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Old 09-30-2006, 01:41 PM
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Default 'I had breast cancer aged 24'

When Rachel Williams got breast cancer at the age of only 24, doctors told her she had been extremely unlucky.

"They said the chances of someone my age getting it were just one in 19,000.

"My consultant said that I had more chance of winning the lottery than getting breast cancer.

"I just wish I had bought a ticket."

I know now I am not alone and I have made some really good friends
Rachel Williams

Doctors were so convinced that she was not at risk because of her age and the fact that she had no family history of cancer, that she was placed on a 14-week waiting list.

But her parents pressed her to use her private health insurance, and she was seen within a week and the lump removed.

Unconcerned about the outcome, and convinced she had a fibroid (a solid mass made from fibrous tissue and usually benign), Rachel flew off to New York on holiday with her boyfriend.

The day she returned however she was summoned to see her consultant, who broke the news that she had cancer.

"My parents thought something was wrong when the consultant asked to see me, but I was oblivious to it. It just did not register.

"When he told me I said 'Oh my God' and went onto automatic pilot and then I had 1,001 questions for him."

Early menopause

Luckily the lump was quite small. Rachel who never usually checked her breasts, had found it at an early stage.

She underwent further preventative surgery to remove lymph nodes and had radiotherapy and gruelling chemotherapy sessions, which left her weak and without hair.

Rachel was advised to consider freezing eggs and tissue, but opted instead to join a trial of a drug called Zoladex, given to pre-menopausal women with breast cancer, which aims to protect and preserve fertility during chemotherapy.

"It puts you into an early stage of menopause," she said.

"And it is not much fun going through the menopause at 25, especially as my mum was going through it as well. All those hormones."

[A mastectomy] is going to have an impact on their confidence
Helen Graham, Breast Cancer Care

Rachel, who is now 25, said that what she had found especially hard was being so young when she got her cancer.

She was used to having a good social life, which revolved around going to pubs and clubs.

When she lost her hair and eyebrows however, she felt too self-conscious to go out.

"I felt embarrassed. When I wore my headscarf people would ask whether I had alopecia, or was a member of a weird sect, or if I had leukaemia.

"When I said I had cancer, they would tell me about their grandmother who had it."

Rachel said that all the time she was being told about older people with cancer, whom she had little or nothing in common with.

She was facing issues about her future fertility, her self-esteem and her relationship, whereas they were at a different life stage.

Her boyfriend was extremely supportive, but she worried about the affect her cancer was having on him.

'Not alone'

A chemical engineer, Rachel, from Swansea, was also a part-time aerobics teacher, but she had to give this up.

She was too weak from the treatment and felt too self-conscious appearing before the class.

Breast Cancer Care put Rachel in touch with their younger women's forums where she was able to meet others her age and talk about the issues she was facing.

And she said this had been an incredible boost.

"I know now I am not alone and I have made some really good friends."

Breast Cancer Care said that out of about 41,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, around 8,000 of these are women under the age of 50 and approximately 2,000 of these are in their 20s and 30s.

Helen Graham, Breast Cancer Care nurse specialist, said women like Rachel needed targeted support and that this was what the Lavender Trust was aiming to do.

"For anybody who is diagnosed, whatever their age, it is devastating."

But she said for younger women the support networks were fewer, even though this was a stage in life when body image was very important to women, and surgery could be devastating to their self-esteem.

"A mastectomy at any age can be difficult, but if we are talking about these young women then they might not have a partner yet, they might be thinking about getting married and this is going to have an impact on their confidence.

"And for a lot of young women, fertility can be a big issue and a lot of the treatments affect their fertility.

"They need the support of people their own age."
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