Melissa Fisher (pictured), from Portsmouth, panicked when she felt a golf ball-sized lump in her right breast back in September 2020
A 28-year-old mother battling breast cancer has told how doctors wrongly assumed she was too young for disease.
Melissa Fisher, from Portsmouth, panicked when she felt a golf ball-sized lump in her right breast back in September 2020.
Desperate for answers, the air hostess saw her GP the same day and she was booked in for precautionary tests.
But after having an ultrasound, doctors assured her it was ‘definitely not cancer’ and she had nothing to worry about because she was too young to have the disease.
‘He pretty much said to me ‘you don’t need to worry about cancer, you’re too young,’ she said.
So the mother-of-one was left astonished when she was diagnosed with an aggressive time of breast cancer just one month later.
Mrs Fisher battled though grueling treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which she finished last August.
She has now celebrated one year of being cancer-free and encouraging women to regularly check their breasts for lumps.
Before her diagnosis Mrs Fisher would do regular breast exams in the shower.
So she was shocked when her lump ‘appeared out of nowhere’.
She said: ‘I washed one boob and thought “let me just have a little feel around”.
Desperate for answers, the air hostess (pictured) saw her GP the same day and she was booked in for precautionary tests
After having an ultrasound, doctors assured her her lump was ‘definitely not cancer’ and she had nothing to worry about because she was too young to have the disease
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER?
Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by a doctor.
You should also see a GP if you notice any of these symptoms:
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
- visible veins on the breast. This may signal a blockage in a blood vessel triggered by a lump or increased blood supply to the breast due to a growing tumour
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
‘It was quite subconscious. I didn’t actively think “oh I must check to make sure there’s no lump”.
‘It was hard and I couldn’t move it around but it was completely painless, it didn’t stick out or anything as you had to push in to be able to feel it.
‘To me it felt just a bit smaller than a golf ball. As soon as I found it the first thing I thought was “oh my god, this is cancer”.’
Mrs Fisher secured a GP appointment and was seen within two hours.
Even though her doctor ‘didn’t seem concerned’, she was referred for an ultrasound and biopsy at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth two-weeks later.
At that appointment, her consultant told her that ‘it’s definitely not cancer, I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about but we just need to check to be on the safe side’, Mrs Fisher said.
She added: ‘He pretty much said to me “you don’t need to worry about cancer, you’re too young”.’
But the results, shared with her in October 2020, around a month after her GP appointment, confirmed she had stage one, grade three, HER2+ invasive ductal carcinoma.
Her tumour, located in the lining of the milk duct, tested positive for HER2, a protein that encourages the cancer to grow faster.
Mrs Fisher said: ‘It was horrific to hear those words [when diagnosed].
‘I remember bursting into tears. I think the first thing that came out of my mouth was “I’m going to die, my daughter is going to grow up without a mum”.
‘It was horrible and I was on my own due to Covid.
‘I had a consultant and a breast care nurse with me and they can’t even comfort you, give you a hug or do anything as we weren’t allowed to go near one another [due to the pandemic].
‘I wasn’t expecting the news that I got because everyone kept saying to me “oh, you’ll be fine, you’re young”.
‘So I didn’t even have anyone waiting in the car park.’
Mrs Fisher said doctors shouldn’t be allowed to say that until they are certain that it is not cancer because her diagnosis took her ‘massively by surprise’.
‘One of the biggest things that really frustrates me is that people say “oh, you’re too young, you don’t have to worry about it” but in reality cancer can hit anybody at any age, she said.
Hundreds of women in their twenties are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. However, the rate is higher among older age groups, with around 13,400 women in their sixties having breast cancer confirmed.
However, she said she was ‘lucky’ that her GP was supportive because ‘so many young women can be fobbed off when they come in with symptoms’, and that she was seen so quickly – so her tumour did not become ‘more serious and untreatable’.
She added: ‘My breast care nurse was amazing. She calmed me down and then I had the realisation that I needed to now break it to my family and friends.
‘You then have to take on the role of trying to be strong while they also process the information.’
During the appointment, Mrs Fisher was reassured that she’d caught the cancer early and that it was treatable.
That November, she had a lumpectomy — surgery to remove a tumour from the breast — and sentinel lymph node biopsy, which is a test to find out if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
So the mother-of-one (pictured on her first day of chemotherapy, left, and first day of radiotherapy, right) was left astonished when she was diagnosed with an aggressive time of breast cancer just one month later
Mrs Fisher battled though grueling treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which she finished last August. She said: ‘It’s a completely obviously vain thing to have but losing your hair was one of the hardest parts for me’ (pictured)
The procedure, which uses blue dye to identify the lymph nodes, caused Mrs Fisher to suffer anaphylactic shock and meant she had to spent 24 hours on a ventilator.
After she recovered, the mother-of-one was offered fertility preservation treatment through the NHS — because she was young and her treatment could affect her ability to conceive. She managed to produce 19 eggs.
At the end of December she started chemotherapy and after six rounds finished in April 2021.
The following month Mrs Fisher had a fortnight of radiotherapy and continued with an injection to combat the HER2 protein in her cancer until August 2021.
This was then followed by a CT scan which confirmed she was in the all-clear.
Mrs Fisher said: ‘I suffered the worst anxiety when I was going through treatment.
‘I couldn’t leave the house or even just take my daughter to the park on my own. I’d feel too scared and anxious and too unwell to do anything.
‘I’d never experienced that or knew how much anxiety can physically impact your life.
‘It’s a completely obviously vain thing to have but losing your hair was one of the hardest parts for me.
‘My hair was my crown. It was my favourite part of me and l know that sounds stupid but obviously losing it is like completely losing your identity.
‘Once my treatment finished in October, I started anti-anxiety medication and spent five months having CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] and that literally changed my life.
‘It helped me live again because people think once you’ve been through cancer treatment, you’re finished, you’re cured and you’re fine, but in reality, it’s not.
‘I think a lot of people find that after cancer treatment is one of the hardest parts because you sort of lose your support network, you no longer have the hospital, you lose that security blanket of having so many people there if you need them.
‘I suffered with PTSD from when I had my surgery and the trauma that I went through.
The devoted mum (pictured on her wedding day in May 2022) has recently tied the knot with 29-year-old hubby Ashley Fisher and hopes her story of overcoming cancer can be a ‘beacon of hope’ for anyone going through treatment
She said: ‘I got married after treatment — you can live life again and be happy.’ Pictured: Mrs Fisher with husband Ashley, 29, and daughter Belle, five
After a rollercoaster experience, Mrs Fisher (pictured with daugher Belle) now does monthly breast exams and reminds her family and friends on Instagram to do the same
Mrs Fisher (pictured with daughter Belle) said: ‘Even my five-year-old checks her little chest now, bless her. Now I’m passionate about trying to spread awareness, especially for young women because there’s so many who get fobbed off — whether it’s for breast cancer or any type of cancer’
‘It’s just a lot to process and has changed me as a person but it also makes me appreciate the little things in life.’
After a rollercoaster experience, Mrs Fisher now does monthly breast exams and reminds her family and friends on Instagram to do the same.
She also urges everyone to be their ‘biggest advocate’ and to be persistent if doctors don’t initially take your symptoms seriously.
Mrs Fisher said: ‘Even my five-year-old checks her little chest now, bless her.
‘Now I’m passionate about trying to spread awareness, especially for young women because there’s so many who get fobbed off — whether it’s for breast cancer or any type of cancer.
‘They don’t get listened to until their symptoms are too bad and then there’s just so many women who pass away from secondary or metastatic cancer.
‘I think it’s so important to be an advocate for yourself and just for anyone who has been through it as well and coming out the other side — you can find hope and life again.’
The devoted mum has recently tied the knot with 29-year-old hubby Ashley Fisher and hopes her story of overcoming cancer can be a ‘beacon of hope’ for anyone going through treatment.
She said: ‘I got married after treatment — you can live life again and be happy.
‘When I was first diagnosed I fell into the pits of Dr Google and every story out there is terrible.
‘It talks about all these people that are dying and stuff that you don’t want to be reading when going through something like this.
‘So I like to be a bit of a beacon of hope for people that are stuck in the pits of it now.’
A Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust spokesman said: ‘Whilst we can not comment on individual patient cases, we can assure people that when patients are referred to our hospital with breast cancer symptoms, they are investigated thoroughly to establish a diagnosis.’