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Cancer survivor, 44, felt a lump in her breast after she picked a cup of tea off her bedside table 

A mother claims a cup of tea saved her life after she felt a lump in her breast while reaching for the brew.  

Nicola Fairbrass, 44, was enjoying a cuppa in bed in November last year when she felt a lump while turning to pick up the mug off her bedside table. 

After initially dismissing it as a cyst, Mrs Fairbrass, of Oakwood, Derby, went to her doctor two weeks later. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in January. 

Mrs Fairbrass went on to endure eight rounds of grueling chemotherapy over six months, as well as surgery to remove the tumour and 20 sessions of radiotherapy.

The professional dog-sitter was given the all-clear in September but will require medication for up to a decade to prevent the disease returning. 

Mrs Fairbrass, who drinks up to five cups of tea a day, credits the brew for helping her beat the disease. ‘I love tea and I think, in a way, it saved my life,’ she said.

 

Nicola Fairbrass credits a cup of tea for saving her life after she felt a lump while turning to pick a cuppa off her bedside table in November last year. Mrs Fairbrass is pictured at home yesterday after she received the all-clear in September following grueling chemo and surgery

Mrs Fairbrass is pictured with her husband Paul ringing the end of chemo bell in hospital in July. Waiting for the results was 'horrendous' but she got the good news two weeks later

Mrs Fairbrass is pictured with her husband Paul ringing the end of chemo bell in hospital in July. Waiting for the results was ‘horrendous’ but she got the good news two weeks later

Mrs Fairbrass, who lives with her husband Paul, 50, said: ‘We take a cup of tea to bed most nights.

‘That night I turned around to get my cup of tea from the bedside table but as I was pulling it towards me, I felt a lump in my left breast.

‘I left it for about two weeks, thinking it might just be a cyst or something else. But then it became bigger again and when I went to the doctor they referred me straight to the hospital.’

Mrs Fairbrass was referred to hospital on December 18 last year. After undergoing a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, she was diagnosed on January 2.

After initially being told she required a mastectomy, her doctor then recommended she try chemotherapy to avoid having her breast removed. 

The mother-of-one first had lymph-node surgery last January to ensure the cancer had not spread, before starting chemotherapy on February 2. Although grueling, the treatment worked, with her tumour shrinking from 43mm to 17mm.

In August this year, Mrs Fairbrass had a lumpectomy – surgery that removes the tumour but leaves most of the breast intact – and radiotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells. She then endured the agonising wait for the results.

‘[That] was the worst, it was horrendous,’ she said. ‘I tried to carry on as best as I could because it was holiday time.

‘My daughter Gabrielle (19) was affected, she had a really hard time – but she kept being strong for me.’

Pictured at home, Mrs Fairbrass said she loves tea and drinks five cups a day

She endured eight rounds of chemo over six months, as well as surgery to remove the tumour and 20 sessions of radiotherapy, before she finally got to ring the end of treatment bell

Pictured left at home yesterday, Mrs Fairbrass loves tea and drinks five cups a day. She endured eight rounds of chemo over six months, as well as surgery to remove the tumour and 20 sessions of radiotherapy, before she finally got to ring the end of treatment bell (right)

Mrs Fairbrass was declared cancer free just two weeks after finishing treatment. 

Although she requires preventative medication for the next five-to-ten years, Mrs Fairbrass is looking forward to getting her life back to normal.

Speaking of when she was ill, Mrs Fairbrass said: ‘My husband had to take time off work to help at home because I was basically housebound. But I can’t moan, everyone around me has been very supportive.

‘It has been a huge relief to get the “all clear” and finish treatment and just be able to get on with my life again, as my life was just on hold for the past year. It has been a very tough year, but I am glad it is over.’

During her illness, Mrs Fairbrass passed her business, Barking Mad, to someone else to oversee after she took it on herself in the October before she became unwell. Now better, she is excited to get back to doing what she loves. 

She is also keen to highlight the signs of breast cancer. ‘My advice if you feel a lump would be get straight to the doctors, don’t delay,’ Mrs Fairbrass said. ‘I don’t think people check themselves enough, so I want to raise awareness.’ 

WHAT IS BREAST CANCER, HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT STRIKE AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.

When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.

Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men though this is rare.

The cancerous cells are graded from stage one, which means a slow growth, up to stage four, which is the most aggressive.

What causes breast cancer?

A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.

Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign. 

The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

  • Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.

If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest x-ray.

How is breast cancer treated?

Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.

  • Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
  • Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focussed on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying
  • Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.

How successful is treatment?

The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.

The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 mean more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

For more information visit breastcancercare.org.uk or www.cancerhelp.org.uk

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