By Alyce Collins
THIS MOTHER-OF-TWO was the picture of health after completing a half marathon less than five months after giving birth, but this soon changed when she discovered a LUMP on her breast whilst BREASTFEEDING her son – and now she is urging the government to lower the screening age of mammograms after learning that breast cancer can happen to anyone.
Amy Palmer (30) from Paignton, Devon, UK, had successfully completed her first half-marathon in February 2019, just five months after giving birth to her youngest son, Lenny (11 months). That same week, Amy also celebrated turning 30 and was feeling healthier than ever.
Less than a month after completing the Exeter half marathon, Amy found a lump in her right breast while breastfeeding Lenny. She saw her GP about the lump but was assured it was only mastitis and she need only come back if the lump was still present two weeks later.
After two weeks, the lump was still noticeable, so she returned to have an ultrasound and a biopsy of the lump, but the doctors still insisted it was unlikely to be cancer. One week later, Amy received a call from her doctor asking if she’d be able to come in that afternoon, at which point she knew the diagnosis had to be cancer.
On March 20, 2019 Amy was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer, devastating Amy and her husband, Colin (35) and her older son, Frankie (3). A lumpectomy on April 11 removed a lump which was an inch in size, and Amy is currently undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy before starting radiation in October.
After receiving her diagnosis, Amy had to stop breastfeeding her youngest son which was the first of many sacrifices she would have to make as a mother battling cancer. It was hard for Amy to explain to Frankie what was wrong, and she has felt an enormous amount of ‘mum guilt’ as treatment has led her to miss out on a lot of memories with her family.
“Six weeks before I was diagnosed, I ran my first half marathon less than five months after having Lenny,” said Amy.
“Then I turned 30 just four days later and I celebrated with a Great Gatsby themed birthday party. I’d like to think I was quite healthy prior to my diagnosis.
“Just five weeks after all that, on March 20, I was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer. It was a complete shock because I felt healthy and I was only 30.
“I had been breastfeeding my son, who was only five months old at the time, when I discovered a lump in my breast. I went to the doctors but only to be told they didn’t think it was cancer, but it could possibly be mastitis. So, I was instructed to go back two weeks later if the lump was still there.
“Two weeks later, it was still there so I went back, and my doctor sent me to have an ultrasound and a biopsy done at the local breast care unit. Again, when I got there, they told me that they still didn’t think it was cancer.
“I got a phone call the following week to say they had my results back and they asked if I was able go in that afternoon. I knew then that I had cancer. I remember I couldn’t get hold of my husband so then I rang my mum and told her it was bad news straight away.
“So, when I got there later that day and they told me it was cancer I sort of already knew, but me and my husband cried, nonetheless.
“They immediately booked me in to have my lumpectomy in April when they removed a lump and checked my lymph nodes, which were clear, luckily.
“Within 48 hours of finding out, I had to stop breastfeeding Lenny. For me, this was a big thing because I breastfed Frankie for 12 months and had planned to do the same with Lenny. Thankfully, he took to the bottle like a little gem, which made my life so much easier.”
Amy’s cancer diagnosis took her entire family by shock because she was a young and healthy new mother. Amy has learned that breast cancer can affect women at any age, but mammogram screening is only applicable for women aged 50 and over. However, Amy is urging for the minimum age to be lowered to at least 18 years old so breast cancer can be discovered in younger women at an earlier stage.
Amy shared her cancer diagnosis on Instagram, @cancer.life.in.little.squares after her first chemotherapy session because she wanted to be open with her friends and family so that people wouldn’t treat her differently or be unsure what to say to her when they saw her. Amy doesn’t want people to treat her differently because of cancer, which she says is just a hurdle she is overcoming.
“It affected my family a lot, but they have all been incredible, especially my mum and dad who have had to help me on the days when I struggle to get out of bed while my husband is at work. You just never think it’s going to happen to you,” said Amy.
“Chemotherapy hasn’t been easy, especially with two young children. It’s exhausted me and had many different side effects including awful nausea, mouth sores and my body aches. After my first chemotherapy, I was hospitalised with sepsis, which wasn’t nice for my family and it was the first time I’d ever been away from my children.
“Since day one, I have always said that my diagnosis has been harder for the people around me. All I can do is get through it and stay positive, yet everyone around me feels helpless.
“We have been very honest with Frankie, but in a child friendly way, which has worked well for us and we are so proud of him for every hurdle he has taken on. Luckily Lenny is too young to understand. The amount of support I have had has been overwhelming and I can’t thank everyone enough.
“The first difficulty I had to face was having to stop breastfeeding which I really struggled with. I loved breastfeeding, but luckily Lenny was amazing. The hair loss was the next biggest thing which made me cry for days.
“My hair was down by my waist, so before I started chemotherapy, I decided to chop it off and donate it. Then, when it did start falling out, it felt like my comfort blanket was being ripped away, so I decided to shave it off and get one step ahead of cancer.
“It’s been hard explaining to Frankie that mummy is poorly, but she will be alright. The mum guilt has been horrendous and I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot, even though I make sure I get out with the boys as much as I can, even if I have to force myself out for an ice cream on my worst days! I will spend the rest of my life making it up to them.
“I just want young girls to check regularly and not be afraid to go to the doctors. I believe we should be able to have mammograms early for this exact reason. Unfortunately, anyone can get cancer. I never checked regularly and I believe if I wasn’t breastfeeding my boy, I wouldn’t have found it. Breastfeeding saved my life!”
To see more, visit www.instagram.com/cancer.life.in.little.squares