The birthday present I DIDN'T WANT
Michelle was keen to warn women everywhere that when it comes to breast cancer, it's not just lumps to look out for. In her case, it was dimpling on her breast, which she found on her 50th birthday.
The reason Michelle wanted to share her story was to raise awareness and to urge other women to look out for other symptoms like hers, so we found the perfect place for her to do so - in Woman magazine.
Here's her story:
At my age, looking in the mirror isn’t something I like to do anymore. Rather than hang around, I prefer to nip out of the shower, dry off quickly and slip straight into my clothes. Little did I know that the one time I did things differently, it would save my life.
It all started when I waved goodbye to my 40s and reached another milestone.
‘A trip to Italy?’ I cried. ‘Thank you so much!’
Hugging my husband Darren, 47, I was so grateful for the best birthday present ever.
We jetted off on holiday and spent our time enjoying the sights and the balmy weather.
Then, on 11th May 2015, my big day arrived.
‘Happy birthday!’ Darren said, hugging me.
‘I can’t believe I’m actually 50,’ I laughed.
That morning, we travelled into the city and visited the Vatican. I smiled as I took in the wonderful architecture - it was simply breath taking. I couldn’t have wished for a better day.
Later, when our feet were tired and we couldn’t face any more walking, we decided to return to the hotel.
‘We can go and get ready for your birthday meal,’ Darren said.
‘Sounds perfect,’ I replied.
Returning to our hotel room, we relaxed for a bit and then I jumped in the shower. By the time I got out I was boiling hot. So instead of my normal routine of getting dressed straightaway, I decided to get ready before I got dressed.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I grabbed the hairdryer off the wall and began to dry my hair. But as I did, I spotted something strange in the mirror.
There was a dimple just next to my nipple on my left breast. When I put my arm up, I could see it. And when I put it down, it practically disappeared.
‘What’s that?’ I mumbled to myself.
‘Darren!’ I called. ‘Come and look at this.’
He agreed it was odd so he rang our friend, who used to be a doctor, who advised I make an appointment with my GP when I returned home.
‘OK,’ I said. ‘I’ll do that.’
That evening, during my birthday meal, what I’d found kept niggling me. I had a bad feeling about what it might be, but I didn’t say anything - not wanting to ruin our evening.
Next morning, I plastered on a smile. I made sure to enjoy the nine days we had left of our break, before we flew back to the UK.
On the 22nd of May, I saw my GP. He asked about my family history and I revealed my mother and aunt had battled breast cancer. Deep down, I knew I was in trouble.
Then he examined me. There were no lumps in my breasts. The dimpling was the only irregularity. But he referred me to hospital just in case
On the 15th June, I had a mammogram on both breasts, followed up with a few more, as well as ultrasound scans and a biopsy.
A week later, I returned with my daughter Chloe, 21, to get the results.
‘I’m sorry,’ the consultant said. ‘The results show you have breast cancer.’
My stomach flipped on hearing the news and Chloe gripped my hand. It was a real blow, but I tried my best to remain strong.
‘We’ve found a lump in your left breast,’ the consultant went on. ‘You’ll need a lumpectomy.
‘What is the dimpling I found?’ I asked.
The consultant explained it happened when a tumour pulled healthy skin inwards. I’d had no idea it was a sign of breast cancer.
On the 3rd of July, I had the lumpectomy, but the surgeon wasn’t happy with the mass he’d removed, so I was scheduled for a mastectomy.
I had to admit I was scared. My breasts were part of what made me a woman and it was daunting to imagine life without one of them. But if it meant I could spend longer with Darren and Chloe, it was worth it.
On the 11th of August, I was wheeled into theatre for the surgery to have my breast removed and a temporary expandable implant fitted.
Afterwards, feeling groggy, I opened my eyes. When I remembered what had happened, all I felt was relief. Finally, the cancer was gone.
Three days later, I was allowed home. I hadn’t felt any pain, but the following evening I had a strange feeling from my left shoulder to my neck. I’d stopped taking painkillers and I wondered if that was the cause.
That night, I slept terribly. I kept waking up in agony, so I decided to get up and take some more painkillers.
Then, as I walked past the mirror, I froze. Catching sight of my reflection, I saw that my left breast had ballooned to twice the size.
That’s clever,’ I thought. Perhaps the implant has expanded by itself.
In the morning, I showed Darren.
‘Blimey, that’s not right Michelle,’ he said, concerned.
Then he took me straight to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee where I was checked out.
‘It’s a haematoma,’ the doctor said. ‘It’s a blood clot caused by a ruptured blood vessel inside the breast tissue.’
By now, I was feeling really unwell. But I didn’t have long to think about it before I was whisked into theatre where the blood was drained from my breast. Luckily, they managed to save the implant.
Since then, I’ve been given the all clear from cancer and it’s a great feeling. My expandable implant hasn’t been blown up yet and I no longer have a nipple, but to me, this reminds me of the battle I’ve fought.
Now I’m working with Breast Cancer Care to raise awareness of the lesser-known symptom of breast cancer – dimpling.
I urge women to lift their arms up and check for dimples. I never wanted to look in the mirror naked at 50, but doing it saved my life – and it could save yours too.
Chloe is fundraising to raise money for Breast Cancer Care. For care, support and information, visit: breastcancercare.org.uk or to donate, visit: www.justgiving.com/chloeranderson