Scots woman's devastating cancer diagnosis after finding lump on arm

A Scots woman was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer weeks before her 30th birthday, after noticing a small lump under her arm.

Katherine, now 34, got the shock diagnosis just days after the country went into lockdown.

While attending appointments on her own she was getting happy birthday messages from friends and loved ones, having to break the devastating news on Zoom that she had cancer.

The former consultant didn't feel a lump on her breast until she attended her local GP practice and had to wait six weeks to get a referral to the breast clinic, Edinburgh Live reports.

Throughout those six weeks, she "kind of knew" she was going to receive bad news and prepared for the worst.

She had discovered a small lump under her arm and went to the GP where another lump on her breast was discovered.

"I couldn't feel a lump on my breast which I was checking but they referred me to the breast clinic as the doctor could feel something there," she continued.

"At that point I knew it was most likely the diagnosis. It took six weeks to get my referral which should have been more urgent as I was showing signs of it spreading.

"Throughout those six weeks my friends and family were telling me it probably isn't cancer and people get cysts all the time.

"I guess you use all the evidence you can to rationalise and think rationally but with two weeks to go I started to panic as the lump under my arm started to get bigger and everything was getting a bit too much."

Katherine recalls attending appointments on her own as covid restrictions were in place. She carried on going alone even after they were lifted, as it became normal to her.

She had chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as the cancer had spread to above her collarbone.

Four years later, Katherine has only just finished three years of maintenance treatment and has gone through an induced "extreme" menopause which left her so fatigued she couldn't function.

Katherine said: "I was diagnosed just days after lockdown so it was a crazy time. The NHS was starting to prepare for the worst. There were no face to face appointments so it was difficult to chase things up.

"The majority of people knew I was going in to the appointment but obviously I couldn't tell everyone about my diagnosis face to face so it had to be over a Zoom call.

"It was my 30th birthday two weeks after I was diagnosed so when people were reaching out to ask how I was I had to tell them I'd actually been diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I wanted to freeze my eggs as I didn't know what the future would look like. I started chemotherapy six weeks after, then I had surgery and a full axillary clearance which removed all the lymph nodes underneath my arm to my collarbone.

"Then I had four weeks of radiotherapy as my cancer had spread above my collarbone making it more complicated. It was the worst type of stage three. A new type of drug had just been approved in Scotland at the time so I then had 10 months of chemotherapy which lasted until October 2021.

"I've had just under three years of maintenance treatment which has been equally debilitating."

Katherine said the side effects of maintenance treatment, including fatigue, brain fog and bone pain have left her so exhausted she has been unable to work regular hours, cook dinner or clean her flat.

"After such a length of time I just wanted a bit of my normal life back. I just wanted to look after myself so I sacrificed work. The treatment has basically been making me medically menopausal.

"It's like an extreme menopause. You don't start it gradually, it chucks you in at the absolute deep end with chronic side effects instantly. I'm on so much codeine to manage my bone pain. It's a four-weekly injection so maybe five days either side I can be ok but the rest of the time is hell.

"I would also experience problems recalling words. It's hard to explain but brain fog is like being so tired you can't verbalise something in your head and you keep stopping in the middle of sentences as you forget what you're trying to say."

Now she's thinking of getting back to work. "I'm now in the process of thinking about returning to work and looking at jobs. I had to give up my job as after two years off I really struggled getting back to work and decided to just focus on getting through treatment and not stressing about work on top of everything else."

Katherine has praised Maggie's centre in Edinburgh for their support.

"I'm in a really good place now because of Maggie's. I know that if I was ever upset and needed a friendly call to say I was having a wobble they would be there."

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