Breastfeeding detected early warning signs of cancer

Date Released - 04/10/2022

A FIRST time mum has shared her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 28 to encourage others to check their breasts regularly, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Keisha Chadwick, 29, from Ashton-under-Lyne, was diagnosed last year when her daughter, Milana, was just 7 weeks old.  She was also 14 weeks from qualifying to be a nurse when she found a lump whilst trying to get milk to come through to breastfeed her daughter.

Keisha said: “It is a day I’ll never forget - I would never have found the lump because I never, ever checked my breasts before. Initially, I didn’t contact anyone for help.  I left it and I went my doctors to have it checked when Milana was 4 weeks old - very lucky I did.

“I attended the breast clinic 10 days after my doctor’s appointment for an ultrasound and then to my shock, I had a biopsy.  They still never indicated that it might be cancer.  Two weeks later on 20 August 2021, I was diagnosed with triple negative – a very aggressive and fast spreading breast cancer. They knew a week prior but said they didn’t want to ring me and alarm me, so waited until I attended my previously arranged appointment. I was a single mum at the time, so my mum took 4 months off work to help with Milana.

“I had no inclination that I had cancer after being told that it was more than likely to be a blocked milk duct.  I was mortified, distraught and thought I was going to die and leave my newborn. I cried for around 48 hours straight. Didn’t sleep, didn’t eat just hugged my baby crying. After that, I didn’t cry for months as I believe I then went into fight mode.” 

With no family history of breast cancer, she was told she was one of the unlucky ones and was tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 - examples of genes that raise your cancer risk if they become altered - which came back negative.

Keisha added: “I started fertility treatment to freeze my eggs at St Mary’s a week later. I injected myself every day up until having the operation to freeze my eggs - I saved 3.  On 22 September 2021, I started chemotherapy at Christie’s Hospital in Manchester.  I had 18 weeks to undergo 12 rounds. I gained weight from the medication, lost all my hair and just generally looked unwell.

“After the first 3 weeks I was moved from Christie’s to Macmillan at Tameside - which was nice as my mum works there.  Having to have treatment alone is very daunting and I felt very vulnerable. Although, I love Christie’s, it’s like a security net for me.”

“On 12 February 2022, I had a right side mastectomy, with instant reconstruction using an expander and 3 lymph nodes removed for testing - I then had to await my results. The reason for a mastectomy was due to my main tumour.  I also had more classification and then 7cm of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) - the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast, pre-cancer cells in the one breast.”

On 3 March, Keisha was told she had a full response to chemotherapy and was cancer free. Twelve weeks later she needed 15 rounds of radiotherapy at Christie Hospital which finished on 1 June.   Her active treatment is now over but she does have more surgery in October for a left side mastectomy - expander removed from right side and reconstruction on both breast with implants.  She is also currently on a trial at Christie’s where she has her bloods taken every 3 months which she finds very reassuring as there is no more treatment for triple negative. She still doesn’t believe this has happened to her as it’s all very surreal, although she is very resilient and just tries to carry on and stay positive for Milana.

Keisha now has a partner who she met when she was at the stages of radiotherapy, who encourages her to embrace her short hair and looks.  She has also decided to return to university to retake and complete her third year of nursing in January, despite needing an MRI scan in November due to a small area on her brain that needs more investigation.

Councillor Eleanor Wills, Executive Member for Population Health at Tameside Council, said: “Thank you so much Keisha for taking the time to share your very brave story.  Your journey hasn’t been an easy one and hopefully it will inspire many to check their breasts regularly.  I wish you all the very best on your journey to full health and a wonderful life ahead of you spent with your daughter.”

Dr Ashwin Ramachandra, Strategic Clinical Lead for Integrated Care at Tameside Integrated Care Partnership, said: “It is important to check your breasts regularly to know how they usually look and feel. That way, you can spot any changes quickly.  Do not delay in contacting your GP practice if you have any concerns about the potential signs or symptoms of breast cancer.  It could be nothing but getting it checked out could save your life.”