A mother is beating cancer after getting checked early when she felt like “something was pulling her breast”.
Sue Makin became concerned when she felt the symptom during a holiday in Turkey. The 66-year-old woman had a routine scan before she went away and, while she was abroad, a letter arrived in the post with a follow-up appointment at hospital, which her daughter rearranged for the day after Sue was due home.
The retired office worker, from Aintree, Merseyside, underwent tests at the appointment and was later diagnosed with breast cancer, which had spread to a lymph node under her arm.
Gran-of-four Sue said: “I didn’t panic or anything. I didn’t even cry when they told me. They just said ‘it’s very early days, it’s very small’. I just put my confidence in the doctors and I trust what they say.
“What I felt was, let me get in hospital as quick as I can, get this lump out, get this chemo as quick as I can and start radiotherapy, let’s get this done, over with and move on.”
The mother beat thyroid cancer 15 years ago, Liverpool Echo reports.
When Sue called her children to share the news, she initially felt guilty until her daughter told her: “Mum, you’ve done it once, you can do it again, you’re a strong woman”.
Sue said: “It spurred me on. I felt guilty putting them through this again, but it made me positive.”
Zoe Winters explains how to check for breast cancer
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When Sue checked her right breast in Turkey, she found a small lump and assumed it was another cyst.
But it a dimpling soon appeared on the right side of her cleavage, “as if there was something pulling it in”.
Talking about her screenings, including the one she had before she jetted off to Turkey, the retiree said: “Quite often when I go, I have a cyst, I go back and I get that drained, so I didn’t worry at all. I had thyroid cancer 15 years ago, so to be honest with you, I thought I’d got a pass so I wouldn’t catch it again, so I wasn’t a bit worried. But I’m never worried when going for one, it’s just like going to the dentist for a check-up.”
Sue’s “very small” lump grew fast. From nothing on her holiday in June, it grew to 13mm by the time a consultant examined her at Aintree Hospital in July. Three weeks later when a surgeon cut the cancer out, the lump was 17mm.
It was an aggressive, triple negative breast cancer. Accounting for 15 per cent of breast cancers, this aggressive type is faster-growing, harder to treat, and more likely to come back. Sue said: “Thank goodness I went.”
Sue finished chemotherapy in January and said it did “really get on top” of her. She said she is usually a glass-half-full kind of person but cried as she worried whether the cancer had or would spread to other lymph nodes. Sue said: “They took two out, and it wasn’t in the second or third ones. But what if it’s in five or six or the seventh one? The breast nurse said, ‘You were very early diagnosed, and it was very, very small, and we took it all out’.”
Clear explanations from staff, peer-to-peer support and massages from The Sunshine Group, and binge watching Chesapeake Shores on Netflix, helped Sue get through her treatment. She’s soon starting a final three-week course of radiotherapy and is looking forward to a 14-day cruise to Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey.
Sue, who is a patient representative for Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance, said: “It’s been brilliant being able to have all my treatment so close to home. I’ve been really well throughout and the NHS staff have been marvellous. My advice to other women is, if there’s a test, take it. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve been checked out. Most times you get the all-clear, but if you don’t then it’s about giving yourself the best possible chance.”
NHS data published last month shows 91 per cent of people diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, when the tumour is small like Sue’s, live at least five years. This falls to 39 per cent in stage four when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The NHS invites women – and some trans men, non-binary and intersex people – aged between 50 and 70 for a mammogram every three years to help detect breast cancers too small to see. It runs mobile screening vans in community locations like supermarkets, as well as in hospitals.
In a drive to catch up with screenings not carried out during the pandemic, the NHS invited a record 3.17m women to attend breast screening appointments last year. In the North West, 787,550 women aged 50 to 70 were invited to book check-ups, but nearly 40 per cent of eligible people didn’t attend.
Liverpool has the worst take-up rate in Cheshire and Merseyside, with 57 per cent of invitees making an appointment for a breast screening. The figure rises to 70.5 per cent in Cheshire West and Chester.
NHS England’s medical director, Dr Michael Gregory, said: “Sue’s story shows us just how effective the NHS breast screening programme is at detecting cancer at an early stage, and the earlier cancer is found the more treatable it is.
“Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, but also has one of the highest survival rates, which is in part thanks to the breast screening programme, as early detection makes all the difference. So I would encourage women to be Breast Aware and understand their breast health.
“I would also urge anyone who has received an appointment letter for breast screening to take up the offer and book an appointment at your local screening service as soon as possible.”
People can check their own bodies for signs of cancer, and the NHS is encouraging people to be “breast aware” by getting to know how their breasts look and feel. It encouraged them to check their breasts regularly, even if they’ve had a recent mammogram, and contact their GP urgently if they notice any “abnormal changes”.
According to the NHS, the symptoms of breast cancer include:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- a discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- a change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
- a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
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