At 29, I was told I was 'too young' to get cancer – I thought so too
It all started back in December 2020, when I felt an intense itch at the base of my armpit – right next to my left breast.
It was so unbearable, I had to sleep with a cold flannel on it overnight.
I’d been wearing Christmas jumpers all month, and after a visit to my GP raised no concerns – they assumed it was down to sweating and itchy fabrics.
I had no idea it was anything sinister – that I’d be diagnosed with breast cancer at just 29.
That, instead of celebrating my 30th birthday the way I’d planned, I’d be celebrating finishing chemotherapy.
Thankfully, the itching died down, but over the next few months, I felt like my breast had changed. It almost looked swollen and, for some reason, it felt different inside.
I couldn’t explain it, but I knew my body – knew something didn’t feel quite right – but my GP told me that size changes were normal.
That was until May 2021, when I felt something.
I was in the shower, and I felt a soft and moveable lump under the skin – almost like a gummy bear.
It wasn’t hard or pea-sized, like women are commonly told to expect when looking for abnormalities. Because of this, I thought it might’ve been a cyst, or swollen lymph node.
In the breast clinic, no one in the posters on the walls looked like me. No one in the ward or waiting room was ever my age
Cancer certainly wasn’t on my mind.
My GP referred me to the breast clinic immediately where I had an ultrasound and a biopsy was taken.
Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer, aged 29.
It hit me like a ton of bricks because I didn’t think women my age could get cancer. In the breast clinic, no one in the posters on the walls looked like me; and no one in the ward or waiting room was ever my age.
I’d never smoked, was young, fit and active. Only drinking on special occasions. Patients in cancer ads were older – not in their late twenties. I didn’t recognise myself, or feel represented at all.
Sometimes, even now, I still think I’m going to get a call to say that it was all a mistake. That the doctors were wrong, and I didn’t have cancer.
Except, it was very real.
A month later, I had a lumpectomy and a lymph node biopsy – I was also offered IVF, and managed to have some eggs frozen before an intense course of chemotherapy at The Christie.
Every week, I had an array of injections and infusions that put me in medical menopause, in attempts to protect my ovaries from being ravaged by chemo.
I had a cold cap, which helped me to keep about 60% of my long, thick, dark hair – but not without pain! Safe to say it’s an intense feeling.
One day, during chemo, I sat next to an older woman who started crying – I was always the youngest in the room. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was crying for me.
‘You’re way too young to be here,’ she told me. We ended up bonding, and becoming really good friends.
See, since I was diagnosed during the pandemic, though my best friend and fiancé messaged me everyday, I had to attend all of my appointments and treatment alone. To pass the time, I decided to film my journey as a young woman with breast cancer.
I filmed my ordeal with the cold cap, my hair loss, my injections, IVF, and time on the chemotherapy ward. I cried on camera, opening up about how I was feeling about my life, my future. It was my therapy.
That October, a few days before my 30th birthday, I finished chemo. It was bittersweet – and certainly not how I’d always imagined to be spending my big 3-0.
Especially when, as I was applying mascara to go out for dinner with family and friends – making myself feel like the birthday girl – my eyelashes came out on the brush. It was the first time I’d attempted to put make-up on in weeks, and I felt my confidence vanish – feeling awful from the lack of steroids I was used to from chemo.
Then, all my eyebrows came out on a tissue as I wiped my eyes. It was like my worst nightmare.
How could life ever get back to normal?
Thankfully, one of my best friends was there and helped me get ready – drying my tears to apply false eyelashes, and draw on my brows.
I thought I’d have a huge knees-up for my 30th – and certainly not be sitting on a bathroom floor, crying. Sober.
Over Christmas and New Year 2021, I had radiotherapy – going into the waiting room in my Christmas jumper, laughing and joking around. And, last August – a year since I started treatment – I finally finished, with no evidence of cancer.
I even got married to my partner of 10 years last December in a big Christmas wedding. It was an incredible day, and I felt so special after years of feeling pretty rubbish. We’re hoping to start trying for a baby soon, too.
To raise money for and awareness of breast cancer in young women, I’ve also done 12 Race for Lifes up and down the country, organised by Cancer Research UK.
And, after posting my videos on Youtube, a woman my age got in touch saying that her doctor told her that she wasn’t old enough to get breast cancer after she found a lump.
Except, after bringing her GP my videos, and pushing for a referral, she has discovered she has stage two breast cancer. If it’d been left any longer, it would have been much harder to treat.
Now, I still go in for CT and heart scans, MRIs, and mammograms every few months – and every time I go in, people stare. They’re always commenting on my age, or thinking I’m there to see my grandma who has breast cancer.
It proves that today’s advertising for cancer awareness doesn’t encourage young people with breasts to check themselves – certainly not those in their twenties. ‘You’re too young’ gets thrown around way too much – and it’s so backwards.
I wasn’t ‘too young’, and it happened to me.
Cancer has so many faces, but at 29, I never thought it would look like mine.
As told to Emmie Harrison-West
Georgie is supporting Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life 2023, in partnership with Standard Life. Sign up to your local event at raceforlife.org
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