‘I thought I was too young to get breast cancer at 24’

A Derry woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year when she was just 24 has urged other young women to regularly check themselves.

Friday, 8th October 2021, 12:13 pm
Aoife Mullan, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May this year.

Aoife Mullan, who has been working as a community carer throughout the global Covid-19 pandemic, noticed a lump on her breast in March 2020 when she was showering.

“I didn’t really think any of it. I thought it was just a cyst so I didn’t bother doing anything about it,” she told the ‘Journal’. “I suppose the pandemic put me off as well, as I knew that I would struggle to get an appointment.

“In some ways I’m glad that I didn’t go and get it checked last year as I might have had to wait for surgery and treatment.”

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Aoife, with her son Keaton, who she says helped her get through her surgery and radiotherapy treatment.

The mum-of-one decided to seek medical attention when the lump was still there a year later.

“One day, I don’t know what came over me, but I just thought I better get this checked. I saw my GP and I was sent to the breast clinic in May.”

Aoife said the medical team at the breast clinic also believed the lump was a cyst, however they did a biopsy just to be sure.

“A bloody substance came out of the cyst and the cancer was found behind it,” Aoife said. “It was devastating to be told that I had cancer and I was shocked.

“My Mammy took it really bad because my granny died of breast cancer in 2016, so she was just thinking the worst whenever I told her. It is hard to stop yourself going to the worst case scenario when you hear the word cancer.”

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and around one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 50, but younger women can also get breast cancer. In rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with the disease.

Aoife said the medical team were ‘amazing’ after her diagnosis and they put together a treatment plan for her.

“Everything was planned really quickly once the cancer was found. I was considering a mastectomy, but because the cancer was localised I opted for a lumpectomy.

“I was relieved that only a lumpectomy was required and that I didn’t need chemotherapy. I know I was lucky.”

Following the lumpectomy, Aoife underwent a week of radiotherapy.

“I developed an abscess after the surgery, so I had to hold off for a while on the treatment. I ended up having the radiotherapy the same week as my 25th birthday.

“I had to go through all the surgery and treatment myself. No one was allowed to come in with me because of Covid restrictions and it was really hard,” Aoife said.

“I don’t know what I would have done without my wee boy Keaton, he really kept me going. We tried to keep everything as normal as possible for him, but I think he kind of knew there was something going on.

“I also had to keep him off school because of covid when I was waiting for surgery and treatment.”

Aoife said she is still feeling the effects of her treatment.

“I was grand during the radiotherapy, it is only now that it is starting to hit me. I am tired and sore around my chest and arm. I have to stay off work at the minute and don’t know when I will be able to go back.”

Aoife reached out to Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group following her diagnosis and has urged other women who have had a recent diagnosis to reach out to the charity and to Macmillan.

“Both of them have helped me loads. When I was diagnosed, Michelle McLaren from the Pink Ladies came out to my house and talked me through her cancer journey as she was the same age as me when she was diagnosed.”

Aoife admits that she never checked her breasts before she was diagnosed with cancer and she advised other women to be aware of changes.

“I thought I was too young to get breast cancer, but it can come at any age. All women, including young women, need to make sure they are checking and are aware of any changes.

“They also need to go to the doctor if they do notice changes, no matter how small they are, because you just never know.”

Following her diagnosis, Aoife put up a post on social media and she received a number of messages from other women.

“They were asking me about lumps and changes to their breasts and whether they should get them checked. A lot of women don’t know what to look for or think they are too young to get it.”

Aoife, who said she is ‘lucky to have had such a good outcome’, will get a mammogram every year until she is 50 and then every three years after that. She said this follow up care is ‘reassuring’.

Pink Ladies’ have advised that women need to be aware of slight changes to the shape and size of their breast and to check for lumps in the breast, up to the collarbone and under the arm.

They also need to be aware of discharge, pain, redness or rashes that are not going away.