the ditch across to Melbourne to shop my heart out while I’m still healthy?! Maybe I’ll go crazy and binge on all of my favourite foods before my appetite is lost.

I woke to the best news later that month that my tumours were non-cancerous. All that fuss could be forgotten. Naturally, I was quick to act and had the biggie removed as it was showing signs of growing quickly. My doctor advised me to keep a close eye on my remaining lumps and catch them if they began to grow (which reminds me to check them right now). I am so fortunate that my story turned out the way it did, but I cannot emphasise enough the necessity of being vigilant and monitoring any changes in your breasts. Checking them frequently too, not just after reading a story like this. Lumps may be frightening, but early detection is crucial, my 2.8cm growth could have gotten really ugly if I left it a year or two longer.

A reminder that being breast aware of the following could save your life
Dimpling, discharge, lumps, swelling, skin rash, unusual pain, colour change and nipple inversion.

Every day, nine people in New Zealand are diagnosed with breast cancer, meaning someone at your workplace, friend group, sports team or book club is likely to one day be diagnosed, could previously have had breast cancer, or is supporting someone with the cancer. That's 3,500 women and 25 males each year. While my situation was far smaller compared to the many other women affected by breast cancer, I can only hope from this experience is to simply ask our readers to check and check again, not just in this emphasised month of October. I recall my doctor telling me how we check our cars every six months with a WOF, so there's no reason why we shouldn't check ourselves. Even if you don't have cancer present in the family, you can always go for a scan just to check.

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The Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand is working towards a goal of zero breast cancer deaths. These teams provide support, life-saving information, and guidance in funding critical research into more effective therapies. By donating your time or money, you can help to keep this vital work going. Hosting breakfasts, donating, or even taking part in a Pink Walk all contribute to the cause in more ways than we realise. The foundation behind the campaign that I randomly came across that day in Year 13, really saved my ass. I hope that groups like these are always supported and will be there for the next woman who catches it early. If you want to remind your friends to check themselves, we’ve made a sweet graphic that you can forward to any of your loved ones.

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