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Young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26 reveals the warning signs she wish she knew

At the age of 26, Emily Harrison was enjoying her carefree lifestyle travelling overseas for eight months, but on December 2, 2020 after returning home her world as she knew it was turned upside down due to an unanticipated breast cancer diagnosis.

The Melbourne florist maintained a healthy routine and only experienced one common fatal symptom, a small lump in her breast.

‘My initial thought after the prognosis was “am I going to die?”,’ Emily told FEMAIL.

‘I had incredibly heightened emotions for a long time and wasn’t really sure of how to process them.’

While she has family history of breast cancer, Emily was unaware she would need to battle against the disease at such a young age. 

Emily Harrison (pictured) was travelling around South East Asia, Korea, Europe, Morocco and Japan for eight months prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26 in December 2020

While she has family history of breast cancer, Emily was unaware she would need to battle against the disease at such a young age

While she has family history of breast cancer, Emily was unaware she would need to battle against the disease at such a young age

Emily told FEMAIL she never imagined cancer to be an isolating experience and wasn't aware of how the diagnosis would permanently impact her life

Emily told FEMAIL she never imagined cancer to be an isolating experience and wasn’t aware of how the diagnosis would permanently impact her life

The young florist first noticed the lump in the shower but only deemed it to be a breast cyst.  

After three weeks of no change, her parents and partner urged her to visit a GP who referred to get an ultrasound.

‘It was at this appointment I realised the lump may be more sinister than I had anticipated,’ she said. 

‘I remember the ultrasound technician going and getting his supervisor, she then had a look at the scans and told me she would recommend I skip a mammogram and go straight for a biopsy,’ she said. 

In less than 24 hours Emily was called back to discuss the results and further tests required, which included a sentinel node biopsy and a breast core biopsy.

The results from the procedures detected and determined the lump was cancerous, leaving Emily feeling vulnerable and concerned.  

The young florist first noticed the lump in the shower but only deemed it to be a breast cyst

The young florist first noticed the lump in the shower but only deemed it to be a breast cyst

The results from the procedures detected and determined the lump was cancerous, leaving Emily feeling vulnerable and concerned

The results from the procedures detected and determined the lump was cancerous, leaving Emily feeling vulnerable and concerned 

How to self-examine your breasts:  

Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.

Here’s what you should look for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:

  • Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
  • A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
  • Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling

Step 2: Now raise your arms and look for the same changes

Step 3: While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood)

Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together

Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting

Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower

Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4

Source: breastcancer.org   

Since the diagnosis, Emily learnt she has a BRCA-1 gene mutation, implying the cancer did not occur from her own doing.

‘I wish I knew all of the different treatment plans and options for breast cancer; I was under the impression I would have a few rounds of chemotherapy followed by a singular surgery and that would be it, but there is so much more involved.’ 

Emily has needed to make difficult choices about biological children, surgeries, reconstructions and treatment plans.

‘I did IVF and had my eggs frozen, I’ve gone into early menopause, I get run down so much easier than I used to, I have a monthly injection to try to protect my ovaries and I have regular heart scans to make sure the chemotherapy hasn’t damaged my heart,’ she said. 

Since the diagnosis, Emily learnt she has a BRCA-1 gene mutation, implying the cancer did not occur from her own doing

Since the diagnosis, Emily learnt she has a BRCA-1 gene mutation, implying the cancer did not occur from her own doing

'I wish I knew all of the different treatment plans and options for breast cancer,' she said

'I was under the impression I would have a few rounds of chemotherapy followed by a singular surgery and that would be it, but there is so much more involved,' she said

‘I wish I knew all of the different treatment plans and options for breast cancer; I was under the impression I would have a few rounds of chemotherapy followed by a singular surgery and that would be it, but there is so much more involved,’ she said

Emily has needed to make difficult choices about biological children, surgeries, reconstructions and treatment plans

Emily has needed to make difficult choices about biological children, surgeries, reconstructions and treatment plans

After completing the IVF egg collection process and bodily scans to confirm the cancer had not spread elsewhere, Emily had a ‘port-a-cath’ put into her chest to receive chemotherapy infusion without causing significant damage to her veins.

She then began six months of chemotherapy and has a small scar on the right side of her chest from the catheter.

Unfortunately due to the harsh nature of chemotherapy, Emily gradually lost her hair follicles but isn’t afraid to post images of herself on social media.

‘I go through a variety of emotions, a lot of the time I am still just trying to process what I have gone through in the last eight months,’ she said.

‘During my months of chemotherapy, I felt a lot of resentment and anger. As much as I would never wish anybody else to go through what I am going through, I find myself wondering often why it is happening to me.’

Emily said she never imagined cancer to be an isolating experience and wasn’t aware of how the diagnosis would permanently impact her life. 

On July 7, 2021 Emily had surgery to remove further tissue of concern and to determine whether she needs radiotherapy

On July 7, 2021 Emily had surgery to remove further tissue of concern and to determine whether she needs radiotherapy

Emily's main piece of advice to other women is to 'not be afraid' to visit your GP if you notice any changes with your body

Emily’s main piece of advice to other women is to ‘not be afraid’ to visit your GP if you notice any changes with your body

On July 7, 2021 Emily had surgery to remove further tissue of concern and to determine whether she needs radiotherapy.

‘I will be having ten years of hormone therapy and for the rest of my life will have to partake in physical therapy to prevent the development of a condition known as Lymphedema,’ she said.

‘I will also undergo physiotherapy sessions to help prevent lymphedema developing in my left arm where I will have all of my lymph nodes removed.’

Emily’s main piece of advice to other women is to ‘not be afraid’ to visit your GP if you notice any changes with your body.

She considers herself extremely lucky doctors took her case seriously and understood the severity of the situation.

‘Without this, I may be in a completely different position than I am in now,’ she said.

What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?

* Breast lumps

* Changes in size or shape of breasts

* Changes to the skin including dimpling, a rash or puckering of the breast

* Changes to a nipple such as turning in or just feeling different to usual

* Abnormal nipple discharge

* Inflamed breast where your breast may look red or swollen

* Hard breasts

* A red, scaly rash on the breast

* Breast pain

Source: Cancer Council Australia

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