Reclaiming your confidence after breast cancer
Gabby Mottershead didn’t have a lump, but she knew instinctively that something wasn’t quite right. Nevertheless, it was a huge shock when a biopsy confirmed that she had inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).
“While I was in denial at first, I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to get a fast diagnosis,” she tells This Is Medtech. “Inflammatory breast cancer is rare and quite often misdiagnosed, so I was lucky that I had a biopsy straight away that confirmed the diagnosis. I was able to start chemotherapy the next week.”
IBC tends to develop quicker than other more common types, according to Cancer Research UK. It’s often confused with a breast infection called mastitis. Symptoms can appear quite suddenly and include swelling and redness of the breast, pain, swollen lymph nodes, a firm or hard breast that is hot to the touch, skin that looks like orange peel, changes to the nipple such as flattening or an inverted nipple and sometimes, a lump in the breast.
Gabby had noticed a thickening of the breast tissue, but as there was no lump, it didn’t show up on her mammogram, an x-ray of the breast. Fortunately, there were other procedures using medtech that could diagnose IBC. The biopsy involved a device that took a sample of Gabby’s breast tissue for analysis in a lab. This was followed by a needle aspiration, where a small amount of breast tissue or fluid was removed with a thin, hollow needle, to reconfirm the diagnosis.
“My scans were clear after six rounds of chemo, but because IBC has a high recurrence rate, I also had to have a mastectomy, removal of my lymph nodes and radiation,” she explains. A breast reconstruction followed the treatment.
Gabby credits her early diagnosis 15 years ago with her full recovery and notes that the outcome could have been very different had she been diagnosed later. For peace of mind and to catch any early signs of recurrence, she still goes for a thermal imaging scan (thermography) every year. This procedure uses medtech in the form of an infrared camera that detects temperature differences within the breast tissue.
While the chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries had healed Gabby physically, there was a lack of mental health support after the treatment had ended. “I felt that my body had let me down. I’d lost my confidence along with my identity,” she says. “Going through cancer really makes you think about what’s important in life, namely family and friends.” Her corporate career, which had been such a big part of her identity, wasn’t on the list.
This realisation led Gabby to reflect on her stressful lifestyle before her diagnosis and make some changes. “I started to take responsibility for my health and learned about nutrition, stress management and how to shift my mindset, which was based on fear,” she notes.
She also set up an online community where she could help other women who needed support. Today, Gabby’s job is to help women get their confidence back post-cancer, so that they can be “cancer thrivers” as she calls herself.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.