By Lauren Edwards
On Sunday, Sarah Harding, of Girls Aloud fame, tragically died at the incredibly young age of 39.
In August 2020, with hospitals overwhelmed in the early days of Covid, Sarah attended A&E after experiencing pain in her breast, having previously ignored a lump that she thought was a cyst. She was given the devastating news that it was breast cancer. As the destructive disease quickly spread to her lung and other parts of her body, Sarah wrote her biography Hear Me Out, where she spoke candidly about her treatment.
I didn’t know Sarah or really follow her music career, but I felt a deep sadness on hearing about her passing. I also felt sad that the news coverage about her death described how she ‘didn’t catch it early enough’ or that she ‘had lost her battle’. Many of my family members have had to ‘fight’ cancer, some have survived and sadly most haven’t. The odds are often stacked against you. Yes, we should check our boobs regularly for lumps, but my Mum’s breast cancer lump was hidden and was only found during a routine mammogram – which she was only offered after the age of 50.
We need wider research into breast cancer for women younger than 50, where they are offered routine ultrasounds, blood testing and detailed investigation into possible risk factors. Earlier this year, Sarah released the song Wear it like a crown with all proceeds being donated to The Christie Hospital in Manchester, where she was a patient. The Christie have said that they will use the money raised to fund research into preventing breast cancer among women aged 30-39 who have no family history of the disease.
I know she won’t want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered instead.Marie Harding, Sarah’s Mum
We at AION, are passionate about supporting women and raising awareness on issues that may affect us all.
Here, I share my own experiences of the fear of finding a breast lump. I am thankful and incredibly lucky that my story was a happy one. However, we must continue to fight for better research into women’s health so that tragic stories like Sarah’s will one day hopefully no longer occur.
Keeping a ‘breast’ of the situation
We need to talk about our boobs or breasts, bosoms or our puppies, the twins or our Danny Devito’s (honestly this was a breast reference in Cosmopolitan magazine!). However you choose to describe them, whether you flaunt them or hide them, dress them in luxurious lingerie, play with them or feed your baby with them, they should be given the attention they deserve as it could very well save your life one day.
I admit that I am rubbish at checking my boobs regularly or properly. I normally reserve my own consultation for the shower or bath and become easily obsessed with what is or isn’t a lump. Breast cancer has become a very unwelcome visitor in my family, as it undoubtedly has in yours or in those around you. My Mum is a survivor; sadly, we lost my Aunt and now my cousin is fighting this horrid disease. As a result of the heightened risk factor, the remaining ladies in my family (including me) are invited for yearly mammograms.
I am super thankful for this, as a few years ago I found a lump in my right breast and it was a terrifying feeling that changed everything. The lump felt large and solid and it was located at the top of my breast, almost under my arm. At first, I decided to ignore it, convinced myself it was ‘nothing to worry about’. But then I became obsessed with its presence, finding myself copping a feel whenever I could, pretending I was scratching a non-existent mosquito bite in Sainsburys to check it was still there. I eventually realised this behaviour was just plain weird and finally booked a doctor’s appointment.
My Mum assured me that my over-prodded lump felt normal to her and was nothing scary but happily agreed to accompany me to my appointment at the breast clinic. The doctor gave me an overview of all things mammary and then prepared me for my examination. She then proceeded to knead my boobs as I laid back and considered what an excellent loaf of bread she could make. She surmised that my lump was probably ‘fatty tissue’ and that she was more concerned by my left breast as it had a ‘thickening to one side’ which needed further investigation and so sent me along the corridor for a mammogram.
If you haven’t had the experience of a mammogram yet, it’s a bit like putting your boob in a sandwich toaster. A nurse places your breast on a cold metal plate like she is about to fillet a fish, then instructs you to not move but to allow her to adjust your position for you. So, there I was, without top but still with jeans and boots on, with a very lovely nurse moving my arms and hips around in a weird sort of robotic dance as I awkwardly hugged a machine with my breast in an excruciating vice like grip.
Following this, just to make doubly sure that my lump and new ‘thickening’ was of no concern, I was taken to another room for an ultrasound. This was the third time I had had to strip off my top half but this time I was handed a paper towel as a dignity cover. A male doctor in a bow tie and a very assertive manner sat on the edge of my bed, forcing me to ‘budge up’. I was then instructed to remove my paper towel, along with my last shred of dignity, as he picked up a giant bottle of lubricant and squeezed a huge dollop in the middle of my boobs.
He then proceeded to use the ultrasound scanner in a windscreen wiper fashion, dispersing the lube as I held my arms above my head. He went on to explain that ‘my breasts were extremely dense’. I almost said thanks. He said that this meant that the mammogram would not really give him the desired results which was why this ultrasound was required. Firstly, he checked my ‘lump’ and thankfully his diagnosis was that it was “merely muscle, or fat, or maybe a vein”. He then moved on to my ‘thickening’ and said that there were small cysts in both my breasts, which apparently are ‘normal’ but that I need to be vigorous with my checking from now on.
I know how lucky I am as the outcome could have been very different. However, it did make me realise that being breast aware is not just about feeling but looking too. Do they look the same this week/month? Have you noticed any changes? Do they feel different? Are they sore? Have your nipples changed? My Mum didn’t find a lump before her diagnosis, a lump was discovered during a routine mammogram and the only changes she noticed was that one of her breasts had started looking larger than the other.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, but the survival rate is generally good, particularly if diagnosed early. The key is to get to know your boobs better. A great place to start and to get more information on signs and symptoms to be aware of, as well as tips on how to check yourself, is with the fantastically informative people at www.coppafeel.org