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I Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer After Doctors Said My Lump Was 'Hormonal'

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I Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer After Doctors Said My Lump Was 'Hormonal'

Fran Whitfield was in the middle of recovering from a paralysing spinal injury when she noticed a painful lump on her right breast.

Alerted by her rescue cat - who had taken to tip toeing over her chest while she watched television, Fran - a personal trainer from London - felt a sharp, unfamiliar pain and was immediately concerned.

Fran first discovered the lump in 2019 (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
Fran first discovered the lump in 2019 (Credit: Fran Whitfield)

Anyone who has ever been to their doctor with a breast lump in their twenties, will know they are often considered 'low risk'. And when Fran, 26 was referred to a breast clinic by her GP, she was immediately reassured when the consultant claimed she wouldn't even need an ultrasound scan.

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"The doctor assessed me and said I didn't need the scan," Fran told Tyla.

"I was young, she thought it was a hormonal lump and just said it was nothing to worry about. She sent me on my way and didn't ask me to go back."

Fran did go back, but not until 18 months later when, in the shower, she noticed the area around the lump had started to dimple.

"I knew from having researched previously that it was a symptom to be concerned about. I phoned my doctor, but due to the pandemic, they said there would be a delay in getting me seen.

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"At this point I was really concerned. It had always been in the back of my mind, but I never wanted to make a mountain out of a mole hill. So instead, I paid for a private, rapid diagnostic test."

Fran, a PT, was initially told the lump was hormonal (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
Fran, a PT, was initially told the lump was hormonal (Credit: Fran Whitfield)

A rapid diagnostic usually involves a consultation, scan and if needed, a biopsy all on the same day.

"At the time, I felt this overwhelming need to apologise like I had wasted the consultant's time.

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"But when I sat down he told me I needed to have a scan and a biopsy."

After Fran's investigations, the consultant explained both he and the radiographer who had conducted the scan were concerned about the lump.

"He asked me to come back in three days and bring a chaperone. I was devastated.

"Family and friends rallied around me and tried to be reassuring, but I knew in myself, I knew the look in his eye and I know they don't ask you to bring a chaperone for no reason."

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Three days later, Fran was diagnosed with a non aggressive, grade two tumour, which doctors said was easily curable.

As a precaution, she was sent for a full CT scan. Her lymph nodes were all clear, but a tumour was found in her liver. As a result, she was also scheduled for a full PET scan from head to toe.

"The scan suggested the liver tumour was benign, but something had come up in my brain. It was a huge shock. On the same day, they sent me for a brain MRI and it was revealed I had a two centimetre tumour growing out of my skull.

Doctors discovered a tumour growing out of Fran's skull (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
Doctors discovered a tumour growing out of Fran's skull (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
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"At that point, I didn't know if it was benign, or if it was the breast cancer that had spread. I asked them at the time what it would mean if it had, and they told me I was looking at two to three years.

"That was the moment I really felt like everything crashed around me. I was incredibly upset and also angry."

Within the space of two weeks, Fran had been diagnosed with breast cancer and scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour on her brain.

"It was an incredibly heavy time, seven scans, seven results, each with their own curveball," she recalled.

A week later and Fran was dealt the news that the tumour on her brain was in fact secondary breast cancer.

"At that point, I knew I didn't want to continue with the team I had. I wanted to fight and I wanted someone to fight with me. So I changed hospital and they've been incredible ever since.

"The oncologist that I have is amazing, he restored my hope and faith. He said yes it's secondary, but he's still holding onto a cure."

Fran started chemotherapy in October, before moving to cyber knife radiotherapy on her skull. As her cancer is hormone responsive, she is also on hormone therapy which essentially "puts [her] ovaries to sleep".

"I'm basically in the menopause," she continues.

"I'll be on it for five years but the hope is when I come off it my body will reverse. So while I'll probably go through the menopause at an early age, hopefully that won't be immediate and not before 30."

Fran was scheduled for brain surgery within days (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
Fran was scheduled for brain surgery within days (Credit: Fran Whitfield)

Coming to terms with the fact doctors dismissed her cancer in 2019 was a difficult process for Fran. She doesn't want to look back, and is instead channeling her energy into ensuring it doesn't happen to another young person.

"You feel incredibly let down," she continues.

"I question everything now and I always insist on tests - I'm incredibly pushy. I spent a large amount of time angry but I try not to dwell on it now because I just think is it going to help me? It's only going to make me more distressed.

"I will never forget it but I don't sit in anger anymore. I've told the relevant people and things are getting dealt with so that that mistake isn't made again.

"Instead I'm trying to put my energy into making sure that doesn't happen to other people. The fact is, cancer doesn't discriminate against age and it's not difficult to do an ultrasound. They are reliable, quick and inexpensive, so any person who goes with a lump, just scan it.

"How many more times does this have to happen before it's realised that it doesn't matter how young you are?"

Fran is now studying for her Level 4 in Cancer Exercise and Rehabilitation (Credit: Fran Whitfield)
Fran is now studying for her Level 4 in Cancer Exercise and Rehabilitation (Credit: Fran Whitfield)

Fran says she's lucky that over the last year, she hasn't suffered any delays to her treatment. However, going through major brain surgery - alone - has been exceptionally tough.

"When I sit and think about the last year, I've been through a hell of a lot. Just two months before I had emergency spinal surgery because I'd had an accident in my garden. I was living on my own at that point and I paralysed my left leg.

"When I think back to that I am in awe of my body."

Fran has teamed up with Breast Cancer Now for its Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign (Credit: Breast Cancer Now)
Fran has teamed up with Breast Cancer Now for its Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign (Credit: Breast Cancer Now)

Now, Fran is looking towards the future. She has teamed up with Breast Cancer Now - which has partnered with River Island for its Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Campaign - and she has enrolled in a Level 4 Cancer Exercise and Rehabilitation course.

"On the flip side, a positive is that I've changed my focus in terms of career so I'm actually doing a Level 4 in Cancer Exercise and Rehabilitation. I'll qualify in July and my aim now is to help others through treatment and post treatment.

"I exercised all the way through and I think it had such a positive impact on me."

The Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Campaign collection is available exclusively online and in-store at River Island with 30 per cent of the purchase price for each item being donated to Breast Cancer Now. You can view it online here.

To follow Fran's journey you can check out her Instagram, @franwhitfield. For advice, help or support, visit Breast Cancer Now.

Featured Image Credit: Fran Whitfield

Topics: Cancer, Health

Lucy Devine
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