If you’re in your twenties, you might assume - or even have been told - that you're too young to worry about breast cancer.
But sadly, 10,000 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Of these, approximately 2,300 women are aged 39 or under. Not only is breast cancer the most common cancer in the UK, but in women, rates have doubled in the past 50 years. There are over 150 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed every single day in Britain.
Statistics like these are frightening, but they’re also an important reminder to check your breasts, know your own normal – and – advocate for your health when you need to.
Charlotte, Selin and Shevelle were all diagnosed with breast cancer in their twenties. This Breast Cancer Awareness month, they’ve teamed up with leading charity Breast Cancer Now for its Together We Are Powerful campaign with Dorothy Perkins.
While breast cancer under the age of 30 is rare, they believe the ‘too young’ rhetoric is giving young women a false sense of security. Here, they share their story with Tyla.
Charlotte Dudeney-Tucker, from Essex, was diagnosed at the age of 26, while living in Texas.
"I was in the shower when I found a small, hard lump on my right breast. At the time, I'd just got married and I was in limbo between being a tourist and becoming an American resident," Charlotte tells Tyla.
"We were in New England having a mini moon at the time, and without any health insurance – [alongside] the fact I wasn’t an American resident – I struggled to be seen.
"Eventually I was able to get an ultrasound scan. I was told I was too young to have cancer, especially considering I had no family history. The radiologist even said it didn’t look like cancer on the scan, but decided to do a biopsy just in case. That biopsy saved my life and I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days later.
"I felt vindicated – everyone told me I was too young, to the point where I thought I was going mad. I remember having to call my mum in the UK which was easily the hardest conversation of my entire life.
"I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford treatment in America, and by this stage, some of the flights had resumed after the pandemic. I made it home two days after my diagnosis.
"When I was flying back, one half of my brain was saying, 'it will just be an operation and then you’ll be back by the new year', and the other part was saying, 'you might not be here by Christmas'. Your head just goes to crazy places.
"When I got home, I very quickly had tests and scans, and they told me I was stage 2A which is fairly early.
"The most devastating part of my diagnosis was finding out my fertility might be compromised, I had always wanted a big family and it was like having the wind knocked out of me. Myself and my husband made the decision to go through IVF and created seven embryos which was amazing. I then started started seven rounds of chemo, along with minor surgery and a mastectomy with reconstruction.
"I think that it’s absurd that people in the medical field are still telling people they are too young; it’s a myth that needs to be busted. Im terrified of the thought that not enough people are checking their breasts to begin with because of this assumption.
"I do feel angry. You need to be prepared to scream and shout for your life."
Selin Esendagli, from London, was diagnosed in the middle of the pandemic at the age of 23.
"It was four o'clock in the morning when I woke up and felt a lump in my under-boob area. It was a complete shock and I immediately went into meltdown," Selin explains.
"So many people were telling me not to worry and that it was probably a fibroadenoma. When I went to the doctor, they said it didn't feel cancerous, but that they would book me in for an ultrasound just in case. I had a biopsy there and then, and when the results came back to say I had breast cancer, we were all in complete shock.
"I had hormone receptor triple positive breast cancer and started chemotherapy for three months, as well as medication which I continued for a year and radiotherapy to the breast.
"I now take a tamoxifen tablet daily which blocks oestrogen and essentially puts me into a chemical menopause. Personally I've always known I don’t want children, so I decided not to freeze any eggs.
"When I look back on the last year I feel like it was over in the blink of an eye. But now I have to learn how to navigate the world again. You have this pent up fight or flight energy and then suddenly there’s nowhere for it to go, and you can be thrown into hypochondria, obsessing over every little thing in your body.
"Young women getting breast cancer does happen, and it happens a lot - once I was in the community I realised how much.
"This misconception is being pumped out constantly and we’re here shouting from the sidelines but no one is listening.
"The most frustrating thing is obviously we want to advocate for people checking themselves, but there’s this strange disconnect in us being told to find our own cancers but then being dismissed when we do."
Shevelle Copeland-Kelly, from London, was diagnosed in 2019 at the age of 28.
"I was at a friend’s house when I first found a pea-sized lump. I called my GP who didn't think it was anything serious because of my age, but asked me to come in regardless.
"For peace of mind, I was referred to the breast clinic and sent for an ultrasound straight away. They decided to take a biopsy and the radiologist asked me how long I thought it had been there. I said 'maybe around two weeks?' And he said he thought it had been there longer. When he said that my heart sank. The biopsy was sent to the lab and at that point it hit me – what if it was cancer?
"When I came to get the results, I was called in by a nurse and she asked me if I had brought anyone with me. I knew it wasn't good news and as soon as I entered the room I couldn't even sit down. He told me it was cancer and I lost it – I thought my life was over.
"I was so angry, I remember saying they had lied to me – they told me it was nothing to worry about it.
"It was early stage, triple negative breast cancer, I had 16 rounds of chemotherapy, which was really tough. I was also trying to put on a brave face for my nine-year-old daughter too; I didn’t want her to see me in that way.
"I had a mastectomy and was referred to a fertility clinic where I was able to store some eggs. That was hard - I had to make a decision there and then if I wanted more children. It was a lot to take in.
"Now I've finished treatment, I have a yearly scan as well as therapy which has been a tremendous help to me. It helps me deal with so many internal issues. Two years on, I've definitely come to term with my experience. I'm rediscovering myself; having cancer was like being stripped of my identity and that was hard. Now I'm kind of working from the inside outwards."
Breast Cancer Now and Dorothy Perkins are working together to show how you can support a loved one affected by breast cancer. 50 per cent of the purchase price of each product from the ‘Together We Are Powerful’ collection will help fund world-class research and life-changing care. You can shop here.
For advice, support and information, visit Breast Cancer Now.