Sophie Jackson, 26, might not be here today if she had listened to her doctor. She noticed a large lump on her right breast, so she decided to have it checked out by her general physician. But the provider told her it was likely due to her menstrual cycle and that they would have to wait another four weeks to see if anything had changed before they could do anything.
But the lump turned out to be anything but ordinary. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer, a short while later.
“I cried my eyes out and first asked if I was going to die and second if I was going to lose all my hair,” Jackson said. “Other than the lump I had no other symptoms whatsoever. It felt completely random, and the diagnosis was such a shock.
Jackson is no stranger to cancer. She works as an oncology nurse as part of the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS). Given her experience with the issue, she decided to get a second opinion and pushed for a referral to a breast cancer clinic.
She said she was disappointed by her GP’s initial reaction.
“I felt let down. The doctors initially thought it was nothing purely based on age,” she explained. “I feel frustrated on the guidance out there with the ‘stereotypical’ lumps to look for such as being hard or non-moveable as mine met all the criteria to be what they classed as ‘nothing.’”
She sought the advice of a specialist, who diagnosed her with breast cancer after running a few tests. They caught it late, and Jackson knew she was in for a long, arduous road to recovery. Since being diagnosed in November, she has been through ten rounds of radiotherapy and underwent surgery to remove the tumor.
Jackson is now cancer-free thanks to her quick thinking. She recently returned to work at University Hospitals Dorset and said the experience has left her with a better understanding of what her cancer patients are going through.
Unfortunately, doctors told her that the tumor is likely to return within the next two years considering the aggressive nature of her disease.
While she is happy to be back at work, Jackson is also mourning the chance to be a mother because she went through medically induced menopause during treatment. She now takes regular injections to reduce the amount of estrogen in her body. High levels of the female sex hormone can increase the risk of breast cancer tumors growing.
Jackson is now on a mission to spread the word about her experience. She encourages women of all ages to get checked for breast cancer and to seek a referral if they need a second opinion.
“If I’d left it four weeks like the GP suggested, it may have spread in that time and I’d have been looking at an incurable diagnosis.”
Breast cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in the U.S., with 288,000 diagnoses a year. It accounts for 30% of all female cancers in the country.
Jackson also admitted that she was frustrated throughout the experience because she already knew how the process works.
“When I was diagnosed it was extremely overwhelming — usually you drip feed patient information as it is way too much to take on at once. I didn’t have that luxury and instead was instantly aware of facing surgery, chemo, losing my hair and becoming infertile at such a young age. I think my job did help in a way as I didn’t have the expected anxieties about chemo,” she added.
“I knew what would happen, I knew the drugs, and I knew and trusted the people giving it to me which saved a lot of worrying. It felt really strange receiving chemotherapy drugs I’d given to other patients before, like an out of body experience. I was also in disbelief seeing my name on the chemo bag and having my details checked when it was usually me on the other side.”
She also learned more about what it was like for her patients to lose their hair. Jackson eventually lost all the hair on her head and started wearing scarves instead.
Coming back to work has forced Jackson to face her fears of her cancer coming back, but she is doing her part to help others advocate for proper medical care.
“I’d just love to spread awareness that cancer can affect you at a young age even with no family history, no genetics, no risk factors other than taking the contraceptive pill,” she said. “Early detection has saved my life so it’s so important to check monthly and push to get things checked out. You are never wasting anyone’s time.”