Alice was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, aged just 26. It’s a common misconception that breast cancer only affects older women, so we sat down to get all the details and to to find out that checking your boobs could one day save your life…
How did you discover you had breast cancer?
“I found the lump in my right breast when I was in the shower. I initially thought it was just muscular, and to be honest, I forgot about it for a couple of weeks. I later realised that there was a noticeable lump there. Other than that, I was in the best health of my life. If hadn’t been in the habit of coppin’ a feel on a regular basis, there’s a strong chance I wouldn’t have found that lump -my cancer was one of the more aggressive types of breast cancer, and had I not found it when I did, we could be looking at a totally different narrative to the one I’m living now – the one where I’m happy, healthy and cancer free.
In short, checking your boobs could save your life.”
What were your biggest worries when you were diagnosed?
“ I very much focused on one thing at a time, but I suppose my biggest concern was how my illness would affect my family. I remember one of the first things I said after they told me it was cancer was ‘How will I tell my Mum?’”
What was your treatment process and how did you get on with everything?
“I had a mastectomy three weeks after I was diagnosed, then I had fertility treatment to preserve my chances of having kids when I get older, six rounds of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy. The chemotherapy was the hardest part for me – it’s a mentally, physically and emotionally gruelling treatment that takes a lot of strength to get through. Often I didn’t have the strength myself so had to borrow it from my incredible friends and family. I also had complications with my mastectomy, leading to 4 follow-up surgeries and the eventual loss of my implant. I’m completely flat on my right hand side, so adjusting to that has been a journey, even though it’s not forever.”
What was the hardest thing about being so young during this all?
“The hardest thing about being so young and getting diagnosed with breast cancer is that your life immediately gets put on hold because of these nasty little cells that decided to mutate inside you. On the day my colleagues were having their Christmas party, I was getting hooked up for my fourth dose of chemotherapy. You swap nights out for nights in hospital, dinners with friends for anti-sickness medication – not to mention the impact a cancer diagnosis has on your relationships, work life and the possible prospects of having kids later in life.”
What do you do for CoppaFeel!?
“I am a Boobette for CoppaFeel! which means I go into schools, colleges, workplaces, WI meetings (anywhere anyone will have me actually) and talk about the importance of self checking. We’re very much of the opinion that late diagnosis of breast cancer shouldn’t exist, so the Boobettes go into schools to encourage young people to get into the habit of checking themselves regularly, so that if they notice a change, they can take action on it quickly.”
And what advice would you give to young girls going through the same thing?
“The best advice I can give is to just keep going. You will find reserves of strength you never could have imagined having and just when you think you absolutely can’t feel any worse, you’ll start feeling better. Talk about how you’re feeling – whether that’s to a trusted loved one, friend or even a specialist counsellor, just talking honestly is invaluable. Find as many excuses as you can to laugh. Plan little treats for your ‘good weeks’. Rest as much as you need to. And, possibly most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for how you’re reacting to treatment. Cry if you need to. Spend the day in bed if you need to. Shout if you need to. Do whatever you need to get through. And don’t feel guilty.”
What are your tips for staying psychologically strong?
“I wrote about my treatment on my blog which definitely helped me process everything that was happening to me and assisted me with staying as psychologically strong as possible, but I was also lucky enough to get some counselling through Dimbleby Cancer Care – it was nice to just have a space where someone would tell me it’s OK to feel everything.”
What did you do after you were diagnosed to get through?
“I was diagnosed about a week after Glastonbury 2015. Within minutes of getting my diagnosis, I had decided I would be at Glastonbury 2016, by hook or by crook. As soon as we had secured tickets for that in October (thank God we did!), I concentrated on getting through treatment and making it to Glasto. I saw it as a way to bookend my treatment and it felt like such an enormous personal achievement to get there. There were certainly tears while I was there! As well as that, I got married, went on a wonderful holiday to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and I left my full time job to become a freelancer.”
Tell us more about how we can get involved and what we can do to help?
“The most important thing you can do is CHECK YOUR BOOBS. I recommend doing it RIGHT NOW, while you’re reading this (I mean, unless you’re in the library or something) and then I recommend signing up to CoppaFeel’s text reminder service, so you get a monthly nudge to cop a feel. I’d also say you should be sharing this message with your pals (not just women either, dudes can get breast cancer too) so the next time you’re out for a drink with your girlfriends, you should ask them when they last checked their boobs and encourage them to make it a regular habit.”