Natalia describes how she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37

Even if you’re young, make checking your breasts part of your regular routine

Natalia’s story:
“I never thought I would get breast cancer, but then out of the blue, I was diagnosed at the age of just 37.

The lump in my right breast came totally out of nowhere. I found it in May 2023 when I was showering one day – it just felt different to normal. It was on the side of my breast, almost under my armpit. I’d been putting on sun cream there just a couple of weeks earlier and hadn’t felt anything then. My initial reaction was that the lump was hormonal, as my period was due.

To be honest, I wasn’t going out of my way to check my breasts that day and had never done so regularly. I don’t think many people my age check themselves – you just think you’re invincible in your thirties and that breast cancer is something which happens to people later in life. I was very naïve about breast cancer in general – probably because I was so young and I’d never actually known anyone with the disease.

My husband James encouraged me to make an appointment with my doctor straight away, but it was a number of weeks before I was actually seen. My doctor wasn’t worried, especially as there was no history of breast cancer in my family, or indeed any history of cancer full stop. She decided to refer me for further checks anyway, as it was a new lump.

We have private health care, so we decided to go private and I was seen by a consultant a week later. He wasn’t worried either - I had a mammogram, which didn’t pick up anything, followed by a scan. I was told the scan showed I probably had a cyst, but that the edge of the cyst looked abnormal, so they decided to take a biopsy. They even found another tiny lump behind the original one, which I hadn’t even felt.

Natalia, her husband James, daughter Florence and son James, a few weeks after surgery.

At this stage, the consultant told me not to worry and that he would call me the following week with my results. I got the call the following week from his secretary and was told to go and see him that evening. I just knew it was bad news. I was called into the consultant’s room and I was told I had a form of hormonal breast cancer. It was a huge shock. I will never forget the look on my consultant’s face and the words he spoke. It was absolutely horrendous coming out of that appointment and having to call my husband and break the bad news while he was at home with our children James and Florence, (now seven and three).

My diagnosis scared a lot of people around me – I do not drink, I do not smoke, I eat healthily, I exercise and there’s no cancer in my family. Initially, I felt that my breast cancer diagnosis was somehow my fault, although I now know I shouldn’t have felt like that. It just shows that anyone can get cancer.

I had an MRI and PET scan to check whether the cancer had spread. This was one of the worst parts of this journey... waiting for these results. Not knowing if it had spread, was awful. My consultant/surgeon finally got my results. He didn’t want me to wait until Monday morning and called me to let me know that it had not spread. He really was amazing and helped me navigate through the worst point of my life, with such kindness and compassion.

I had further biopsies and scans at Chelsfield Hospital, as the one of my scans had picked up a dark shadow on my other breast. Thankfully, no cancer was found in my left breast after all. The tests had already found more instances of cancer in my right breast. I quickly decided that I wanted to have both my breasts removed. I am very black and white and knew that this was the right decision for me - I wanted to be there for my children as they grew up. At the same time as my double mastectomy, I had both breasts reconstructed.

Natalia getting ready for her double mastectomy

I had my surgery at London Bridge Hospital at the end of July 2023 and went back to see my consultant a few weeks later for my results. The good news was that they had managed to remove all my cancer and my lymph nodes were clear. The bad news was that my right breast had Grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, high grade DCIS and my whole breast was full of early cancer. I simply had no idea! so I had three weeks of radiotherapy and was very grateful that I didn’t need chemotherapy. I’m now well, cancer-free and taking the hormone therapy Tamoxifen.

The period since my diagnosis has been very hard for my children, especially for my son James, who is quite a bit older than Florence and has missed me being around during my treatment. He does know that Mummy has been seeing someone to make her better and he came to see me in hospital after my surgery. However, you do try and shelter the children from the worst of it. My husband James, mother Julie, sister Rebecca and mother-in-law Sara have all been hugely supportive, helping me get to all my appointments and keep some sort of semblance of normality for the children.

I wanted to sign up for the Full Moon (26.2 miles) at this year’s MoonWalk London, to give something back after all the help I’ve received since my diagnosis. My mother-in-law took part years ago and she’ll be part of our team this year, along with a number of other family and friends, including my mum Julie and sisters Rebecca and Saige. My husband and children will hopefully be waiting for me at the finish line.

Natalia (right), her sister Saige and sister Rebecca on Rebecca’s wedding day in 2017

Not only will I be raising money to help others going through the same as me, I also want to do as much as possible to raise awareness about the importance of checking your breasts. I’d recommend checking them in the shower every few weeks – use your hands and get to know how your breasts normally feel. You’ll then be much more aware of any changes. I regularly remind all my cousins and friends my age to check themselves – my experience has really frightened them.

I was lucky to find my lump almost by accident and was diagnosed and treated relatively early. Even if you’re young, like I was, make checking part of your regular routine – it could save your life”.

Natalia (right), her mum Julie and sister Rebecca 

Thank you for sharing your story Natalia.
We look forward to seeing you and your team at The MoonWalk London 2024


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