Melissa Golding (49) wants every woman to get ‘intimate’ with their breasts this October…and every month after!

With October marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a Croydon mum-of-two, who was diagnosed with the disease in March 2020, is encouraging all women to regularly check their breasts for the potential signs of cancer.

Melissa was shocked to find a small lump by chance, so shared her story in an effort to encourage others to self-examine more often and to not put off that all important call to the GP.

Melissa: “At the beginning of February 2020, whilst lying on the bed watching a bit of telly after work, I found a lump. I’m not sure why I even checked, but I must have felt uncomfortable. I was rubbing along the bottom of my breast, close to my ribs, where the underwired bit goes on your bra. It was not a big lump, and to be honest I had to check a few times.

“So, I left it a few days and did some googling and decided it must be hormonal…nothing to worry about. Except I did worry. In the back of my mind I remembered a nurse at the local surgery showing me with a prosthetic boob how to self-examine. I recalled her telling me it can feel like a small hard lump like a lemon pip. Mine felt like a lemon pip.

“I plucked up the courage to tell my husband. He had a feel and said he wasn’t sure and thought it was probably nothing. I then told my two closest friends. One had a feel too but again she wasn’t sure either, as it really was quite small. However, she urged me to go the doctors, nonetheless.

“I booked to see my GP within days. I thought she’d tell me it was just a cyst, but I was referred to see a consultant a week later and had a mammogram.

“The next day driving home from work, I took a call from the hospital. The consultant had looked at my mammogram and wanted me to come back for further tests. The second I hung up, I cried. It was all becoming too real.

“I was no stranger to the horrors that come with a cancer diagnosis. My mum had suffered with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma seven years before. I suppose what was different for me was that I actually felt really well. Apart from a very tiny lump in my breast, I was the picture of health.

“I think facing cancer is different for everyone though. For me, my diagnosis was serious, but I’d caught it in its early stages. It was according to my consultant “very treatable and curable”. So, I took those words and ran with it. I knew when I came out of that consultation that I was going to face this head-on and try to see the positives wherever I could.

“I put a stop to googling in the middle of night and reading absolutely everything and anything on the internet. Instead, I focussed on trustworthy sites, as my Breast Cancer Nurse had advised. The Macmillan website was so informative and answered all my questions. Reading the online community forum was very comforting too. You realise all us ‘breasties’ have the same worries and fears.

Melissa explained how she turned to social media, after being diagnosed just as the country was facing the first COVID lockdown: “My first Instagram post (@melissa_golding) was on Mother’s Day last year. I wanted to find others going through a similar diagnosis in such unprecedented times. It really was the very best thing I’ve ever done. The support from family and friends has been immense, but what’s truly amazing is the support of others, strangers really, from all over the world. Some with cancer and some not. More importantly I can offer help and advice to so many others. Despite the pandemic I have been able to make some beautiful friendships.

“I had surgery (lumpectomy and 19 lymph nodes removed) in April 2020 and then started chemotherapy in May. I knew I’d lose my hair, so I cut my long locks in to a bob and once handfuls were falling out it was buzz cut. I’ve tried to embrace every stage of treatment from my pink wig to my bleached crop, they are all documented on my squares!

“I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I really have just tried to have as much fun as I could possibly have as a cancer patient in lockdown!

Melissa’s advice on getting to know your breasts: “If I could say one thing to women out there, it would be to take the time to get to know what your ‘normal’ is…it can be tricky when you first start to self-check and your breasts can change over the course of a month. So, pick different times throughout the month, get familiar with your normal and check yourself regularly!

“And don’t bury your head in the sand! If you find something that concerns you, get on to your GP immediately…the earlier it is caught, the far greater your chances of surviving this disease are. I am now completely passionate about being a breast cancer advocate and supporting other women.

“When I look back at life before my cancer diagnosis, I really think I was just going through the motions of living. I would push myself so hard to be as perfect as possible…it was exhausting! Sounds crazy but cancer was the ‘kick-up-the-butt’ I needed to really appreciate my life, slow down and embrace all I have to offer. I’m a much happier person now than I’ve ever been. My journey is just starting and I’m so excited about the future.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Macmillan Cancer Support is encouraging people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Breast cancer accounts for 15% of all new cancer cases[1]. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the UK, with more than 54,500 cases diagnosed every year. It is more common in women over 50. Men can also get breast cancer, but this is rare.

Sarah Pritchard, Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Services Manager at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: “Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms. Get them checked.”

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

· a lump in the breast

· a change in the size or shape of the breast, such as swelling in all or part of the breast.

· dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue

· a nipple that’s turned in (inverted)

· a rash (like eczema) on the nipple

· discharge or bleeding from the nipple

· swelling or a lump in the armpit.

· pain or discomfort in the breast that does not go away

Sarah added: “Most breast changes are not caused by cancer but if you do notice anything that isn’t normal for you, see your doctor. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.”

If you need support or just want someone to talk to about breast cancer, call Macmillan Cancer Support free on 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, from 8am to 8pm). Or visit: macmillan.org.uk