Breast cancer: Emma's story 

Emma Duncan, 33, talks about her experience of having breast cancer.

Learn about female breast cancer

Transcript of Breast cancer: Emma's story

My name's Emma Duncan, I'm 33,

and in the last four years I've had two diagnoses of breast cancer,

once in the left and once in the right.

The first time round I was treated with a lumpectomy,

chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The second time round

I went for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction,

so I've had both my breasts removed.

I've always been aware that I might be at increased risk of breast cancer

because my mother died from breast cancer when she was 32,

so when I got to 25, I asked my GP if there was any screening programme

that they could put me into, and they did.

A few years after that, I was actually in the bath

and I noticed a lump under my left armpit.

Didn't quite know what to make of it at first,

but I'm not somebody who's ever had lumps or bumps in their breasts,

so I was quite worried, I think, at first.

Went to my GP the day after and they suspected it might just be a cyst

because I was only 28 at the time and to not be worried about it

but because of my family history they would do my referral anyway.

So when my referral came through, the lump,

which had been the size, really, of your little fingernail,

had grown to about two centimetres.

They did an ultrasound, they did a mammogram

and they also did a needle biopsy,

and I came back the week after for the results of that

and they confirmed that I did have breast cancer

and it was a grade three tumour,

which is the fastest growing that you can get,

and advised that I would need to come in for surgery ten days later.

After my first diagnosis, when I had chemotherapy,

it was six months' worth of treatment,

followed by five weeks of radiotherapy,

and throughout that, it was really, really hard.

My appearance changed. I looked like Casper the Ghost.

All of my hair fell out.

It makes you look so drawn and so ill

that I almost did a double take sometimes in the mirror.

You don't believe that it's happening to you and you suddenly think,

"I'm a cancer patient and I look like a cancer patient as well."

That was probably the most difficult thing.

The second time round with my diagnosis,

it was a bigger operation this time because it was a double mastectomy.

It was different to what I expected.

I knew that I'd made the right decision.

For me, really, it was the only decision to make

when you've had cancer twice and they're unrelated

and you've had one in one side and one in the other.

I woke up the day after

and the implants they'd put in weren't inflated.

They fill them with saline to stretch your skin.

So it didn't matter where I sat...

Because my reconstruction used muscles from my back,

I had two quite big scars across my back,

the drains were in my side

and everything had been removed from my front,

so I didn't quite know where to sit or how to lie down to be comfortable.

I did get referred to a psychologist.

It is quite a big loss, especially when you're so young as well.

When I got home, I felt a lot better.

Things started to settle down. You're in your own surroundings.

I was waited on hand and foot, which was quite nice.

And then it was just a case of trying to get back to normal,

trying to get back to doing my dog walking and things like that,

being able to hold a lead, to push a door open.

With using muscles from your back, you lose quite a lot of stability

and the strength in your back and your arms and your shoulders.

Even carrying bags of shopping, I couldn't do that for weeks.

I couldn't drive for a couple of months.

But now, looking back at everything that I've gone through,

and looking at the reconstructed breasts that I've got,

they're fantastic and I wouldn't have changed the decision I made at all.

It was the best decision for me.

Even though I've had both breasts removed,

there's still a risk of recurrence

or that something might be lingering in my lymphatic system,

so I still check under my arms

and around the outsides of where my implants and things are,

and also up and around my neck,

and make sure that I just look for anything that might be unusual

in changes in my skin and things like that.

Cancer Research UK do a lot of promotional work.

They approached me when I did the Race for Life in July

and asked me if I'd be interested in being body-painted.

Having had a double mastectomy, I was a little apprehensive at first,

and thought, "Crikey. Do you mean fully naked?"

"Or am I going to be covered up?"

It was naked from the waist up and actually painted onto your skin.

So after we'd had the photographs done,

we asked what they were actually going to be used for in the campaign,

and they were to launch rubber ducks.

The theory is you buy the duck and the money goes to cancer research

but you put the duck in your bathroom to remind you to do regular checks.

So any lumps or bumps that you might find in your breast,

just to make sure that you do actually do something about it.

The more information that you can have the better,

but make sure that it's the right information.

Speak to your breast care nurse, go online.

You've got the Cancer Research UK website,

Breast Cancer Care's website.

There are so many recognised sources of information there for you.

My advice to other people out there,

whether they're men or women, because they can both get breast cancer,

would be that if you notice anything different,

even the slightest change in what is normal for you,

to go and see your GP and make sure you get it checked out.

It really is the case that the earlier the diagnosis,

the better your recovery will be.

I've been through it twice now

and I'm still healthy today and I don't currently have cancer,

so it would just be my recommendation.

Do something about it quickly if you do notice anything unusual.


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