How did you get diagnosed with breast cancer?
Vicky (left): I had discharge from my left breast and I immediately made a doctor’s appointment. While the discharge turned out to be nothing it made me check myself carefully, and few days before my appointment I found a lump in my right breast. I was soon referred to a clinic for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. That day they told me I had breast cancer. It was a huge shock – I thought I was too young to have cancer, although my mum had also had breast cancer when she was 42. I kept saying, “I’m sorry” to my husband. I felt guilty because I knew our lives would change dramatically.
Lisa (centre): I went straight to the GP when I found a large lump, and was referred for more tests. My world crumbled when they confirmed it was breast cancer. I work as a nurse in breast reconstruction, which meant I understood the results. It also means I’ve been going through the department where I normally work, this time as a patient.
Sophie (right): I had a lump in my armpit, but put off going to the GP for a while, hoping it would go away. When I finally visited the GP, I was referred for more tests. When I saw my husband waiting in the results room, I knew it was bad news. It was devastating to be told I had breast cancer.
You were a lot younger than many of the people you were treated alongside – how did that feel?
Vicky: Every time I went to the oncology ward, I was the youngest in there by about 20 years. I wanted to speak to someone who understood exactly how I felt, but that was difficult. Although my mum had experienced breast cancer and was a great support, I didn’t want to tell her how frightened I was. You try hard to protect the people around you by hiding how upset you are, which can be really lonely. Friends and family say, “You’ll be alright” but occasionally, you want someone who can understand when you say, “I’m really frightened that I’m going to die.” I didn’t feel like I could be completely open about how I truly felt with my family, which is why I turned to Instagram.
How did you all find each other on Instagram?
Lisa: I used to watch Vicky talking about breast cancer on Instagram Stories. I found it comforting because I agreed with everything she was saying. I used to message her saying I felt like we were going through the same thing. At the same time, Sophie and I were also messaging.
Sophie: I went looking for hashtags like #youngbreastcancer so I could find people the same age to talk to. I used to watch Vicky’s videos religiously too – I felt like I knew her!
Then Lisa popped up and we started chatting. That’s when our WhatsApp group appeared. We’re on there every day!
How did having that group help?
Vicky: We were going through experiences like hair loss at the same time. Losing your hair in your thirties – or at any age – is awful, but knowing I had two women at the end of the phone who were going through the same thing helped. It can feel like you’re the only person in the whole world going through that.
Lisa: I don’t think anyone can understand what it’s like to lose your eyelashes until it happens.
Vicky: Or nose hairs – those are saviours! Without them your nose runs constantly.
Lisa: We’ve all had single mastectomies as well. Nobody can understand that without experiencing it.
Did you expect to find such strong support through social media?
Vicky: Originally I was looking for reassurance, for someone to say, “I understand how you’re feeling.” But it’s become so much more than that. It’s not just about cancer, it’s about friendship, and that’s why this is so special. Social media can have negatives but for anyone feeling lonely, I would definitely suggest
searching the hashtags on Instagram.
Lisa: There are lots of profiles out there that make you realise you’re not on your own.
Sophie: It’s also much easier to chat in that way. I didn’t want to sit in a room with a load of cancer patients talking and feeling depressed, I just wanted to chat online. I find it a lot easier than speaking face to face.
Why did you want to be part of this campaign?
Sophie: When treatment finishes, a lot of people think you can just crack on, but if anything I found it harder. The pressure is then just on you to get through it. Being part of this campaign has helped me to have a focus, and given me a lot of positivity. We want to turn a negative into a positive and help raise awareness of breast cancer.
Lisa: It’s often the older generation that you associate with breast cancer, so I want people to see pictures of younger women who’ve experienced it.
Vicky: Breast Cancer Now has helped me through the worst time of my life, so I feel really honoured to be part of this campaign. We’ve all had cancer diagnoses in the past two years, but we’re all still here and still happy.
Interview: Sophie Hines / Images: Coliena Rentmeester / Styling: Chloe Forde / Hair: Ben Cooke / Make-up: Karina Constantine