Ladies; Know Your Bre*sts, Save Your Life! lady shares story of her family

The date was 27th January 2014. I got up early from my hospital bed, showered, ready for risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I was 37 years old at the time, so you can imagine that this was not a decision that I would have made lightly.

My name is Bamidele Adenipekun. I am an author, coach and speaker. I am a 40-year old, single mother of a fabulous daughter. I live in Swansea, South Wales.

Trauma has had a major impact on my family – life as we knew it was changed by bre*st cancer and loss. I have discovered though, that in the aftermath of adverse life circumstances, thriving and fulfilment is possible.

I am the second of five siblings – I have three sisters and a brother. My older sister passed away this year after a 5-year battle with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 46. This was also the same age that our mum passed away 23 years earlier with the same diagnosis. My mum was diagnosed in 1990 in Nigeria at a time when bre*st awareness was not even a consideration within the health sector.

Bre*st cancer was viewed with suspicion, dread and an element of shame which didn’t really make sense to me as a teenager, who became a caregiver to my mother in the last year of her life. This was in addition to taking on the role of managing a household from the age of 14. Dealing with bre*st cancer in any context is traumatic enough; domestic violence and abuse that was par for course in our home courtesy of my father made for a very bleak existence.

With respect to cancer of any kind, early diagnosis equals better prognosis. Bre*st cancer is no exception. With respect to my mum, by the time the cancer was discovered, it had already spread into her lymph nodes. What then followed was firefighting compounded by some grievous errors in the treatment cycle that was pure negligence. Within the Nigerian health sector then and now, medical personnel aren’t held to account for any wrongdoing with respect patient care.

I returned to UK, country of birth at the age of 19 along with my brother. My late sister had already been living in the UK for over a decade by that time. I proceeded with life pursuing my studies, knowing that bre*st cancer was the illness that my mum died of and doing my best to find out a bit more of the disease. A Level Biology surprisingly gave me some insight into the growth and spread of cancer cells.

However, as a twenty-something, I thought I was too young to have any issues with my bre*sts which I had started checking regularly as an older woman advised me to.

Little did I know that at the age of 23, I will be lying on my GP’s examination table because of lumps in my left bre*st. Even though scans and biopsies showed that the lumps were benign, I was offered surgery as a precautionary measure due to my family history.

I’d like to stress here that bre*st examinations are so important for every man and woman. (Even though majority of bre*st cancer patients are women, there are some male patients as well). Regular bre*st checks ensure that you know what’s normal for you so that you can spot problems as you see certain changes to look for. 

At the age of 29, a year after my daughter was born, I had a second surgery on my left bre*st to remove the same kind of benign lumps as before. After that surgery, I thought I was home free, and that as a family we never had to worry about bre*st issues ever again. How wrong I was. 6 years later, to our profound shock, my big sister was then diagnosed with Stage 3 bre*st cancer.

As a Christian, my first response was to get on my knees and start praying even as the reality of what my sister faced became apparent. Over the following 5 years, my sister fought bravely, until her body could not take anymore and she passed away January 2017.

After my sister was diagnosed, I went to my GP to ask for stronger painkillers to deal with the migraines I was having at the time. Due to the strength of the painkillers that I already had, he proceeded to ask me what was happening in my life. His verdict was that I was under a lot of stress and should take time off work. This was something I never thought I would experience as I figured I was made of sterner stuff. He also told me that I should consider undergoing bilateral mastectomy for risk-reducing purposes. As I was vigilant about my bre*st checks, I didn’t think I needed that.

I was also referred to the Cancer Genetics Department at the hospital who took family history and conducted the genetic test. My results, as well as my late sister’s, came back negative. I then had a mammogram which revealed certain specks in my right bre*st. A 3rd bre*st surgery followed to remove pre-cancer cells from the right bre*st. As far as the bre*st surgeon was concerned, everything was fine and I just had to continue my bre*st checks. I had a mammogram later that year that came back completely clear. To say that I was relieved is an understatement.

My relief was short-lived, when 5 months later I felt some lumps in my right bre*st. After a lot of praying and soul-searching, I decided that the risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy was the right decision for me. That surgery, which included immediate reconstruction using tissue from my belly, took twelve and a half hours. As part of medical procedure, the bre*st tissue taken was sent for testing. 

To my shock, 6 weeks after the big surgery, I was sitting in front of my bre*st surgeon being told that Invasive DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in layman terms early bre*st cancer was found in the left bre*st which hadn’t had any problems for years and nothing untoward showed up on the mammogram. I had surgery to take some samples from my lymph nodes to check whether it had spread or not. Thank God it hadn’t spread. I was initially offered chemotherapy, which I declined for personal reasons. I then went on to have 3 more surgeries in the following two and a half years. I am now on a bre*st cancer drug which I will take for another 7 years.

My prognosis is good today, due to early diagnosis. Throughout these ordeals, my faith in God, excellent medical teams and the support of my loved ones were what keeps me standing. There is no doubt that my regular bre*st checks were a crucial part of this so I knew when to seek medical attention.

This is so important! Know your bre*sts. That knowledge might save you life, sparing you and your loved ones a lot of anguish.

After my diagnosis, I started journaling my experiences right from when my mother was diagnosed. 2 years after diagnosis, I signed my book publishing contract and decided to pursue my passions as a coach, author and speaker.

My personal mission and purpose is to tend the broken wings of people so that they can be inspired to soar above their troubles.

My first book: Navigating Your New Normal: A Road Map for Life Fulfilment After Trauma was published 26th September 2017 and is available on Amazon.

From the book, I have developed a 7-step framework NYNN© to help people go from survival to thriving after trials. There is also NYNN© for managers to help them better support employees affected by trauma in order to achieve win-win for all parties.

- Bamidele Adenipekun